March 2013

From the Desk of Mark Lerner: Excitement in the Air

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Hello everyone.

If you are reading this blog, chances are that I don’t have to remind you that Opening Day is less than a week away. I’m pumped up for the season to get started, and I know all of you Nats fans are also. During my nearly month-long stay in Viera, I spoke with hundreds of our fans. The common theme down there was unbridled enthusiasm.

Now I am back here in D.C. and the messaging is identical.

Is this is the most anticipated season in D.C. sports history? While this is not for me to say, I have to think it is at the very least on a short list.

  • Friday’s 2:05 p.m. exhibition game against the New York Yankees at Nationals Park will feature a Jordan Zimmermann-Andy Pettitte pitching matchup. And here’s hoping that future Hall of Famer Derek Jeter’s ankle allows him to play, not only Friday, but all season.
  • Interesting to hear that Davey plans to really split time behind the plate between Wilson Ramos and Kurt Suzuki. Both are wildly popular in the clubhouse and among the pitching staffs. I think Davey’s direction here tells us that he is quite confident in Wilson’s knee and overall fitness.
  • Tyler Moore, Chad Tracy, Steve Lombardozzi and Roger Bernadina represent perhaps the finest bench in MLB. I know that Davey views all four as talents capable of starting. And this does not include the backup catcher, Ramos or Suzuki.
  • If you have not picked up on this yet, … Micah Owings can really HIT. I really enjoyed getting to know Micah during spring training.
  • Gazing at the schedule, it is still strange to see that we’ll be hosting the Chicago White Sox for three games from April 9-11. I keep reminding myself that this new day and age of interleague play will take some getting used to. It will also be fun to see the Detroit Tigers visit D.C. for a two-game set, May 7-8.
  • More than a few fans mentioned they are pumped to see William Howard Taft (Bill) and Teddy interact. This historically fiery relationship is one to keep an eye on all summer. I understand there has been a lot of trash talking already between the two already. Best of luck to Bill on his upcoming racing debut.
  • I’d be remiss if I did not thank and wish Kristina Akra, formerly of MASN, all the best on her new career path. For those that do not know, Kristina recently accepted a new job with the MLB Network. She will thrive there, but at the same time, her warm smile and enthusiasm will be missed here with the ballclub.
  • Sports Illustrated, one of the preeminent publications in our industry, came out today with their prediction of the Nationals as World Series favorites. While I’m thrilled about their optimism, as well as that of all others (like ESPN The Magazine) who have tabbed us to be successful this year, I know there is much work to be done before we get to any of that. So I’ll just echo Davey’s remarks today: “It’s better than being picked to come in last!”

See you all on Friday…

13 Things We’re Excited About for 2013: #7

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In the lead up to Opening Day at Nationals Park on April 1, we’re counting down 13 things we’re excited about on and off the field heading into the 2013 season. Be sure to check back each day as we add another item to the list and get one day closer to the return of baseball to Washington!

#7: More Season Plan Holders

With the success of the team on the field last season, it should be no surprise that the Nationals Season Plan Holder base continues to grow. And just as the franchise develops into a perennial contender, our fans are becoming louder, more passionate and more informed about their favorite club. From the front office, it’s a pleasure to watch the two transformations happen simultaneously, feeding off one another.

When fans attend the games together, it fosters a sense of community. A mutual shared interest becomes something greater, something that crosses racial, political, or economic boundaries to bring a region together. And as the season grows longer and more tense, the games ever more important, it is the moments spent together with your friends and neighbors in the cool spring nights and the summer heat that make the impending autumn so much more meaningful.

Regardless of whether you’ve been with the team since they opened RFK with the return of baseball to The District in 2005 or are brand new to the family this year, there is one thing we can all agree on: there has never been a better time to be a Nationals Season Plan Holder. If you are still on the fence, remember that the only way to get tickets to sold-out Opening Day is to purchase a Full or Half Season Plan. And also remember that you’ve only got until March 31 to get your 2013 plan at 2012 prices.

The season is almost upon us. We can’t wait.

Expectations Illustrated

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There will be plenty of predictions coming out this week about the 2013 season from the outlets that cover Major League Baseball. And while many of us have known ever since last October – and even more so as the team has added to its strong roster throughout the winter – that the Nationals would be getting plenty of attention, the first major prediction has been levied: Tuesday morning, Sports Illustrated officially picked the Nationals as their World Series favorites.

14COVv27_EGV_PromoAs a Nationals fan, such a prediction should be greeted with equal parts pride and pause. Yes, it is exciting that one of the preeminent publications in all of sports backs our team to be the last one standing. But considering the inaccuracy of such exercises, it’s good to take any such honor with a grain of salt.

First, let’s acknowledge that SI’s last correct prediction came back in 1999, when the publication tabbed the New York Yankees to win it all. In the 13 years since, only the ’01 Yankees even made the World Series, while six of the other 12 missed the playoffs entirely.

Now, for the good news. That ’99 Yankee squad epitomized balance. Nobody on the roster hit more than 28 home runs, but seven players hit 17 or more. Last year’s Nats had six players slug at least 17 round trippers, in spite of long-term injuries to Wilson Ramos and Jayson Werth, each capable of such production in their own right.

That Yankees team also featured a deep starting rotation that saw each of its five mainstays win at least 11 games. The staff finished with the most wins, second-best ERA and third-highest strikeout total in the American League. If that sounds familiar, the Nationals staff led the NL in both wins and ERA in 2012, also finishing third in strikeouts.

We say all that to say this: if the Nationals, graced with good health, can put together a 2013 season similar to last year’s magical ride, they look every bit as formidable as those ’99 Yankees.

Here’s to hoping for – but not putting too much stock into – the power of predictions.

13 Things We’re Excited About for 2013: #8

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In the lead up to Opening Day at Nationals Park on April 1, we’re counting down 13 things we’re excited about on and off the field heading into the 2013 season. Be sure to check back each day as we add another item to the list and get one day closer to the return of baseball to Washington!

#8: Bobbleheads and Concerts and Tweet-ups (oh my!)

The guesses at this year’s bobblehead class ranged far and wide, including many of your favorites on the Nats roster. And while Gio Gonzalez and Bryce Harper were popular – and correct – guesses, few saw Davey Johnson on the list until the clues began being revealed in our Bobblehead Trivia Challenge.

We had guesses and questions flying in from all corners of the web, fans trying to ply us for information. Here was an excerpt of one of our favorites from last Wednesday, after three clues had been revealed, via email:

If only 5 digits are ultimately revealed representing the jersey numbers for 3 players, then 2 of the players must have 2-digit jersey numbers and the third player must have only 1 digit. There are only 3 players with 1 digit jersey numbers (http://nationals.mlb.com/team/roster_active.jsp?c_id=was): Steve
Lombardozzi (1), Denard Span (2) and Danny Espinosa (8). None of these numbers have been the solution to any of the first three clues, therefore one of them (1, 2, or 8) must be revealed by the final two clues.

As mentioned, two of the digits revealed are the number 4. There is no #44 on the active roster, therefore the number 4 must appear in both jersey numbers of the players with 2-digit jersey numbers. Because the answer to clue #2 is 5, and that isn’t the number for any of the single-digit players on the roster (http://nationals.mlb.com/team/roster_active.jsp?c_id=was), it must be paired with one of the 4s.

In short, based on the answers to the clues and the limited number of clues/digits remaining, one of the jersey numbers must be either 45 or 54. Currently there are no players with either number on the roster.

After some careful thought, our fan put two and two together and realized that, in spite of his correct math, there was one more possibility – Davey Johnson, our third and final bobblehead of 2012.

Congrats to our grand prize winner, Ellie Spitzer. And here’s your first look at our first bobblehead of the year, Gio Gonzalez, on Saturday, April 13.

GioBobbleWhite

We know you’re also eagerly awaiting the unveiling of our NatsLive FREE postgame concert series, which we will be announcing soon. Finally, we’ll also be expanding our in-park social media events this season, so make sure you’re following us on both Facebook and Twitter for those announcements and special offers as they are announced later this year. Click here for an updated list of promotions to date.

13 Things We’re Excited About for 2013: #9

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In the lead up to Opening Day at Nationals Park on April 1, we’re counting down 13 things we’re excited about on and off the field heading into the 2013 season. Be sure to check back each day as we add another item to the list and get one day closer to the return of baseball to Washington!

#9: A Full Season of the Face of the Franchise

As well as last season played out overall for the Nationals, it was hardly devoid of setbacks. Most of the everyday position players suffered injury issues at one point or another, with Ian Desmond, Michael Morse, Wilson Ramos, Jayson Werth and Ryan Zimmerman all requiring disabled list stints. Each of those five were productive when they were healthy, though perhaps none more than Zimmerman.

Over his final 90 games, Zimmerman posted a slash line of .321/.383/.504 with 26 doubles, 22 home runs and 73 RBI. To put that in perspective, had he hit at his “healthy” rate for the 145 games in which he played, he would have finished the season with 42 doubles, 35 home runs and 118 RBI, even missing 17 games on the season. Those totals would have ranked tied for fifth, third, and first in the National League, respectively, and Zimmerman would have finished third in the NL batting race. Simply put, he played like an MVP from June 24 on, then went on to lead the team in hits, extra-base hits and RBI in the postseason.

As Spring Training comes to a close, Zimmerman’s throwing shoulder – repaired via offseason surgery – appears to be at full strength, and he enters Sunday’s game batting .351 in the Grapefruit League. It appears he will hit fourth in the Washington lineup, sandwiched comfortably between Rookie of the Year Bryce Harper and Silver Slugger Adam LaRoche. With the promise of a full season ahead of him, the Face of the Franchise – smack in the prime of his career at age 28 – may just be primed for his best season yet in a Nationals uniform.

13 Things We’re Excited About for 2013: #10

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In the lead up to Opening Day at Nationals Park on April 1, we’re counting down 13 things we’re excited about on and off the field heading into the 2013 season. Be sure to check back each day as we add another item to the list and get one day closer to the return of baseball to Washington!

#10: New Ballpark Food

As much as any innovation in the game of baseball the past couple of decades, the improvement in quality and variety of ballpark food is right at the top. No longer content to serve up the simple hot dog, peanut and cracker jack diet of days or yore (not that there’s anything wrong with the classics), sporting events now feature gourmet cuisine of all styles. From garlic fries in San Francisco to cheese steaks from Tony Luke’s in Philadelphia, from fish tacos in San Diego, to Cincinnati’s famous Skyline Chili, it seems that each region of the country proudly displays its favorite local delicacy at the ballpark.

Of course, Nationals Park already features a plethora of dining options, a number of which we featured right here last year. But on top of Shake Shack, Ben’s Chili Bowl, and all your other favorites, there will be some new options along South Capitol this season.

For instance, be sure to check out the brand new Shawafel stand in section 104. While you’re there, try the Lebanese restaurant’s signature item – which makes sense, given the name – a shwarma/falafel combo sandwich. Papa John’s fans will be happy to know that they can now find the pizza maker at the ballpark. And for all you Red Porch lovers, make sure to check out the expanded menu, including Jumbo Lump Crab Cheese Fries.

And of course, many of your old favorites will be back as well. Explore the updated concessions list to see them all, and we’ll see you a week from Monday!

13 Things We’re Excited About for 2013: #11

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In the lead up to Opening Day at Nationals Park on April 1, we’re counting down 13 things we’re excited about on and off the field heading into the 2013 season. Be sure to check back each day as we add another item to the list and get one day closer to the return of baseball to Washington!

#11: The Return of The Rock

The Nationals made a number of additions this offseason, but arguably their most important transaction was simply making sure that one of their own stayed right where he belonged. Coming off a Gold Glove and Silver Slugger-winning campaign that earned him a sixth-place finish in the National League MVP race, Adam LaRoche’s return to the Nationals ensures one of the team’s best players on the field and best people off of it remains in Washington.

Non-baseball fans who know of LaRoche only from his television show Buck Commander may not realize the veteran’s significance to this young Nationals squad. Aside from the power bat that carried them when other starters were injured in 2012, LaRoche’s sure and steady hands at first base made the whole infield around him better defensively.

In his spare time, LaRoche works heavily with service members, particularly Wounded Warriors upon their return to civilian life. His influence as an experienced ballplayer and stand-up member of the community is a key component as the Nationals look to defend their National League East crown.

Wishing for Spring

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As the Nationals travel squad forged its way down I-95 south through Florida to Jupiter last Friday to take on the Cardinals, most of the starters stayed back in Viera, working out at Space Coast Stadium. All the familiar faces were there – Ian Desmond, Bryce Harper, Adam LaRoche and Ryan Zimmerman – along with one very new, very fresh one.

To appreciate how fortunate 12-year-old Logan Gear was to join the Nats on the diamond last week, one must first understand how incredibly unlucky he was just a few years ago. At age six, Logan was diagnosed with a Wilms tumor in his kidney, an affliction that affects just 500 children per year in the United States. The cancer metastasized, spreading to his lung. Before he’d lived hardly at all, he was subject to two weeks of invasive radiation, followed by six months of chemotherapy. For parents like Logan’s, who dream of their children growing into high achieving adults, the focus was reduced to mere survival.

Yet, here he was, six years later, taking the field with his big league heroes, thanks to the Make-A-Wish program.

The whole Gear family - Logan, dad J.R., sister Jordan and mom Jennifer, take in a Nats Spring Training game.

The whole Gear family (left to right) – Logan, dad J.R., sister Jordan and mom Jennifer, take in a Nats Spring Training game.

“He’s been playing baseball now real seriously for about four or five years, and he thought that seeing the Nationals would be a great wish,” explained Logan’s dad, J.R. “We were trying to figure out when that could be, and it worked out to be at Spring Training.”

When the family had first arrived in Viera a couple of days prior, Harper came over and gave Logan his batting gloves. While those made for a fantastic souvenir, the experience of a lifetime was only beginning. Friday presented an even more amazing opportunity.

“Friday was incredibly special, him being able to be with the players and nobody else in the stadium,” recalled J.R. of watching his son. “Adam LaRoche is one of his favorite players. He got a couple of throwing tips from Adam, then went out to center field with Ian Desmond to shag some balls.”

LaRoche has plenty of experience guiding a kid on the field in Spring Training, as his son Drake partakes in many of the pregame activities each season. But to be able to do the same for someone like Logan, wide-eyed and in awe of the whole experience, was an entirely different ballgame.

“Drake’s been doing it forever, he really doesn’t know any different,” explained the Nats first baseman. “When he comes out, he’s not in awe, looking around at the guys he’s been watching forever. It’s different bringing a kid out who’s never been on the field, never been around the guys, to come out and not just sit on the sidelines and watch, but actually get out there and be a part of it.”

After his time in the field, Logan got to come in with some of his biggest heroes for a few rounds at the plate.

“When they switched rotations, he came in here to bat with Desmond, LaRoche, and Ryan Zimmerman, and Logan was the fourth,” explained J.R. proudly. “So he worked into the batting cage with them.”

J.R. and Logan seek out autographs on the field during batting practice.

J.R. and Logan seek out autographs on the field during batting practice.

Of course, being the rookie on the field, Logan wasn’t about to be spared any initiation rituals.

“We drilled him,” admitted LaRoche with a wry smile, explaining that the batting practice pitcher had hit Logan, softly but intentionally on the backside, an affront in a game situation, but a true sign of acceptance in the baseball world in batting practice. “We had to find out how tough he was. He handled it good, he stood in there and kept swinging.”’

Logan wore it, as they say, owning the moment. He hung tough, dug in, and lined the next pitch he saw back through the infield. The next day, when the Nationals returned home, he got the chance to deliver the ball to Stephen Strasburg on the mound. For a young Nationals fan who plays shortstop and pitches, could there be anything better?

“Logan’s a man of few words – he’s on the quiet side, where his sister is on the loud side,” explained J.R. “He turned to me after that and he said, “this was really, really cool, dad.”

According to dad, Logan made it out to about six or seven games last season, but keeps track of the Nationals on a daily basis.

“He’s the statistician of the family,” said J.R. of his son. “He knows all the players and all the numbers.”

He starts to recall the particulars of Logan’s big week, and it hits him all at once – the emotion of struggle of watching his son fall ill, only to recover and grow into a happy, healthy kid, gazing out at his favorite team from the warning track just outside the home dugout.

“No kid should ever have to go through that,” said J.R., fighting back tears. “I get emotional, because he went through a lot. But he’s doing great.”

Regardless of how aware Logan was of the severity of his illness, his attitude and perseverance inspired his parents through that troubled time, and left an indelible mark on their appreciation for their son.

“He’s my wife’s and I’s hero,” said J.R. “What else can you say?”

13 Things We’re Excited About for 2013: #12

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In the lead up to Opening Day at Nationals Park on April 1, we’re counting down 13 things we’re excited about on and off the field heading into the 2013 season. Be sure to check back each day as we add another item to the list and get one day closer to the return of baseball to Washington!

#12: Old Dogs, New Tricks

You may have heard reports from camp in Viera that some of the Nationals pitchers are working on some new pitches this spring. Considering that the staff finished the 2012 season with the best ERA in the National League at 3.33, that is a very scary proposition, indeed.

Ross Detwiler has flashed a curveball that Davey Johnson claims is as good as any he’s seen the lefty throw, looking sharp in both international play at the WBC and in quieting the Detroit Tigers daunting lineup. Speaking of taming the Tigers, Jordan Zimmermann was absolutely masterful against Detroit last Sunday – and downright giddy afterwards – after showing some of the best changeups we’ve ever seen the power pitcher throw. Tyler Clippard has also expanded his repertoire, adding a curveball to pair with his already devastating changeup. How has that worked out so far? He’s allowed just two hits over 7.0 scoreless frames this spring, walking one while fanning nine.

Even Stephen Strasburg, already the owner of three plus pitches, has been working on a sinking fastball to pair with his four-seamer. We can’t wait to see all of them in action, as he throws the first pitch of the regular season a week from Monday.

13 Things We’re Excited About for 2013

Follow @Nationals on Twitter | Like the Nationals on Facebook

In the lead up to Opening Day at Nationals Park on April 1, we’re counting down 13 things we’re excited about on and off the field heading into the 2013 season. Be sure to check back each day as we add another item to the list and get one day closer to the return of baseball to Washington!

#13: The New Additions

When your team is coming off a 98-win campaign, as the Nationals are, you probably don’t want to see too many things change in the offseason. Many players are returning to reprise the roles they played in 2012, including the bulk of both the starting lineup and rotation. But Washington also made a few key upgrades, intended to help the team take that next step in the postseason.

The versatile Denard Span brings speed and a keen eye atop the batting order and, when sandwiched between Bryce Harper and Jayson Werth defensively, gives the Nationals one of the best outfield defenses in the game. Dan Haren lends a proven track record of success – along with 119 Major League wins – to solidify the rotation. And Rafael Soriano, twice a 40-save pitcher in the last three years, will anchor the back of an already talented bullpen.

For more on all three of the newest Nats, make sure to check out Issue 1 of Nationals Magazine, hitting Nationals Park on Friday, March 29 for the exhibition game with the New York Yankees!

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