From The Desk Of Mark Lerner – Heading Home

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Hello Nationals Fans,

Is everyone counting backwards, like I am? Only three days until the April 5, 2012 Season Opener on Chicago’s north side.

But before we indulge ourselves with grandiose visions of Wrigley Field, Opening Week and of course our April 12 home opener against the Reds, I also want to mention how happy I am personally – as is my entire family – for our dear friend Stan Kasten, who along with Magic Johnson and Guggenheim Partners, agreed to purchase the Dodgers last week.

Upon getting word that this transaction was going through, I immediately called Stan, who was in New York signing the first wave of legal documents. He was elated and for good reason. Stan in Hollywood…a PERFECT match!

The Dodgers are a crown-jewel franchise with a special place historically in our game. Baseball is a better sport when the Dodgers are prominent. I am looking forward to seeing Stan – and hopefully meeting Magic – when we head west to Los Angeles to visit one of my favorite places in baseball, Dodger Stadium, starting on April 27.

The cherry blossoms in bloom can mean only one thing: it's time for Opening Day.

Now, let’s put a wrap on the ‘12 Grapefruit League season, Davey Johnson’s first camp as Manager of the Nats.

Remember, Davey is a baseball lifer whose baseball life began as a Spring Training bat boy with our Senators in the early 1950’s. He had a vision and by spring’s end, I think it is safe to say this was the most competitive camp in Nationals history. And that competition stemmed largely from the strongest crop of minor leaguers we’ve ever had.

Davey knows that everything great in this game starts in Spring Training. Sure, there were some bumps along the way, and perhaps a few more injuries than we’d like to see. Prominent players like Michael Morse, Drew Storen, Chien-Ming Wang, Adam LaRoche and Rick Ankiel have all been a little banged up.  But, the way I see it, better now than in May or June, right?

At the end of the day, a lot did go right. Easily, the best news of the spring came on Feb. 26 as the Nationals signed Ryan Zimmerman to a long-term contract extension. Ryan’s playing abilities are obvious, but he is also a true gentleman.

There is wonderful symmetry in knowing that the first draft selection (2005) in the history of the Nationals will be playing in D.C. for a long time, perhaps his entire career. There are just not enough star athletes that stay with one club, in one town, their entire careers.

The games started on March 2 with a 3-0 victory over D.C.’s own Georgetown University. Even with the loss, the young Hoyas were provided with a challenge and thrill they will never forget.

Rick Ankiel got his spring off to a great start as he hit an opposite-field homer against the Mets in his hometown of Port St. Lucie. I know it must have been gratifying for him to perform in front of family, friends and some of his former high school teachers and coaches.

Even though he will start the season in Syracuse, Corey Brown seemed to emerge from an injury-riddled 2011 season with a strong spring showing (.318, one homer, 4 RBI in 10 games). I bet he continues his good play in Syracuse.

Mark DeRosa showed everyone that his wrist was healthy, hitting .400+ for the spring. He also (jokingly) claims he set a Grapefruit League record with 10 walks in less than 50 plate appearances. I don’t know about that, but he was on base 2-3 times a game. He is going to be a real weapon for Davey.

Bryce Harper performed well on the field, but a minor injury temporarily slowed his momentum. That said, he showed all of the maturity needed to excel off the field. He managed loads of media requests and was always ready to play, the calf injury notwithstanding.

Bryce handled his option to Syracuse with true class, but at the same moment, he was charged up by Davey’s challenge to play center field. I have a feeling we will be seeing Bryce in D.C. in the not-too-distant future.

This spring, we enjoyed meeting Gio Gonzalez and watching him perform in our uniform for the first time. That curveball will be something I look forward to seeing once every five days for a long time to come. And the remainder of his repertoire was not too shabby either.

Jordan Zimmermann and Edwin Jackson will round out one of the hardest-throwing staffs in baseball. Both are quiet, both are competitors. Both are healthy and slot quite nicely into our rotation. And let’s not forget John Lannan who pitched very well this spring and Chien-Ming Wang, who was throwing so well prior to his hamstring injury. He is recovering nicely and will be another major piece for us as the season goes on.

And how about our bullpen? They picked up where they left off last season and now we have added Brad Lidge, one of the most accomplished relievers in the game today. I’d also like to note just how well Henry Rodriguez pitched. He was consistently outstanding from Day 1 of camp.

With all that said, I think the best sight of all this spring was Wilson Ramos behind the plate.  I know how excited I was in seeing him for the first time, so I can only wonder how emotionally taxing his first week of camp was. There is something about the atmosphere created by teammates in a clubhouse setting. Wilson is back where he belongs, with us and in a Nationals uniform, safe and sound.

I sense Mike Rizzo’s off-season acquisitions, Davey’s confidence, and the unusually warm temps this spring have generated a strong buzz for Nationals baseball in D.C.

A strong start in April would certainly help the equation, but I keep reminding myself that it is a long season.

Thanks for your continued support Nats fans. Let’s play ball! It is finally time.

I’ll look forward to seeing everyone all season long at beautiful and picturesque Nationals Park.

2 Comments

Every spring is a well of hope. You’re gonna have a nicer yard, You’re gonna get into exercise again, yadda, yadda. But the one constant in spring is Opening Day. I lived in the Washington area as a kid with the perpetually bad Senators. I came back in the 70’s to no baseball. Now we have a team that we can begin to believe in. Now spring is glorous again because of people the Nats are here and the team looks wonderful.

Last year, I don’t know anyone who expected them to finish so close to .500. This year, I know lots of people who think the Nats are going to be above .500 How great is that??

A strong buzz indeed! Washington is excited about the Nats!! Thanks to the Lerners and the front office for building such a team!!!

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