by Noah Frank
On Thursday, the Washington Nationals announced our #NatsWeekOfGiving, which will run through next weekend and will include visits from players, mascots and staff to the Youth Baseball Academy, MedStar Georgetown, Arlington National Cemetery and more. But the week launched in earnest on Friday, when the USO announced that Adam LaRoche has been invited by the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Martin Dempsey, to take part in his upcoming Holiday Tour. LaRoche follows in the tradition of Ross Detwiler and Craig Stammen as Nationals players to take part in the military venue tour.
“They said it’s something you don’t want to miss,” said LaRoche of his conversation with his teammates about their experience on the Holiday Tour last year. “It’s something I’ve been looking forward to for four or five years.”
LaRoche will be joined this year by 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.
Much like Detwiler and Stammen last year, LaRoche admitted that he really didn’t know how to mentally prepare for the trip, as he has no idea what to expect. Nevertheless, LaRoche’s experience with veterans in the states has helped fill him with anticipation for the trip.
“All they want is to be back over with their brothers in arms,” LaRoche said of the Wounded Warriors he has visited with at Walter Reed Medical Center over the past three seasons. “If that doesn’t inspire you a little bit, there’s something wrong with you.”
We will have coverage of LaRoche’s USO Tour experience right here on Curly W Live.
In the meantime, you can take part in our #NatsWeekOfGiving by submitting a photo on Twitter of what you are doing to give back this holiday season. To enter the contest, simply submit a photo with the hashtag #NatsWeekOfGiving by 11:59pm on Saturday, December 14. Our Grand Prize Winner will take home an autographed Denard Span jersey and our top runner-up will win an Adam LaRoche-signed ball! Click below for official contest rules and let’s get the giving underway.
by Noah Frank
While the headline news of the day may have been the announcement that Adam LaRoche would join Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Martin Dempsey to take part in his upcoming USO Tour (more on that later), there was another event happening at Nationals Park on Friday. New Nationals Manager Matt Williams met with a couple dozen youth baseball coaches and administrators from Washington, D.C. to discuss the future of the game in our nation’s capital.
Over lunch at the Red Porch, Williams fielded honest questions and concerns and interacted with the group for the first time. He listened to stories of the youth baseball landscape in D.C. and the challenges that face those charged with coaching and mentoring our local youth. And while the group was never going to solve every issue in a single lunch, the event offered an opening up of dialogue with the most publicly visible coach in The District.
“I think it’s awesome for the baseball community and for the D.C. community to have the Nationals extend their hand,” said Clark Ray, Executive Director of the District of Columbia State Athletic Association (DCSAA). “I know these guys are just ecstatic about having the opportunity here today.”
The dream of revitalizing baseball among D.C. youth is a project that will take years to become a reality. The official opening of the Washington Nationals Youth Baseball Academy in January will help further that process, but initial conversations like the one on Friday help set the tone for accomplishing those long-range goals. They also provide a little inspiration for the coaches working hard every day to spread the dedication for the game they love to the next generation.
“Just that reverberating through the community will help elevate baseball in the city moving forward,” said Ray of the event, and how it can help the coaches involved. “I think it gives them a little more moxie. I bet you some of these coaches will speak with a little more passion after today. It’s great for baseball.”
We hope you all had a wonderful holiday weekend with your families as we all gave thanks for the meaningful people in our lives. Many of you also offered terrific submissions in our Week of Thanks contest, and after careful consideration, we have picked our winning entry:
“I am thankful to be part of a large, loving family. My parents recently celebrated their 66th wedding anniversary. My husband & I have been married for 37 years. I have 5 younger siblings & numerous nieces & nephews. We are spread across this beautiful country that is protected by our wonderful military, but one thing we all have in common is baseball. We may cheer for different teams, but the game itself is magic! When you walk through the gate at a baseball stadium, all your worries stay outside. A feeling of euphoria envelopes you & you’re free from troubles. Baseball can put a smile on your face and a song in your heart regardless of what’s going on in you[r] life. I am so thankful for that!”
- Joy Bolick
Congratulations to Joy and her family, who have won the opportunity to take their holiday photo here at Nationals Park! Thanks to everyone else who took part in the contest for sharing your kind words and helping spread the spirit of Thanksgiving.
by Noah Frank
We recently invited you, the fans, to partake in our #IGotYouAbe Holiday Photo Contest, by taking our cutout of Abe to your favorite holiday location and incorporating him in a photo that showed off your Nationals pride. After collecting your submissions, we picked five as finalists – each receiving a Nationals Holiday Pack, which includes tickets to four 2014 games as well as an Abe holiday ornament – and asked you to vote for your favorite as our Grand Prize Winner.
With nearly 60,000 votes tallied, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce came away the winner, and will get a visit from Abe himself at their holiday party.
Congrats to our winner, and make sure to pick up a Holiday Pack of your own at nationals.com/holiday.
by Noah Frank
On Thursday, members of the local media were invited on a tour of the Washington Nationals Youth Baseball Academy in Ward 7, to take in, first-hand, all of the progress there. Turf has been laid down on two of the three fields, including Field One, a full-size baseball field. The framework of the facility’s centerpiece – an 18,000 square foot building that includes eight classrooms, a teaching kitchen, batting cages and a fitness area – has been built, and crews worked around the touring party during Thursday’s visit as they remain on target for a January 2014 completion date.
For your own first-hand view, explore this gallery for updated photos of the beautiful site as it begins to come together, and click the link below to follow the progress live from our on-site camera.
by Noah Frank
After years of conceptualizing and planning, the Washington Nationals Youth Baseball Academy recently opened its doors for academic programming. While construction on the building and fields at the Academy’s permanent home isn’t slated to finish until the end of November, enrollment has already skyrocketed from 21 students on the first day to more than 50 today.
In partnership with Higher Achievement, the Academy currently offers after-school programming from 3:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m., three days a week. As enrollment grows, so does the need for mentors. The Academy will cap its first-year student enrollment at around 90, with a goal of 60 mentors, each volunteering one day a week. The Academy is currently housed at nearby Kimball Elementary School, but will move into its permanent home in January of 2014 upon completion of construction.
“What once was a plan on paper is now a reality,” said Tal Alter, the Academy’s executive director. “We’ve worked so hard to get here and we’re excited to welcome our first scholar-athletes into the program, which will offer local youth with a place they can flourish through unparalleled academic and athletic support.”
The facility itself will include three lighted baseball and softball fields, an 18,000 square foot, two-story LEED certified “educational clubhouse” with eight classrooms, a community room, teaching kitchen, additional flex space, offices and indoor training facilities with batting cages.
With plans to enroll a new class of third graders every year, the program is expected to grow to nearly 1,000 student-athletes by September, 2019. Additional programming for grades K-2 is also slated to begin in the first five years, expanding the Academy’s reach to a full range of K-12 scholar-athletes.
Situated in Ward 7’s Fort Dupont Park, the Academy is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization with a mission to use the sports of baseball and softball as a vehicle to foster positive character development, academic achievement and improved health among at-risk Washington, D.C. youth. A public-private collaboration, the initiative has been made possible thanks to donations from the Lerner Family, the Washington Nationals Dream Foundation, Major League Baseball and the District of Columbia, along with other corporate and individual community and philanthropic leaders.
You can watch the progress of construction on the facility live, with our on-site camera.
If you would like to apply to be a mentor, please contact Chris Reed at Christopher.Reed@nationals.com for more information.
by Noah Frank
When the Nationals arrived in Phoenix at the end of September for their final series of the 2013 season, already mathematically eliminated from postseason contention, the focus among the press corps had shifted. It was Davey Johnson’s final series as Nationals Manager, and both he and President of Baseball Operations and General Manager Mike Rizzo recapped the season while looking ahead to 2014.
At the same time, in the other dugout, Diamondbacks Manager Kirk Gibson fielded questions about his third base coach, Matt Williams, who was one of the men rumored as a possible candidate for the Nationals’ impending vacancy.
“I think he’d be great,” Gibson said. “He was obviously a good player. We’ve worked closely together since I’ve been a manager. He’s got a good mind for it.”
Gibson has managed the Arizona Diamondbacks the past three-and-a-half seasons, leading them to the 2011 NL West title. Williams was at Gibson’s side throughout his tenure in the desert, moving from first base coach to third base coach upon Gibson’s ascension to the managerial role.
“We’re similar,” Gibson continued. “He’s a fierce competitor. He understands the game. We break it down. He’s a tireless worker and believes in heavy preparation. Never gives in.”
Gibson also noted Williams’ success as a manager in the Arizona Fall League, a training ground for managers as well as players. Williams led the Salt River Rafters to a 17-13 mark in 2012, strong enough for the East Division title. Those Nationals fans that pay attention to the AFL may remember that Washington prospects – including Brian Goodwin, Anthony Rendon and Matt Skole – played on that Salt River squad. That managing experience and first-hand knowledge of players within the organization, along with his shared history with Rizzo in Arizona, no doubt helped Williams’ candidacy.
* * *
There is another side to Williams, though, one which I was able to witness in person as he spoke at a Minor League hot stove dinner hosted by the Fresno Grizzlies (the Giants’ Triple-A affiliate) in February of 2011. Williams was set to appear as the guest of honor, alongside fellow Giants legend Will Clark, following San Francisco’s first-ever World Series title. But Clark was held up by bad weather, and Williams instead shared the stage that night with Sergio Romo – then a young reliever who’d not yet ascended to the Giants’ closer role.
The two entertained the crowd throughout the evening, leading into the live auction, benefiting the Fresno Grizzlies Community Fund.
That auction culminated with a feverish bidding war over the grand prize: a weekend trip to see the Giants in Spring Training. When the auctioneer had reached a tipping point, and one bidder could go no further, Williams unexpectedly stood up and politely interrupted him, asking if he could speak for a moment. He asked the gentleman who had been outbid if he would still be willing to pay for the package at the price he had last offered. When assured that he was, Williams then turned to the dinner organizers to see if two such grand prizes could be procured. When it was determined that they could, Williams turned back to the two bidders to see if each would be agreeable purchasing their respective packages.
The maneuver paid off. Thanks to his ability to think on his feet, Williams helped secure double the donation for the Community Fund.
I relate this story not to suggest anything about Williams’ ability to think on his feet as the next manager of the Nationals. Rather, it underscores his presence of mind to help a good cause, revealing the human side of a man taking on a role where that can all too often be lost.
* * *
On the final day of this past Nationals season, after saying my goodbyes and offering well-wishes in the clubhouse following the game, I shuffled out to the elevators to the players’ parking lot at Chase Field. As I stepped through the metal doors, thoughts of another season of baseball the last thing on my mind, one other familiar person stood in front of me, ready to leave the park.
And so, we silently rode the elevator together – Williams and I – before departing on our own paths to Washington.
by Noah Frank
There may not have been any games played at Nationals Park last weekend, but the field was still put to good use. The Washington Nationals and the Baseball Tomorrow Fund (BTF) partnered to host the first Field Maintenance Clinic at Nationals Park as part of the Field Maintenance Education Program, a joint initiative between BTF and Major League Baseball.
Nationals Head Groundskeeper John Turnour and Assistant Head Groundskeeper Mike Hrivnak hosted 25 local coaches from more than 20 youth organizations on Saturday morning.
The two-hour clinic featured instruction on everything from maintaining the lip of the grass to prevent bad hops to keys to ensuring a safe, playable mound and the do’s and don’ts of clearing water off a wet infield. Turnour and Hrivnak were able to take the work they do on a Major League field and translate it into tips that youth leagues can use, even though they don’t have the same resources available. One such piece of advice was that it’s better to use towels to remove standing water on a field rather than sweeping it off with a broom.
In conjunction with the clinic, the Nationals and BTF selected Banneker City Little League to receive a $10,000 grant. The newly formed league will use the money for the upkeep and renovation of the upper field at Banneker Community Center. Check out photos from the clinic in the slideshow below.
by Noah Frank
Each week, we will recap the performances of the eight members of the Nationals organization participating in the Arizona Fall League, a “finishing school” for top prospects.
The eight Nationals players are members of the Mesa Solar Sox, which is comprised of young stars from the Nationals, Angels, Athletics, Cubs and Tigers farm systems. The Solar Sox will battle the Glendale Desert Dogs, Peoria Javelinas, Salt River Rafters, Scottsdale Scorpions and Surprise Saguaros during the six-week season, with each team made up of players from five MLB organizations.
Here is a look at the Week 2 performances from the Valley of the Sun, where Mesa’s 8-2 record is easily the league’s best:
ROBERT BENINCASA | RHP
Weekly Totals: 3 IP, 4 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 1 BB, 2 SO
Overall Totals: 4 IP, 5 H, 2 R, 2 ER, 2 BB, 3 SO
After allowing a single run in each of his first two outings, the former Florida State Seminole has posted consecutive scoreless frames in his last two relief appearances.
BRIAN GOODWIN | OF
Weekly Totals: .235/.235/.235, 1 R in 17 plate appearances
Overall Totals: .290/.333/.355, 2 2B, 2 RBI, 3 R, 2 SB, 1 BB in 33 plate appearances
The top position prospect in Washington’s system hit safely in six of seven AFL contests so far. He’s teed up left-handed pitching in the early going (in, albeit, a very small sample size), going 4-for-8 with both of his extra-base hits against southpaws. Goodwin also stole a pair of bases in his second week with the Solar Sox.
RICHIE MIROWSKI | RHP
Weekly Totals: 2 IP, 2 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 0 BB, 2 SO
Overall Totals: 3 IP, 2 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 0 BB, 3 SO
The 24-year-old right-hander continued to impress against right-handed hitters, who are 0-for-6 with three strikeouts against him. While Mirowski did allow his first run of the fall, he has yet to yield a walk through his first three outings.
ADRIAN NIETO | C
Weekly Totals: .143/.333/.143, 1 RBI, 2 BB in 9 plate appearances
Overall Totals: .308/.444/.385/, 1 2B, 2 RBI, 2 R, 1 SF, 4 BB in 18 plate appearances
The switch-hitting Nieto continued to show an impressive eye at the plate, where he racked up four walks with just three punch outs so far. This should come as no surprise to fans of the Potomac Nationals, who saw Nieto draw 53 walks while fanning just 82 times in 452 plate appearances this season.
MATT PURKE | LHP
Weekly Totals: (1-0), 4 IP, 0 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 1 HBP, 1 BB, 7 SO
Overall Totals: (2-0), 7 IP, 2 H, 1 R, 0 ER, 1 HPB, 2 BB, 9 SO
Purke cruised to his second win in as many Arizona Fall League starts with four hitless innings of work last Thursday against Peoria. While he walked and hit a batter, the promising lefty fanned seven — half of the 14 batters he faced as Mesa cruised to a 6-1 victory. Nationals officials said Purke did well attacking hitters, showing good command of his fastball and his changeup.
After two outings, Purke is tied for second in the league in wins (2), third in WHIP (0.57), fourth in opponents batting average (.083) and tied for fourth in strikeouts (9).
MATT SKOLE | 1B/3B
Weekly Totals: .375/.643/.875, 1 2B, 1 HR, 2 RBI, 4 R, 6 BB in 10 plate appearances
Overall Totals: .313/.542/.750, 1 2B, 2 HR, 5 RBI, 6 R, 8 BB in 24 plate appearances
Despite opposing pitchers’ best efforts to pitch around him, Skole managed hits in each of the three games he played last week, while also collecting six walks. He continued to display the dual ability to show great patience at the plate while also hitting for power, as he swatted his first double and second home run of the fall, striking out only once this week.
In his five games played, Skole has reached at least twice in four of them, so it should be no shock that his .542 on-base percentage ranks second in the league. Skole, who spent much of the year rehabbing April Tommy John surgery on his non-throwing elbow, also ranks among league leaders in walks (tied for third, 8) and slugging percentage (fifth, .750).
SAMMY SOLIS | LHP
Weekly Totals: (2-0), 9.0 IP, 9 H, 2 R, 2 ER, 3 BB, 12 SO
Overall Totals: (3-0), 12.2 IP, 12 H, 2 R, 2 ER, 4 BB, 14 SO
Solis may have had the most notable week of all the Washington prospects, starting twice and pitching Mesa to a win both times. His eight-strikeout performance in just four innings in a 7-4 win over Scottsdale stands out as a particularly good sign for how he’s progressing, as he fanned no more than five batters in any of his 14 regular season outings this year.
After missing the 2012 season, Solis entered 2013 ranked as the 11th-best prospect in the Washington system by MLB.com. But the left-hander now leads the AFL with three wins and ranks second in both innings pitched (12.2) and strikeouts (14).
STEVEN SOUZA, JR. | OF
Weekly Totals: .200/.500/.200, 2 RBI, 1 R, 1 SB, 3 BB in 8 plate appearances
Overall Totals: .308/.500/.385, 1 2B, 5 RBI, 2 R, 6 SB, 5 BB in 18 plate appearances
Souza started just two games last week, but reached base twice in each contest. He walked twice, stole a base and scored a run on Saturday against Salt River. He is now a perfect 6-for-6 on the basepaths, sharing the league lead in steals.