January 2012

The Rush to Rushmore

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Are you a born leader? Do you consider yourself “presidential”? Has anyone ever told you that you have Kennedy hair? Do you have what it takes to literally “run” for the highest office in the land?

If you believe you have it in you to lead our great nation – or at least lead three of y our cohorts from the center field gate to the finish line in front of the Nationals’ dugout – perhaps you are fit to be a Racing President. The Nationals will hold tryouts for the 2012 crew of George, Tom, Abe and Teddy on (fittingly) Presidents Day Weekend. If you would like to join in the fun of the award-winning entertainment team, make sure you meet the following qualifications:

Tom and George team up for a tandem victory.

–          Stand between 5’7” and 6’6”

–          Have the ability to run from center field to home plate (approx. 200 yards) in 40 seconds or less

–          Have the ability to wear a costume weighing up to 45 pounds for several hours

–          Be available for at least 35 Nationals home games

If you meet the criteria and would like to apply, send a photo, resume and cover letter to entertainment@nationals.com. Tryouts will be by invitation only, and will be held on Saturday, February 18 at Nationals Park.

You may never have your likeness carved into the side of a mountain, but you could have the opportunity to gloriously cross the finish line first, to the delight of thousands of adoring fans.

District 9: Gio Gonzalez

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Here at Curly W Live, we are putting our own spin on the traditional “10 Questions” format this season. To mix it up a little, we will ask players, front office members, coaches and prospects nine questions we think you’d like to know the answer to, then take our favorite submission through Facebook and Twitter from the fans for the final question. Stay tuned all season long for the chance to ask your favorite National whatever you’ve always wanted to know.

Our “District 9” series starts off with the newest member of the Nationals rotation, one Giovany A. Gonzalez, better known to his fans as “Gio”. The left-hander made his way to Nationals Park on Wednesday for the first time since his December 23 trade from Oakland, and Curly W Live caught up with him prior to his introductory press conference.

1. What is the significance of the number 47?

Well, 47 was the number I got when I got called up. I figure it’s given me so much luck, and my family loves the number, so I was more than happy to get it.

Behind the scenes on Gio's first day in DC.

2. Who had the most influence on you outside of baseball as a kid?

Absolutely my parents, my mom and dad. They were my heroes when I was a kid.

3. What is your favorite sport outside of baseball? Your favorite team?

Since I’m from south Florida I grew up watching the Florida Marlins, now the Miami Marlins. I grew up watching the Miami Heat. I watched a little bit of hockey here or there, the Florida Panthers. If I was to pick out one specifically it would be the Miami Heat. I watched those guys ever since I was a kid.

4. What is your favorite ballpark?

My favorite ballpark in baseball would have to be… well, absolutely Washington now (laughing).

5. What is the best team you’ve ever played on?

I have to say Oakland, the team that gave me an opportunity to play and gave me the chance to be who I am today. I always have to give credit to the team that gave me a shot to perform in the Major Leagues.

Trading in the "green and gold" for the red, white and blue.

6. How would you describe your curveball on a clock?

I would have to say it’s a 12-6 curveball.

7. What was your most memorable strikeout?

Well, it was my first Major League strikeout, which was David Eckstein. It was call-up day in Toronto.

8. Who has been the toughest out so far in your career?

There are a couple of guys who are impossible to get out. But to narrow it down? It would be tough. I don’t want to narrow it down to one guy, there’s a variety of guys. Hopefully we don’t have to face them anymore. They’re mostly in the American League anyway (laughing).

9. What tourist attraction are you most looking forward to visiting in Washington D.C.?

I definitely want to see the White House.

Fan Question: (From @jeguerin via Twitter) Are you excited to bat regularly now that you are in the National League?

I’m excited to work with my dad on that. I’ve had no clue how to swing a bat the last six years, so hopefully my dad can help me win a Silver Slugger award. [I haven’t batted other than] Interleague Play against the Giants, mostly. You’ve seen my strikeouts, they’re pretty bad (laughing).

Bonus Question: (From Taylor T. via Facebook) Have you had any mumbo sauce yet?

Mumbo sauce? No, I have no idea what that is. I guess I’m going to have to try this mumbo sauce.

Welcome To District 9

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Alright, to be fair, the title of this post should probably read “Welcome to THE District 9”. That’s what we’re calling this year’s informal question and answer sessions here on Curly W Live, which we will run all year with current players, front office members, coaches, prospects and other interesting folks from around the game of baseball.

The name is obviously a play on the Academy Award nominated film from a few years back, but is also a nickname for Washington’s home club, the nine men who take the field at Nationals Park to represent the District each night. The feature itself is our spin on the traditional 10 questions that many organizations will ask in a Q&A format. Instead, we ask nine questions we think you’d like to know the answer to, and reach out to you to provide the 10th.

We will be asking for your submissions via our Facebook and Twitter accounts throughout the year prior to these sessions, with the first of such coming up later this week. So if you don’t already like/follow us on those social media platforms, go check us out and keep your eyes open for your opportunity to ask your favorite baseball folks questions you’ve been dying to know the answer to.

Just so you know we’re serious, we’ll be starting off the year strong with… Gio Gonzalez! Get to know your new ace before Spring Training, as we’ll post Gio’s District 9 right here on Curly W Live later this week. So get creative and give it your best shot, then be sure to check back on Thursday to see if you’ve won!

Gio Gonzalez will answer one lucky fan's question. Could it be yours?

Curly W Live – Introducing “Nat Gio”

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Hello everyone. I suppose a “Happy New Year” is still in order as this is my first blog of 2012.

We are only 26 days shy of pitchers and catchers reporting to Viera for Spring Training. It really is coming quick.

But not quick enough!

If our fans are half as excited about ’12 as I am, we’re in for a loud and enjoyable summer at Nationals Park.

With this first blog of ’12, I want to talk about Mike Rizzo’s last major strike of 2011. Namely, the acquisition of Gio Gonzalez from the A’s on Dec. 23.

We are thrilled to have Gio join our family. We’ve heard nothing but fantastic things about him as a pitcher, teammate and a person.

Gonzalez represented Oakland for the American League in the 2011 All-Star Game.

I am excited to meet Gio, as he is flying into town this afternoon. Later tonight, I’ll meet him and his family at the Caps-Bruins game at the Verizon Center.

Here is what we know. Gio is a front-line starter. Those do not grow on trees.

What’s better: Gio is a 26 year-old front-line starter who throws left-handed. Those too don’t grow on trees. And if they did, they’d reside only in the nation’s finest botanical gardens.

This is a 26 year-old pitcher who won 31 games and posted a 3.17 ERA for the A’s the last 2 seasons. While pitching for Oakland in 2010-11, Gio’s A’s went 36-29 (.554). When anyone else started for the Athletics in those same two seasons, they finished 119-140 (.459).

A South Florida native, Gio’s return to the East Coast and his exposure to our growing fan base will provide his system (and ours) a healthy jolt. Couple these factors with a good-old fashioned pennant race and there is good reason to believe Gio’s talents can rise to new heights.

Gio, 26, joins John Lannan, Ross Detwiler and Tom Gorzelanny as left-handed options in Davey Johnson’s rotation stable. Not bad weapons to have, especially in lieu of the annual 72 intradivision contests featuring either Jason Heyward, Ryan Howard, Chipper Jones, Brian McCann, Logan Morrison or Chase Utley.

This was hardly one of those spur-of-the-moment trades your read about from baseball’s glory days. I know Mike Rizzo and his baseball ops brain trust were working on this deal for at least two months. I sat in on a good number of the internal discussions, some of which took place during the Winter Meetings in Dallas.

GM Mike Rizzo and his staff worked hard to bring Gonzalez to Washington.

It was tough to give up A.J. Cole, Tommy Milone, Derek Norris and Brad Peacock. All four of these youngsters possess considerable talents that made them desirable, not only by the A’s, but numerous other teams. And they are fantastic young men. We’ll be watching from afar where those talents take them and we thank them for their efforts and wish them nothing but the best. That said, I am glad they will be in the American League, at least in the immediate future!

As all our fans know, we have placed an inordinate emphasis on scouting and player development since coming on the scene in 2006. This is precisely what we had in mind upon crafting our organizational philosophy.

Think about the Gio trade. As stated, we (begrudgingly) dealt four talented players to Oakland. But digging deeper reminds us that none of the four were acquired with premium draft picks. Rather, they were 4th- (Cole, Norris), 10th- (Milone) and 41st-round (Peacock) selections.

Gio Gonzalez will toe the rubber for your Nationals during the first home series of the season (April 12-15 vs. Cincinnati) with the collective wisdom of our scouts and the diligence of our development staff.

So, I salute Mike and his various staffs for “a job well done,” which was essentially six years in the making. Yes, six years.

Remember, Brad Peacock was scouted and drafted in 2006.

Until our next blog meeting …

Mark L.

Return Of The “Pack”

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Preparation for the upcoming season extends to every facet of the organization, including our gameday staff. One of our most important teams of staff members, which you will most certainly recognize if you have ever been to a game at Nationals Park, is the NatPack.

Have you ever wondered just who these young men and women are who come together to help make your in-park experience as fun as possible? Have you ever wished you were one of them? We will hold a two-day tryout – Saturday, January 28 and Sunday January 29 at Nationals Park – to find the best of the best for this year’s NatPack. With the excitement building around the 2012 season, these tryouts promise to be full of Nationals fans looking for a chance to represent their favorite team on the field.

Do you think you have what it takes to make the team? NatPack vets Katie and Kenny share their experiences, their advice and what they are looking forward to in 2012.

Curly W Live: What does it take to be a member of the NatPack?

Katie shows her support for Michael Morse as a candidate in the 2011 All-Star Game Final Vote.

Katie: You have to be outgoing, personable and enthusiastic so you can give the fans a memorable and positive experience every time they come to the ballpark. You also need to be able to handle the pressure of working a live event because things will not always go as planned.  At any moment, you need to be ready to step up and handle what is thrown your way.

Kenny: You have to be comfortable talking to people and have an outgoing personality. You also have to have a positive outlook on things and circumstances, as certain situations such as the final score or other factors may not turn out your way during a game.

CWL: What has been your favorite moment at the ballpark?

Katie: I had the opportunity to work the game where Stephen Strasburg pitched his Major League debut.  I have never seen the stadium buzzing with that much energy and it made my role even more exciting!

Kenny: My favorite moment at the ballpark last season was the concert that featured Lifehouse after the game.  It was the first time be a part of. It’s always good to say that you witnessed something or were a part of something the first time it occurred.

CWL: What has been your favorite off-the-field memory?

Katie: The unveiling of the new jerseys.  We had the chance to help advertise the new look of the team.

Kenny: The road trip to the Pittsburgh Pirates stadium (PNC Park) and taking the Racing Presidents with us.  This has been an annual trip for the last few seasons, but this year we were able to take some of our new NatPack members and Racing Presidents.  It’s nice to interact with fans from a different team and just see how other entertainment teams operate.

CWL: What keeps you coming back to be a part of the NatPack year after year?

Katie: The whole team we work with. They are all so amazing, and we have created many memories together as a family. Everyone is so dedicated to their jobs and it makes it a fun experience for all. Mingling with fans and keeping them happy is just part of my everyday job and it gives me a lot of satisfaction at the end of the day to know that they are going home happy.

Kenny escorts Olympic gold medalist Dominique Dawes.

Kenny: I keep coming back to be a part of the NatPack year after year because I have unfinished work to be completed. I have been a part of the NatPack since the very beginning in 2005 but I have not been able to see the team make it the playoffs or make it to the World Series. With all that I have seen, and all that I have accomplished with the Nat Pack I feel as though seeing my team make the playoffs and win the World Series would be perhaps the final hurdle.

CWL: What is something you didn’t know about the Nat Pack until you arrived?

Katie: It is a job that involves a lot of teamwork and loyalty to your fellow NatPackers. If you can’t work together and communicate with each other, the job will not be easy.

Kenny: I didn’t realize how long a baseball season could be, especially when you’re working 50% or more of the games. I have gotten used to it and very much enjoy spending a good portion of my spring and summer entertaining fans and watching baseball. 

CWL: What is your best piece of advice for all aspiring NatPack members?

Katie: Be yourself and don’t hold back.

Kenny: For any and all aspiring NatPack members my best piece of advice is to be as creative as possible.  As a member of the NatPack you have to have a winning attitude and you have to be on top of your game at all times, as the fans expect nothing but the best from you.

Auditions for the 2012 NatPack take place on Saturday, January 28 and Sunday, January 29 at Nationals Park. Send a photo, resume and cover letter here by Monday, January 23 for your chance to join in on the fun.

So This Is The New Year

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There is something refreshingly cathartic about the cycle of years and seasons. The end of the old always brings with it the beginning of a new era, another chance to be better than before. While this is true of every baseball season, it is no stretch to say that the buzz — the excitement, the energy, the hope — that is floating around the 2012 Nationals is unlike anything that Washington has seen since the team moved to The District in 2005.

This hope does not come without good reason. There is the prospect of a healthy Stephen Strasburg electrifying the top of the rotation every five days. He will be followed by two more dynamic, budding stars in Jordan Zimmermann and the recently acquired Gio Gonzalez, all three 26 years-old or younger. Solid, sturdy veterans Chien-Ming Wang and John Lannan will be in the mix with the promising Ross Detwiler, bringing stability to the back end of the starting staff.

Drew Storen will look to follow up on a rookie season in which he saved 43 games.

From there, another set of power arms takes over in the bullpen, led by 2011 All-Star Tyler Clippard and anchored by closer Drew Storen, who in his rookie campaign became just the second National ever to notch 40 saves in a season. Add in flamethrower Henry Rodriguez, who regularly touches triple digits on the radar gun, and you’ve got three more exciting arms, again all under the age of 27.

In the lineup, the Nationals will look for a healthy year from Ryan Zimmerman. DC’s under-the-radar superstar began last season hot before suffering an abdominal strain that hampered his production throughout the year. Still just 27 years of age, the third baseman will look to return to his form of the previous five seasons, during which he averaged 37 doubles, 23 home runs and 89 RBI while playing in an average of 145 games.

Jayson Werth, meanwhile, will look to reestablish himself as the player who received MVP votes in each of his two seasons prior to joining the Nationals. While he reached the 20-home run plateau for the fourth consecutive season in 2011, a return to form across the board in his numbers would make the middle of the Nationals lineup that much more formidable to opposing pitching staffs.

Mike Morse was one of the National League's best hitters in 2011.

Joining that pair will be 2011’s breakout star, Michael Morse. The numbers don’t lie — Morse hit .303 with 36 doubles, 31 home runs, 95 RBI and a .550 slugging percentage. But to understand just how good Morse’s season was, consider the following: he had more doubles and home runs than Troy Tulowitzki, and a higher slugging percentage than Albert Pujols (see for yourself). In fact, besides the NL MVP, Morse was the only player in the National League to bat over .300 with 35 or more doubles, 30 or more home runs and a slugging percentage of .550 or better. The return of “The Beast” to the middle of the lineup should be a welcome sight for Nats fans everywhere.

Another returnee for 2012 who impressed last year was rookie infielder Danny Espinosa, who will look to build on the power potential he flashed during his 21-home run performance last season. Coupled with the slick glove work he often showed at second base, the former Long Beach State shortstop may just prove he owns that rare combination of being a versatile middle infielder with pop from both sides of the plate. Oh, and he won’t turn 25 until after Opening Day.

Even after trading four prospects to the Oakland Athletics in the Gonzalez deal, there is still plenty of talent waiting in the wings, ready to contribute in the future. Top prospects like lefthander Matt Purke and infielder Anthony Rendon are poised to join Bryce Harper in the years to come, but that discussion is for another time.

Bryce Harper headlines the next wave of Nationals prospects.

While the future remains very bright for this team, make no mistake, the window has officially opened. With the Gonzalez trade, EVP of Baseball Operations and GM Mike Rizzo not only added one of the premiere left-handed power arms in the game, he announced that he is not waiting for some distant tomorrow to contend.

“Gio’s ample talents are well known and chronicled,” said Rizzo after inking the lefty to a five-year extension on Sunday. “Now both Gio and our fans can shift their focus and excitement to his debut in DC knowing that their relationship won’t be ending in the short term.”

Of course, the road will not be easy. With the flurry of acquisitions made by the new Miami Marlins, the NL East has improved to the point of challenging its American League counterpart as the toughest division in baseball. And speaking of that AL East, the Nats will draw the perennial powerhouse in Interleague Play this year, making the schedule that much tougher. The good news is, should Washington survive this gauntlet and (gasp!) force its way into the picture for the potentially expanding postseason field, this young Nationals squad will have already faced the toughest teams in the league.

If you’ve been following the Nats from the beginning, your best days certainly appear to be ahead of you. If 2012 marks the beginning of your fandom, then welcome. Strap yourself in and enjoy the ride.