30 Players in 30 Days: Ian Desmond
It was a few minutes before a game and there were a handful of fans circled around the photo well at Nationals Park, adjacent to the Nats dugout. They were waiting patiently–lined up three, four, five deep. There were kids with baseballs, dads with jerseys and a mom with a pink bat. There was just one player present and it wasn’t a surprise that it was Ian Desmond. He has made it a daily practice to give fans what they want–jaw-dropping defensive plays and his autograph. No one walked away empty-handed.
Everyone got an autograph and everyone left smiling. It is the Ian Desmond way: no shortcuts and stay until the job is finished. That’s why he takes extra ground balls. That’s why he practices the minor details of his position like throwing the ball sidearm to second base instead of overhand to save precious milliseconds.
His ability to make unbelievable plays and his production at the plate earned him the starting position after Spring Training, and he showed he can play every day at the Major League level. He batted eighth the majority of the season but when Cristian Guzman was traded to the Rangers at the end of July, Desmond moved into the two hole and with it came better pitches. He saw more fastballs and strikes, a benefit for a free swinging hitter. His numbers improved drastically and from July 27 to September 22, Desmond hit .335 (62-for-185) with four home runs and 22 RBI in 51 games.
“There’s no way around it–you get better pitches to hit when you’ve got Adam Dunn and Ryan Zimmerman hitting behind you,” Desmond said.
He also improved defensively too but Desmond is somewhat of an anomaly when it comes to his defense–he makes the ‘how-did-he-do-that,’ Gold Glove play look routine but he has occasionally made the routine play look challenging.
“But it’s plays that are made that maybe some other people don’t make that’s impressive about Desmond,” Riggleman said. “Last year, there were plays that weren’t made that aren’t scored errors that were killing our pitching staff. Guys are making plays now, Desmond especially.”
Riggleman was never short of compliments about his rookie shortstop. He glowed when he talks about him and thinks Desmond is a special player with a charismatic personality that will make a difference in the Nats clubhouse.
“I absolutely think it’s infectious,” Riggleman said. “That’s what’s going to get us over the hump, that type of mentality, that type of attitude. It’s a real pleasure to have him.”
It hasn’t been easy for Desmond but it wasn’t easy getting here either. It took five years, a broken hand and a Single-A demotion. But it was the up-and-down journey in the Minors, that gave him the wisdom and the knowledge to know that he can’t take it for granted. But you can take it for granted that Desmond will always be exciting to watch.