September 2010

Pregame Stare Down

We head out to the field still 2+ hours before game time as Coach is ready to officially lead warm-ups. As we walk down the left field line toward the Nationals bullpen where the pitchers will warm up first, we spot reliever Doug Slaten engaged in a serious stare down with what appears to be a giant praying mantis perched atop the dugout. We continue on our way, and as Slaten joins the assembled pitchers, he recaps the encounter with the insect, taking care to note the unique capabilities of its eyes. “I couldn’t sneak up on it,” he explains in amazed frustration. “Its eyes could wrap around behind its head, like it didn’t have a blind spot.”

 

We’re not sure, but we take that to mean Slaten did not win the staring contest.

Detwiler and Marquis

Ross Detwiler and Jason Marquis make their way to the weight room now. Earlier in the day, Coach had told us that Jason is especially disciplined about his workout regimen and that as one of the players to have arrived earlier to get some extra work in on his own, he had fulfilled his requirements for the day.

 

So now he is here to shoot the breeze with Coach, but more so to razz Ross about his form and the light weight he is using. Coach employs a lot of “manuals” as he calls them–this means the players actually use very light weights, but Coach applies “manual” resistance at the appropriate points in each rep to maximize the effectiveness of the exercise. Since the guys’ lifting programs are generally only 20 minutes or so each day, it’s critical to make each rep count. In this instance, Marquis enjoys a laugh at Ross’ expense, but to the young lefty’s credit, he focuses in on the task at hand, and diligently completes his workout, with Coach lending support throughout.

Philbin’s Workout

When we get to the park, John quickly changes into his workout gear and heads to the warning track. He starts with 10 “Poles” sprints from one foul pole to the other along the outfield wall–followed by a recovery jog down the foul lines and behind home plate to complete the lap around the warning track.

 

From there, it’s time for some sprint work up the stairs in section 120 next to the Nationals dugout. That’s 10 sprints at about 25 seconds each. Miraculously, John gets through all 10 in impressive time, with nary a threat of revisiting this morning’s breakfast. Meanwhile, we’re only watching and our legs are getting a bit gelatinous. That’s right, we’re merely spectators today… credit to Dave Jageler–his CrossFit program from yesterday still has us licking our wounds.

 

After sprints, it’s a rapid-fire core session on the outfield grass behind shortstop. Despite some pretty heavy breathing, John completes the workout following a series of side crunches. He lets out one of his signature “Wooooo’s” as if to exclaim, “Now I’m done.” And with that, it’s back inside to the AC of the clubhouse and visitor’s weight room. It is still five hours before tonight’s game but there are already a number of players here getting in some early work: lifting, film study, etc.

 

In the visitors gym, Ian Desmond, Danny Espinosa and Yunesky Maya come in to workout. Ian wants to know why we’re there, what we’re documenting, etc. We explain that it’s all about giving fans a little taste of life on the road and what’s it’s like day-to-day as a Big Leaguer.

 

After a couple minutes on the stationary bike to warm up, Coach starts him on an ab workout, throwing a large medicine ball back and forth with the young shortstop. Danny takes a very workmanlike approach to his routine, moving from one station to the next. Coach explains to us that during the season, it’s all about maintaining each player’s strength and explosiveness, so these daily workout sessions are quick, yet challenging. After 20 minutes, Ian and Danny are gone, back to the clubhouse and John can now focus on last night’s starter.

 

Coach takes a more hands on approach with the Cuban right-hander. First of all, he’s relatively new to the team and the workout program. Secondly, to help bridge the language barrier, Coach takes some extra time to demonstrate each of the exercises so Yunesky sees the proper form and technique.

The high five is universal in just about every language, and after 20 or so minutes of upper body work, the two exchange the celebratory gesture, and their mutual sense of accomplishment is understood.

Getting to Know John Philbin

Walking a full day in someone’s shoes, you get to know a lot about them. And when you have the background that Coach does, there are some interesting nuggets to glean. Here’s a sampling:


- A former decathlete before he was recruited to try, of all sports, bobsled.

- He became a member of the U.S. bobsled team from 1983-’87, and the head coach from ’88-’92.

- He served as an intern under Joe Gibbs at the Washington Redskins while he finished his Masters at the University of Maryland.

- His work has been published many times over, most recently writing “High Intensity Training” in 2005, published by Human Kinetics.

- He serves as the President of the National Strength Professionals Association.

 

It’s an impressive resume to be sure, and the Nationals staff and players all seem to recognize that they are in very capable hands.

 

Naturally his background in bobsled caught our attention, and during a lull in the stream of players coming back to the weight room, Coach showed off some of his major battle scars from one of his nastiest bobsled wrecks, including a lengthy incision on his elbow. He says he has to have the bone in that elbow shaved down every five or so years. As painful as that sounds, for a workout fanatic like Coach, the two months rehab can’t be fun, either. He rattled off a laundry list of other injuries suffered in that crash, but said he doesn’t remember it because he was knocked unconscious for 12+ hours.

 

With his extensive background, crossing so many different and varied sports, we feel inclined to ask which athletes does he think are truly the best. Not surprisingly, it’s a question he’s been asked often, and admits there really is no perfect answer because athletes today are so specialized based on their sports. With tennis highlights on TV in the background, he points out their agility and speed. But do they have the raw power of an Adam Dunn to mash a ball 450+ feet (some foreshadowing to tonight, perhaps?). What about 6’10”, 270 pound basketball players with their athleticism and speed? It’s an interesting debate…what do you think? Let us know in the comments, and we’ll pass your opinions on to Coach.

Don’t ride shotgun

It’s time to head over to the ballpark. Strength and Conditioning Coach John Philbin has recruited us to follow him around for the day, so we meet him, Third Base Coach Pat Listach, and assistant coaches Trent Jewett and Tim Foli to share a cab to the park.

 

As we’ve previously mentioned, a lot of the down time on a roadtrip is filled with idle chatter, and this cab ride is no different. There’s a little talk about Derek Lowe’s performance the night before or what it’s like having family on a roadtrip. But then the coaches decide to have a little fun with neophytes on this roadtrip, suggesting we should have followed Foli around yesterday instead of Dave Jageler. “Was he doing something interesting or fun?” we asked.

 

They got a kick out of this predictably gullible response. “He walked to the ballpark, wouldn’t that have been good to cover?” We like cardio as much as the next guy, but we’ll take our workout with Jageler over a 10+ mile walk, any day. To his credit, Foli doesn’t take it personally, and we promise to make it up to him with a walk around the warning track once we arrive to Turner Field.

 

As we pull up to the visitor’s clubhouse, it quickly becomes apparent why the coaches were so generous in offering us the front seat. We’re not sure if it’s an unwritten baseball rule, or more good-natured ribbing of the newbies, but we’re told that the guy riding shotgun picks up the cab fare. The coaches seemed to get a kick out of this, as well. If nothing else, we aim to be entertaining. At least on this cab ride, it appears we have succeeded.

Up in the Radio Booth

Leading up to the game, it was time to head up to the press box, get situated in the radio booth and of course, feast on some press dining. The first thing you notice when you step out on the press level at Turner Field is its proximity to the field. At Nationals Park, the press box is located above all of the seating areas. At Turner Field, it’s located between the lower level and the upper deck. It certainly provides a different perspective on the action.

Dave and Charlie use this time to connect with the Braves radio team to exchange interesting notes or trends about their respective teams that may be useful during their broadcasts. The various broadcast teams around MLB are a fraternity of sorts, as Dave said this is a regular practice at the start of road trips (or when visiting teams come to Nationals Park).

Before the pregame show goes on the air, it’s time for a quick meal. From what we’ve heard, Turner Field has a good reputation when it comes to press dining, and we’re not disappointed. On day one, we keep it simple and opt for a made-to-order deli sandwich. Other choices include chili, sheppard’s pie, pizza, grilled vegetables and a salad bar. Sure, it’s an eclectic mix, but they try to find something for everyone. Everyone except for Bob Carpenter, apparently. He joins our table with a Chick-Fil-A sandwich in tow. We quickly develop a severe case of sandwich envy, but it’s nothing some soft serve ice cream won’t cure.

OK, let’s start this game before our full-on food coma kicks in…

Let the Game Begin

Once the game starts, everyone in the booth has a headset on, in constant communication with the producer back in DC. It can get somewhat confusing listening to the actual broadcast while miscellaneous prompts are also coming in simultaneously from the producer. Dave and Charlie have been doing this long enough that they keep everything in order.

Dave serves as the lead play-by-play man during the third, fourth, sixth and seventh innings, while Charlie handles the rest. The highlight of Dave’s innings tonight was Yunesky Maya’s first career base hit. Unfortunately for the Nats, Braves veteran pitcher Derek Lowe decided to pitch one of his best games of the season Monday night.

Post-game


dave jageler 1.JPGThe post-game show consists of two main parts. Dave leads the first, which includes a recap of the game and the play of the game. Tonight, this segment was over about 10 minutes after the final out. Once he’s done that, he starts to pack up while Charlie takes over and gives a detailed rundown of the rest of the action happening around baseball. He spends about one minute on each game, covering each of the pitchers, key plays, playoff implications, etc.

From there, it’s time to head down to the post-game bus. Unlike the ride to the park, this bus is almost completely full with players, coaches, staff and broadcasters. It’s understandably quiet, but the Jets-Ravens Monday Night Football game is on the satellite TVs throughout the bus.

When we get back to the hotel, everyone scatters in different directions. We’re headed up to our room to recharge for another day tomorrow, when we’ll be following Strength and Conditioning Coach John Philbin. Special thanks to Dave Jageler for letting us tag along with him today. We hope you enjoyed his unique perspective, and be sure to check back soon for a link to a video blog of all the action.

Time for Turner Field

The Nationals broadcasters and a handful of players meet in the hotel lobby at 3 p.m. to take the team bus over to the ballpark. We settle in amongst Dave, Charlie Slowes, Bob Carpenter, Debbi Taylor and the rest of the Nats broadcast team. It’s amusing to eavesdrop on their back-and-forth banter on the ride to the park. They have all been very welcoming of our humble blog on this roadtrip, and we certainly have a new appreciation for what goes into their jobs.

Once we get to the park, we head straight to the clubhouse. Some players are typing away on laptops or listening to iPods in front of their lockers. Others watch TV or play cards to pass the time before batting practice. There are a few members of the media milling around getting pregame interviews, and Dave strikes up a conversation with Ian Desmond and Danny Espinosa. The two were recounting memories of their first Major League Spring Training. It was an interesting conversation, and yes, after 140-plus games, just about every other story has probably already been covered. Regardless, both players have proven to be extremely accessible and accountable, an especially impressive trait for the young infield duo.

Dave then gets an exclusive sit-down with Manager Jim Riggleman in his office. This will be used for the radio pregame show. Shortly thereafter, the rest of the assembled media is ushered in for the customary pregame Q&A. One media member asks a similar question to one of Dave’s, something along the lines of, “What can the Nationals learn from playing the role of spoiler in these next two series versus Atlanta and Philadelphia?” Riggleman talked about the Nationals needing to raise their game to match the Braves’ and Phillies’ heightened intensity as they battle for postseason berths.

We hunker down for some one-on-one time with pitcher Miguel Batista, still trying to get to the bottom of that mysterious instrument case he carried on the plane last night. Whatever the instrument, he said he has been practicing in his room. We didn’t notice any dirty looks from his teammates, so we’ll assume Miguel has been assigned a room in a remote corner of the hotel.

Post-Work out pizza

After our workout with Dave, it was time for some authentic…California Pizza Kitchen. For those scoffing at the idea of pizza as a post-workout meal, take solace – we ordered our BBQ chicken pie with thin crust. Dave went with the Mediterranean Platter and Spaghetti Bolognese.

While we ate, Dave shared his wisdom on all things Nats. As someone who eats, sleeps and breaths Nationals baseball for seven-plus months out of the year, Dave brings a lot of unique insight to even the most casual of conversations. We talked about the promise of the young core of Nats, some of the unique personalities in the clubhouse, and the finer points of life on the road.

After lunch, Dave heads back to his hotel room to review the latest Braves news, stats, etc. Dave notes that each broadcast team is different, but he and Charlie Slowes pride themselves on the depth of their preparation for each game. It is certainly is evident in the broadcast. We’ll get to see first-hand later tonight.

Don’t mess with the Jageler

Day 1 of the roadtrip officially begins with a workout with Nationals radio broadcaster Dave Jageler. He claims to have made working out on the road as second nature as brushing his teeth. If his pearly whites are any indication, we may be in trouble.

On the elevator down to the hotel’s fitness center, we’re trying to size up Dave and get a feel for what exactly we’re in store for. Is this going to be a couple light miles on the treadmill, or are we going full bore, P-90X? Dave tells us we’ll be doing a three part circuit of running on the treadmill, dumbbell squats and a modified push-up called a Burpee. The goal is to get through all three exercises, three times each, as fast as possible (without injuring yourself, of course) and with as little rest as possible between each set. It’s part of the CrossFit workout program.

Stay tuned for video from our workout, but let’s just say that Dave doesn’t mess around. He completed the full circuit in 37 minutes, and his shirt went from light grey when we started, to dark grey and fully soaked by the time we ended. He added a few miscellaneous exercises to the end, just for good measure. Kudos to Dave on totally shredding that workout.

We, on the other hand, didn’t fare so well. Once we started, it was pretty clear we’d bitten off more than we could chew, and it quickly became a matter of survival. Our form went out the window and the prospects of lunch was really the only thing pushing us through.

Ahhh, lunch. That sounds more our speed. With that, it’s time to hit the showers, but we’ll check back in after we’ve got some nourishment. Any recommendations for good spots to eat in Atlanta?

Unpacking at the Park

So that whole part about turning in for the night? Don’t tell that to Wally. His night has only just begun. We last saw him unloading equipment at the airport in Atlanta, but we just traded text messages with him and he’s headed over to Turner Field to start setting up for Monday.

We meet up with him as the Cardinals are departing after their late game. It looks like they have a similar bus-side security procedure as we did in Washington. Once their two buses pull out, our moving truck backs in and it’s time to unload.

John Holland, Atlanta’s Visiting Clubhouse Manager, and his staff help unload bags, boxes and crates of various sizes. Wally already has a handful of washers going in the laundry room, and has placed temporary name placards above each of the lockers in the clubhouse. Our first reaction upon entering the clubhouse? We sure miss the comforts of home.

But Wally and the Braves do a great job of getting everything ready. They unpack each player’s individual bag, hanging caps, socks, belts, pants and warm-up tops in each locker. They unpack all of their shoes, give them a quick shine, and neatly align them in the locker. It quickly becomes very clear why everyone puts a name, number, or both, on every piece of equipment, especially the shoes.

In the visitor’s clubhouse, the coaching staff has its own separate “wing” away from the players, while the manager has his own office as well. There’s a kitchen fully stocked with snacks and candy, and even a freezer full of ice cream. There’s a larger training room with soaking tubs and padded tables for taping ankles.

In a little over an hour, the clubhouse is fully set-up, ready for the guys to come in on Monday and take on the Braves. One of the Braves clubhouse guys kindly gives us a lift back to the team hotel, and as it approaches 2 a.m., our bed is sounding mighty appealing.

 Tomorrow we switch gears and follow one of the voices of the Nationals, radio play-by-play man Dave Jageler. We’re told he’s a gym rat when he’s on the road, and a morning work-out is a must, especially given the facilities at our hotel in Atlanta. So wish us luck, and check back on Monday for more Notes from NatsTown (from Atlanta).

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