February 2012

Presidents (Race) Day Weekend

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Saturday officially kicked off Presidents Day Weekend, which made it as good a time as ever to bring the Racing Presidents out for their first workout of the New Year. After all, with pitchers and catchers reporting to Spring Training on Sunday, it was about time to start whipping the mascots into shape for the 2012 season as well.

With a host of media on hand, each Commander in Chief was tested in the 40-yard dash, as well as the traditional race from center field to the home dugout along the warning track. There was some dust to be shaken off early, but George, Tom and Abe appeared to be in mid-season form by day’s end. Notably missing in action was Teddy, who arguably could have used the tune-up the most.

We’ve posted a couple photos of the events below, as well as a poll. We’ll be in Viera all of next week following the holiday, but stay tuned for a full video recap of Saturday’s events, featuring some of the best races and worst spills of the day coming up in the next couple weeks.

The Racing Presidents pose for the press.

Abe at the turn.

The Presidents model their victory dances.

 

The Crossroads of Imagination and Memory

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Curly W Live will be on-site in Viera next week providing a behind-the-scenes look at Nationals Spring Training. As we prepare for the launch of the 2012 baseball season, we hope you enjoy this guest post from Nationals fan Frank Cumberland Jr. and his reflections on what Spring Training means to him, and Nats fans everywhere.

“What one loves in childhood stays in the heart forever.”

Mary Jo Putney

As an amateur philosopher, I like to try and boil things down to their essentials. To name the essential elements that make a thing what it is. To test my definition and see if it withstands scrutiny. To find out if I’m a better philosopher than I was a baseball player.

Spring Training represents so many wonderful things: rejuvenation, visions of greatness, renewal of the national pastime, the pursuit of individual and team excellence, and a chance for frozen Nationals fans to thaw out in Florida for a few days. But what is Spring Training, at its very essence?

We are just days away from the return of baseball.

It is this: the crossroads of imagination and memory. One might think the Spring Training experience would mean one thing for the players, and something different to everyone else; umpires, coaches, ushers, or fans. But no. On or off the field, in uniform or out, no matter our age, we go to Spring Training to remember the beauty of baseball, and to imagine a bright future for the year ahead.

There is a poetic, mystical quality to the Nationals that no other professional team – in any sport – can match. We’ve had some rough spots in our baseball history. Teams have left us. We wandered in the wilderness for 33 years with no team at all. It is no wonder that imagination and memory are so much a part of Nationals fans memories. For the longest time, memories of past glory, and the hope of baseball’s return, were all we had. We had a past and a future, but no present. We were proof that Mary Jo Putney had it right – the baseball team we had learned to love as children would stay in our hearts forever.

Then our greatest hopes came to life and baseball returned to Washington. But it all began, as all baseball dreams must, in Spring Training.

Fans take in a Spring Training game in Viera.

While you’re at Spring Training (or at Nationals Park), watch the family interactions between generations of Nationals fans. You will see the crossroads of imagination and memory. You’ll see the diehard Washington Senators fans – the parents and grandparents – recalling the magic when Ted Williams managed the Nats to a winning season in 1969. You’ll hear them talk about how they kept the faith that baseball would return to Washington. And you’ll see the children and grandchildren, with their Harper and Zimmerman and Ramos jerseys, watching the game and dreaming of the Nats return to prominence in 2012 and beyond. It is memory and imagination, captured in one poetic picture frame.

A seven year-old boy who visited the Nats inaugural Spring Training in 2005 is 14 years old now. A 10 year-old girl who was at the Nationals inaugural home opener in 2005 is now 17. For this lucky generation of baseball fans, the Nationals in Spring Training 2012 are their memory and their imagination. This baseball miracle is happening before our eyes. We are standing at that beautiful crossroads.

Love Is In The Air

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Welcome. Welcome to a very special time of year. Today is a day, better than any, to think of the one that means the most to you, to seek them out, to take a moment away from the business and distractions of day-to-day life. Take them gently by the hand, sit them down, look them in the eye. Lean in close and whisper softly in their ear the sweetest words, words that you can never say enough, words that your loved one has been quivering in anticipation to hear…

“Pitchers and catchers report to Spring Training in five days.”

See you in Viera.

 

Next Stop, Viera

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With just nine days left until Nationals pitchers and catchers report to sunny Viera for Spring Training, it was time for the folks back here in Washington to pack everything up for the trek south. This has been an ongoing process, but the actual moving day, or “Truck Day“, took place Friday at Nationals Park. There was plenty of work to do, so everybody was pitching in, even Screech.

You can watch all of the loveable eagle’s antics from a busy day at the ballpark in the video below. Have a great weekend everyone… we’re one week closer to the return of baseball!

Video: Screech Helps Pack On Truck Day

From The Desk of Mark Lerner – What A Week!

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Hello everybody. What a great week to be a Nats fan!

Yesterday was Groundhog Day. With Bill Murray’s 1993 classic movie in mind, I would like to relive some of the excitement that the last week has offered.

Consider:

*Last Thursday, Jan. 26, we signed one of the era’s best closers to pitch for us in the MIDDLE INNINGS.

*Earlier this week, Baseball America announced that they have rated our minor league system as the finest in game.

*And just yesterday, we agreed to terms with right-handed pitcher Edwin Jackson on a one-year contract.

Let’s take a look at these accomplishments by starting with our newest pitchers, Mr. Lidge and Mr. Jackson.

From my understanding, Brad had multiple offers. But at the end of the day, he liked the story we were writing and his place in that storyline. His four years with the Phillies gave Brad a good vantage point to watch the evolution of our ballclub. Brad is a smart guy and I think his instincts told him that it is an opportune time to join the upstart Nationals.

While on the mound, Brad can dominate with his slider alone, but I expect his professionalism, demeanor and experience will influence our entire pitching staff on a nightly basis.

A strong draft class including Alex Meyer, Anthony Rendon and Brian Goodwin (left to right) helped the Nationals farm system earn Baseball America's top ranking.

By inking Jackson yesterday, we added one of the finest players on this year’s free agent market. It is remarkable that Edwin has already accomplished so much in this game and he just turned 28 in September.

Edwin is perhaps best known for throwing a no-hitter on June 25, 2010, but his talents have been well known long before his historic night. He throws hard and HARDER. His potential is enormous, but perhaps his most prized quality is durability. This is a 30-plus start, 200-inning guy. This is a consistent tool at Manager Davey Johnson‘s disposal.

With Jackson, we have unrivaled depth (eight quality starting pitchers), power (Strasburg, Gonzalez, Zimmermann, Jackson, Detwiler and Gorzelanny all throw well into the mid-90s) and youth (seven of the eight starters are in their 20s) in what is now considered the hardest-throwing rotation in the National League.

As for the key ranking by Baseball America, it was a gratifying moment for our franchise.

When I got the call from Mike Rizzo, I could hear the pride in his voice as he shared the news. I couldn’t help but think that this type of independent affirmation would mean a lot to any baseball executive, but even more so to a third-generation scout like Mike, who still talks shop with his father, Phil, on a daily basis.

When Baseball America ranked us 30th in 2007, we deserved it. We were in a big hole. We had inherited what was no better than an expansion franchise. Many of our own evaluators called it worse. To go from worst to first in four years is something that we’re all immensely proud of. While many of our fans have watched us put together the pieces of our Major League club, the work that’s really going to pay off for the team in the long term was going on behind the scenes, down in the minors.

We did not officially win any games this week, but it certainly feels good to know that  Baseball America – the publication widely regarded as baseball’s bible – has recognized and lauded the stellar work of our scouting and player development.

So, I ask that you indulge me as I share in Mike’s pride and offer my heartfelt thanks to him, his scouts and his player development personnel. You guys are the best.

Our Town, Our Time, Our Park

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Ryan Zimmerman celebrates his walk-off grand slam against the Phillies last year.

Earlier today, the Nationals released Take Back the Park, an initiative designed to get as many Nationals fans in the ballpark for this season’s first home series against the Philadelphia Phillies. With anticipation for the upcoming season at an all-time high, Washington fans have an opportunity to create a true home field advantage here at Nationals Park. That starts today, with a chance to shut Philadelphia fans out of the park for what promises to be another exciting chapter in an already contentious rivalry.

Consider last year. While the Phillies have been dominant in the National League East recently, winning the last five division titles, there was a chink in their armor in 2011. The perennial champs ran into a pesky group from the District that just would not give up. The Nationals won each of the final four series against Philadelphia, including a four-game road sweep in September. In fact, the Nats have won 10 of their last 13 against the Phillies.

Our players have turned the tide on the field of play. Now, it’s time for our fans to do the same. To get you fired up, all next week we’ll take a look back at the top five moments against the Phillies from a thrilling 2011 rivalry series. What are your favorite memories of beating the Phillies in 2011? Check out our top 5 below, then vote for your favorite in the poll below!

Moment #5: A Werth-y Opponent (4/12)

April 12 marked Jayson Werth’s first game against his old team after inking a seven-year deal with the Nationals. He took no time to make his presence felt in the rivalry, taking Joe Blanton deep with a solo shot in the fifth inning en route to a 7-4 victory.

Moment #4: A Team Effort (6/1)

John Lannan out-dueled Roy Oswalt, and the bullpen closed out the game with 3.2 innings of one-hit, shutout relief as Drew Storen closed out a 2-1 win with his 10th save of the season.

Moment #3: Double Dose for Espinosa (5/31)

Cliff Lee surrendered only 18 home runs all season long, but three of them came off the bat of Danny Espinosa, including two in the same game. His second blast, deep over the bullpen and into the left-center field bleachers, provided a signature moment in a 10-2 rout of the former Cy Young Award winner.

Moment #2: Down To The Last Strike (8/21)

With Washington trailing 4-3 in the bottom of the ninth, Ian Desmond fell behind 1-2 before turning around a breaking ball from Antonio Bastardo into the left-field bleachers to send the game into extra innings. Jonny Gomes then took one for the team, as he was hit by a pitch with the bases loaded in the 10th inning, forcing in the game-winning run.

Bonus video: The Walk-Off HBP

Moment #1: Zim, For The Win (8/19)

Trailing 4-2 entering the bottom of the ninth inning, the Nationals scored twice on RBI singles by Jonny Gomes and Ian Desmond, then loaded the bases for Ryan Zimmerman with two outs. Mr. Walk-off came through in epic fashion with a two-out, full count, walk-off grand slam, delivering an 8-4 victory for the Nats.

Down on the Farm: Tyler Moore

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Ed. Note: Here at Curly W Live, we will be taking a closer look at some of the top up-and-coming prospects in the Nationals farm system throughout the 2012 season. Make sure to vote in our poll at the end of this article to help determine which player we will profile next.

There have been plenty of heralded prospects making their way up the ranks of the Nationals farm system over the last few years. Strong, talent-rich drafts have stocked Washington’s minor league affiliates to the point that prior to the Gio Gonzalez trade – which sent four of the club’s top 13-rated prospects to the Oakland AthleticsBaseball America had the Nationals ranked as the top overall minor league system in the game heading into 2012. Even after that deal, there are plenty of big names left, led of course by Bryce Harper. Those who keep their eyes on the minors will get their first glimpse of the likes of Anthony Rendon and the first regular season action for Matt Purke, who made his professional debut in the Arizona Fall League. These few will dominate the headlines, but we begin this season’s slate with one of the most promising power hitters in the system, Tyler Moore.

Moore sizes up a blast while with Potomac in 2010. (Steve Mihelerakis)

At the minor league level, where seasons are shorter and younger players are still filling out their athletic frames, large power totals are rare. In fact, only 15 minor leaguers hit 30 or more home runs in 2011, and only two have turned the trick in each of the last two years. The first name may ring a bell: Paul Goldschmidt. He was the rookie phenom who, after swatting 35 longballs for Double-A Mobile, was called up in September and played a key role in the Arizona Diamondbacks’ run to the National League West crown. The other player was Moore, a soft-spoken first baseman who, even after such an impressive two-year run, still does not appear in Baseball America’s top 10 prospect list for the Nationals.

Ranking or no ranking, that kind of power will earn you some respect and, in Moore’s case, some investment from the organization. The slugger was added to the 40-Man Roster in November, along with Eury Perez, Jhonatan Solano and the recently traded Derek Norris, to prevent him from being selected by another club in the annual Rule V Draft.

“This was his protection year,” explained Doug Harris, the Nationals Director of Player Development. “With power being a premium in today’s game, we felt like it was an easy decision for us.”

While Harris was not yet with the organization back when Moore first came into the system, he saw him as an opposing player while Harris was with the Cleveland Indians and Moore was at Low-A Hagerstown in 2008.

“As an opposing scout watching him, he was a guy that could always impact the baseball,” recalled Harris. “When he was in Hagerstown, it was really pole-to-pole power. Really his best power was to right-center, which is a true indicator of a guy who has a chance to come into bigger power down the road. So you saw glimpses of it, and I think a lot of the doubles he hit in Hagerstown got turned into home runs over the last couple of years.”

Moore slides feet first into second. (Steve Mihelerakis)

After hitting 30 two-baggers but just nine home runs in 111 games at Hagerstown in 2009, Moore got off to a rough start his next season at High-A Potomac. In 79 games through July 12, he had collected 47 RBI, but was batting just .191. Moore made an adjustment, though, and turned his season around completely. Over his final 50 contests, he went a staggering 76-for-193 (.394) with 21 home runs and 64 RBI. He would go on to lead the Carolina League in home runs (31), RBI (111), doubles (43), slugging percentage (.552), extra-base hits (77) and total bases (277), earning both league MVP honors and the Nationals Organizational Player of the Year. Moore put together another impressive campaign last year in the pitcher-friendly Eastern League, where he matched his home run total of 31, and again lead the league in RBI, extra-base hits and total bases.

In fact, in 189 games played since his remarkable turnaround, the 6’2”, 210-pound righty has swatted 52 home runs and driven in 154.

“When you break down the 2010 season that he had at Potomac…he really came into his own in the second half,” explained Harris. “It’s a credit to him. He’s a tireless worker, he never wavered in his approach or his intent day-to-day, and it really speaks volumes about who he is.”

Like many sluggers with such impressive power numbers, Moore also racks up his fair share of strikeouts, averaging 125 K’s over the past three seasons. However, he has also batted a very respectable .277 over that same stretch and it’s hard to argue with the run production.

Clearly, the Nationals have seen something in Moore’s potential ever since he was just a prep player at Northwest Rankin High School in Brandon, Mississippi. They actually drafted him on three separate occasions: in the 41st round straight out of high school in 2005, in the 33rd round after a year at Meridian Junior College in 2006, and finally in the 16th round after two years at Mississippi State in 2008. Moore signed at last, and has spent each of the last four seasons at a different level of the farm system, slowly playing his way up to Double-A in 2011. Now, as he enters his first big league camp in Florida, Moore will face new pressures and expectations from the Nationals staff. So, just how high is Moore’s ceiling?

Moore's power continued at Harrisburg in 2011. (Will Bentzel)

“I think a lot of that is really up to Tyler,” said Harris. “He’s obviously put together two very productive years back-to-back. He’s going to be given an opportunity at a higher level and a chance to continue to show what he’s capable of doing. I know that our Major League staff is excited to get a glimpse of him in Spring Training.”

As for how Moore will respond to the challenge, Harris is not worried.

“Tyler is a very high-character young man, a tremendous teammate,” said Harris. “He’s an early-to-the-ballpark kind of guy. He blends with every mix of player. He’s a quiet leader, not a big-time vocal leader, but he’s got a great presence and he’s very well-liked amongst his teammates.”

Those traits should serve him well, as Harris suggested that the coaching staff may try Moore out at several defensive positions to see where he can best fit into the Nationals’ future plans. Originally drafted as a third baseman, he has played exclusively at first base (or been a designated hitter) in his 448 career minor league games. Harris said the staff has tried him in the outfield a bit as well, and that they will continue to “kick the tires” on that experiment moving forward. Either way, it will just be one more adjustment, something Moore has shown that he’s good at making.

“There’s an adjustment period going to a new level each year,” said Harris. “I know that he’s preparing himself to be ready to go out of the gate this year. He’s a kid that’s had to earn everything he’s got.”

While Moore seems destined for Syracuse in April, if he is able to find similar success at the Triple-A level in 2012 as he has the past two years, fans in the District may get a glimpse of him before the year is out.

Video: Moore goes deep for Harrisburg

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