Last week, volunteers from across the Washington Nationals organization participated in #NatsWeekOfGiving, an initiative to give back in our community during the holiday season, while encouraging our fans to do the same.
Adam LaRoche kicked things off by joining the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Martin Dempsey, on a USO Holiday Tour overseas. Denard Span and Ross Detwiler did their part here in D.C., visiting with scholar-athletes from the Nationals Youth Baseball Academy, joining the Washington Redskins at the Darrell Green Foundation’s annual Christmas party and partnering with the Hope for Henry Foundation on a Winter Wonderland Holiday party for pediatric patients at The Lombardi Cancer Center at MedStar Georgetown University Hospital.
Nationals employees teamed up with 106.7 The Fan personalities for the remainder of the week. The team worked with John “Cakes” Auville, John-Paul “JP” Flaim and Danny Rouhier to distribute toys to military families for Project USO Elf, and welcomed Holden Kushner to their group to lay wreaths at Arlington National Cemetery with Wreaths Across America.
Thanks to all who helped make this week a great success!
As you likely know by now, Orlando served as a productive (and warm) backdrop for our club as MLB’s Winter Meetings concluded yesterday.
Blevins was attained from the Athletics on Wednesday in exchange for speedy outfielder Billy Burns. I will discuss Burns in a moment, but Blevins’ arrival fills an obvious void and better balances our bullpen equation. What’s distinctive about Blevins is his 6-foot-7 height, which is practically unheard of among left-handed relievers. For a while, at least, he will have the element of surprise at his disposal, as only 20.1 of his 267.0 big league innings have come against NL competition.
- Blevins joins a bullpen that suddenly contains a pair of former Dayton Flyers. Blevins was college teammates with Craig Stammen for two seasons at Dayton.
- On Thursday, we were finally able to officially acknowledge the Nate McLouth signing, which goes a long way toward providing the quality and experienced big league depth that we lacked last season, especially in the outfield. Nate is widely-regarded as a regular outfielder (500+ at-bats for the ’13 Oriole club that won 85 games) and we are fortunate to be able to plug him into a fourth outfielder slot. But Nate shouldn’t get too comfortable in our dugout. I know Matt Williams has visions of regular rest for his starting eight. He talked about this often while in Orlando.
- Going back to the Blevins deal, I think it is worth acknowledging that this was a scouting AND player development success story. The player we dealt, Burns, is reported to be as fast as anyone in baseball and he gets on base at a .421 (OBP) career clip. He was our 2013 Minor League Player of the Year, so the acquisition cost for Blevins was real. This was not an easy deal for Mike to make. But the back story is what intrigues me. Burns signed with us as a 32nd-round selection in 2011 and did not begin pinch hitting until joining the professional ranks (he hit strictly right handed during his collegiate career at Mercer University). It is not often that 32nd-round picks are named players of the year, and can be dealt to acquire big league talent. Job well done.
We will host NatsFest on Saturday, January 25, 2014 from 11:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. at the Gaylord National Resort & Convention Center. Tickets are already on sale and in demand. In one day, we’ve already surpassed our total sales from the 2013 event, and we hope you can again join us. Last year’s event was fantastic and it really kicks off the baseball season. I enjoy seeing fans and players to begin the baseball dialogue that warms our baseball souls.
- I enjoyed getting to know Mark Weidemaier, our new defensive coordinator/advance coach, while in Orlando. It will be interesting to see the impact of this new position, but I can tell you that Matt will have quite a bit of solid information at his finger tips thanks to the efforts of Mark and his staff. Our game has changed quite a bit in a short time.
So, another Winter Meetings are in the books and we are staring at less than two months until pitchers and catchers report to Viera, Fla. It is coming fast, so don’t wait too long to make your travel plans to join us in Viera for Spring Training. I cannot wait.
I hope everyone enjoys a safe holiday season.
The 2013 Chairman USO Holiday Tour rolled on this week, and Washington Nationals first baseman Adam LaRoche continued to soak in the experience. While the internet connections aren’t always frequent for the group, when LaRoche has gotten a chance to send a dispatch back to D.C., it’s always been filled with excitement.
“Just lifted off from Afghanistan on a C-17 transport plane,” he wrote in an e-mail on Wednesday morning. “We spent the last couple of days here bouncing from base to base. It’s been incredible, to say the least.”
Prior to visiting Afghanistan, the 2013 USO Holiday Tour entertained troops in Greece.
“I’ve never been around so many people who genuinely appreciate us being here,” he added. “We continue to try to make it clear with our troops that we’re getting more out of this than we think they are.”
The 2013 Chairman USO Holiday Tour, led by Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Martin Dempsey, includes not only LaRoche, but Grammy Award-winning singer/songwriter Bridget Kelly, former New England Patriots offensive tackle and three-time Super Bowl champion Matt Light, actor/comedian Thomas “Nephew Tommy” Miles, stars of A&E’s hit reality show “Duck Dynasty” Jep and Willie Robertson, and former correspondent on NBC’s “The Voice” Alison Haislip.
Over the course of the seven-day USO tour, the group will visit four countries and several military venues.
For LaRoche, who has spent a good deal of his time in D.C. visiting soldiers at the Walter Reed Army Medical Center and working with non-profit organizations that support the troops, like the USO, the experience is extremely meaningful.
“You would never understand the purpose and depth of this war without coming over and seeing it firsthand,” LaRoche wrote. “We’ve made time to meet with the lowest-ranking foot soldier to the highest-ranking generals. They all have the same goals: to make this a safe place for the Afghan people.”
The experience has been a humbling one for all of the celebrities on tour, and while there have been some light moments – “I’m rooming with Matt Light in a cargo container and he takes up half of it,” LaRoche quipped – it has also made a significant impact on him.
“We visited some (Forward Operating Bases) via Chinook, Black Hawk and Apache helicopters,” he said. “It has been a great pleasure to speak with a couple thousand troops every night.
“We spent most of one morning in a base hospital, where they save almost 99 percent of the wounded soldiers who come in. It is truly amazing.”
For more updates from LaRoche and his experiences on the 2013 Chairman USO Holiday Tour as they become available, check back right here on Curly W Live.