The rain delay couldn’t dampen the spirits of former Washington slugger Frank Howard and the hundreds of autograph seekers on his Bobblehead night. Howard might be the world’s most personable and charismatic autograph signer. He loves it. He soaked up every minute of it. He personalized Bobbleheads and signed “1960 ROY,” “The Capital Punisher” and “1968 and 1970 AL Home Run King” on each ball. He was schedule to sign from 5:30 p.m. to 6:30… there was still at line at 7:30 p.m. Not a big deal at all.
“My captain Pee Wee Reese once told me, ‘You have a problem once they stop asking for your autograph,’” Howard said with a smile.
The Howard Bobblehead completes the NatsTown collection along with Adam Dunn. The Bobbleheads join Washington’s great slugger of the past, Howard, with the Nationals current slugger, Dunn.
When Dunn joined the Nationals in the spring it had current fans cheering and former Washington Senators fans reminiscing about the days of the former All-Star Howard. There is a striking similarity between Dunn now and Howard then, a home run hitting outfielder who came over in a deal with the Dodgers in 1965 amid much fanfare.
“Dunn has a much better strike zone than I had,” Howard said “He has much better plate presence too.”
But you could hit the ball farther… right?
“I don’t know about that.”
Both are offensive linemen by weight and basketball forwards by height but give 6’6″, 275-pound Dunn and 6’7 1/2″, 265-pound Howard a bat and they can make balls leave the ballpark in the blink of an eye.
When Howard would hit a tape measure shot into the upper deck at RFK Stadium, the team would paint the seat in honor of his herculean strength. Dunn knows little about Howard’s career in Washington, but he is well acquainted with the white seats in the upper deck.
“Someone pointed them out to me when I came through with the Reds in 2005 but I thought they were kidding me,” Dunn said. “It’s almost unfathomable that any human being could hit a ball that far.”
A fan told Frank, “I once sat in one of your white seats at RFK.”
“What were you doing way out there,” Howard responded. “Baseball isn’t meant to be watched from there.”
Other funny comments from Howard:
Frank Howard is 6 feet 7 and half inches tall. A person who was an even 6-foot-7… “I can still eat soup from the top of your head.”
“What is it like to have a Bobblehead as yourself,” a fan asked.
“It is nothing new,” said Howard moving his head much like his Bobblehead statue. “I have been a Bobblehead my whole life.”
On how he is feeling:
“I am on this side of the grass and I am not in the unemployment line so I am two runs up on this game. Hopefully I can continue to win.”
Lopez – 2B
Counsell – SS
Braun – LF
Fielder – 1B
McGehee – 3B
Cameron – CF
Catalanotto – RF
Kendall – C
Looper – P (RHP, 10-6, 5.03)
Morgan – CF
Guzman – SS
Zimmerman – 3B
Dunn – 1B
Willingham – RF
Harris – LF
Belliard – 2B
Nieves – C
Martin – P (RHP, 2-2, 4.61)
2:00 p.m.: Stephen Strasburg addressed the media, the Nationals Front Office and the fans as he was officially announced as a member of the Washington Nationals.
The press conference took place on the field. It featured Stephen Strasburg, his agent Scott Boras, Nationals General Manager Mike Rizzo, Nationals President Stan Kasten and host Bob Carpenter.
Strasburg is presented with a jersey by the Nats 2005 first round draft pick Ryan Zimmerman.
Zimmerman helps Strasburg put on his new Nationals jersey. Strasburg wore #37 at San Diego State where he played collegiately.
Strasburg answers questions from the media during his introductory press conference.
The team is hopeful Strasburg will be able to pitch in the Arizona Fall League this year after completing workouts in Florida.
Strasburg will have to get used to all of the media coverage that comes with being a Major League athlete.
12:15 p.m.: Stephen Strasburg addressed the Nationals Front Office before all the festivities began. He said he was excited to be a part of the Washington Nationals and be in a city with so much history. He was accompanied by his girlfriend Rachel Lackey and his father Jim. His next stop will be the press conference on the field at 2 p.m.
Strasburg, with General Manager Mike Rizzo behind him, spoke to members of the Nationals Front Office.
Strasburg with his girlfriend Rachel and father Jim.
Strasburg worked with Nationals Hitting Coach Rick Eckstein during the 2008 Beijing Olympics.
With owner Mark Lerner.
Baseball is in Mike Rizzo’s blood.
It is a trait his father Phil passed onto him. If it wasn’t at birth–the nature vs. nurture debate is never ending–it was during the countless hours when Mike studied his Dad’s every move as a child. Phil, now 79, still scouts amateur players for the Nationals and attends almost every Cubs and White Sox home games. He has been a scout for more than 50 years.
Mike learned the intricacies of baseball from him. It was with his father he developed an uncanny baseball eye and the ability to recognize talent. He learned life lessons too: never lie and tell it as you see it–the keys to scouting. That’s how his dad operated, as a scout and as a father.
In 1984, when Rizzo was released by the California Angels and was preparing to sign with a Minor League team, his father sat him down at the kitchen table for one of those life talks. When the kitchen table is involved, you know the talk is serious. It was short and sweet. He was a scout so evaluating his son was second nature.
“He said: ‘you can be a Minor League bum your whole life. You aren’t going to play in the Big Leagues. You aren’t talented enough. But you still could be a good baseball guy either as a coach, manager, scouting director or ultimately a GM,’” Rizzo said, remembering his father’s words as if they were said yesterday. “It was a driving force in me getting to the position I am today.”
And his dad’s reaction to the news today:
“It was good,” said Rizzo in one of the most emotional moments of the press conference. “It was a good reaction. He was very, very emotional and very happy.”
He has been just what his dad predicted years ago. Rizzo’s first draft with the Nationals in 2007 was rated the best in baseball by Baseball America. He earned a World Series Ring in 2001 with the Arizona Diamondbacks as the Director of Scouting. That season the D-backs Minor League system was ranked 29th in baseball according to Baseball America. Five highly success drafts, miles and miles spent in a car and watching thousands of amateur players later, the D-backs system was ranked No.1 in baseball by the same publication entering the 2006 season.
That’s what Rizzo expected. He also expected to be named the GM of the Nationals. He is confident. It is that simple.
“I always knew that I was going to be the choice,” Rizzo said. “I am not sure if they knew it.”
If he can’t out think you, he will out work you. As a scout, if it took driving an extra hour to talk to a player, that’s what he did. If it meant going to one more game that night, that’s what he did.
He continues to work overtime–all the time–to guide the Nats to the top of the NL East. They are building everyday… not rebuilding.
There have been a number of moves and acquisitions in the last months that have reshaped and redirected the Nats in the right direction. Rizzo cleaned out the bullpen, acquired a true center fielder in Nyjer Morgan, promoted Jim Riggleman to the manager position, signed the No. 1 and No. 10 overall picks–Stephen Strasburg and Drew Storen. Since the All-Star break, the Nats are 17-16 so it is only fitting they promoted Rizzo, the mastermind of all the moves, to the position of Senior Vice President & General Manager.
One of the first things the Nationals did when the Lerner Family bought the franchise just over three years ago was hire Rizzo as the assistant GM. He is a 26-year veteran of professional baseball and joined the Nationals on July 24th, 2006. Since March of this year, he has served as the team’s acting General Manager. They wanted to ensure the franchise was built from the ground up so they let him lead the scouting and development department.
“He did such a great job acquiring talent with his former team in Arizona,” Team President Stan Kasten said. “He stepped right into the bridge and continued doing that for us here in Washington, leading to the growing crop of young players that we have in our Minor League system that have already started making their way up to the Major Leagues.”
There are always future drafts, players to scout, more moves to make and players to acquire: Rizzo wants to name a manager sometime after the season is over, find a veteran starting pitcher to mentor the young staff, a defensive glove up the middle and a few more dependable arms to further solidify the bullpen.
It is nothing really new to Rizzo. It is just baseball.
The only difference is there is no longer any acting necessary.
This Sunday before the Nationals take on the Milwaukee Brewers, come meet Brett Friedlander, author of Chasing Moonlight: The True Story of Field of Dreams’ Doc Graham, as he signs books on the main concourse behind home plate.
Friedlander, like many other baseball fans, has always loved “Field of Dreams,” the famous baseball movie based off of the book Shoeless Joe by W.P. Kinsella.
“Whether it’s the theme of fathers reconnecting with sons, the idea that everyone deserves a second chance or the fact that it’s just a great baseball movie, there just seemed to be a connection there with me,” said Friendlander.
For him, one of the most fascinating characters was the mysterious “Moonlight” Graham, who played in exactly one Major League game for the New York Giants and never had an at bat. However this fascination turned into something more when Friedlander moved to Fayetteville, N.C., the birthplace of Dr. Archibald W. “Moonlight” Graham.
“I had always had a fondness for the character of old Doc Graham,” said Friedlander. “I was especially touched when, near the end of the movie, he gave up baseball for a second time to save the little girl who fell off the bleachers — even though he knew that by doing so, he could never go back and play again. As it turns out, the real Doc Graham was just as dedicated a public servant as he was on film. And, as I found out from nearly three years of research, his true story was even more fascinating than it was in fiction.”
Dr. Graham’s legacy extends beyond the reaches of baseball. He balanced his medical residency while playing baseball. When one career ended, the other began. Graham moved up to Chisholm, MN to practice medicine. He was a public servant and an accomplished one at that, authoring a study on children’s blood pressure that is still used in medical schools today.
“That, to me, is the inspirational message of Chasing Moonlight,” said Friedlander. “It’s especially relevant today with times as tough as they are. If Doc Graham taught us anything, it’s that if something doesn’t work out for you, instead of getting upset about it, you find another calling. And maybe that’s your true calling.”
For more information on Chasing Moonlight: The True Story of Field of Dreams’ Doc Graham, check out the official page here. Also remember to stop by the main concourse behind home plate during Sunday’s game, from the time gates open until the fifth inning, to pick up your copy and meet author Brett Friedlander.
Gonzalez – CF
Spilborghs – LF
Helton – 1B
Tulowitzki – SS
Hawpe – RF
Stewart – 3B
Barmes – 2B
Torrealba – C
Hammel – P (7-7, 4.73)
Morgan – CF
Guzman – SS
Zimmerman – 3B
Dunn – 1B
Willingham – LF
Dukes – RF
Bard – C
Gonzalez – 2B
Mock – P (2-4, 5.27)
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And the winner is…”CAREFULL!! We must protect the face of the franchise!!”