By: Dan Kolko
The baseball schedule can be a grueling one.
This year, the Nationals will play 162 regular season games in 182 days. The road trips are long. The nights in hotel rooms add up quickly. The days off, especially the days off at home, can be few and far between.
That’s why most players rely on their families to help get them through the tough times. Parents, siblings, wives, children — they all help to provide a support system, a base that players can lean on during the long season.
And for many Nationals players, that family, that base, isn’t complete without a canine as well.
As fans have noticed over the years, thanks to the Nationals’ popular pet calendar and player Instagram posts, players like Gio Gonzalez, Jayson Werth and Max Scherzer have added dogs to their home setups. In some cases, those pups have gained a bit of a celebrity status of their own.
Werth’s gigantic Great Dane, Magnus, was even featured in a Nationals Park giveaway this season. The first 20,000 fans that came to the game on June 27 received a figurine of Jayson and Magnus, who is shown standing on his hind legs, nearly looking eye-to-eye with his owner.
When asked if Magnus is aware of his level of popularity in the D.C. area, Werth smiles.
“I’ve told him,” he says. “I think he’s that kind of dog anyways. Whenever somebody comes over, they’re coming over to see him.”
Magnus is one of two dogs the Werths own; the other is a German Shorthaired Pointer named Gunner, who Werth says isn’t nearly as social as his larger counterpart.
Magnus has made a handful of appearances at Nationals Park in the past, though his presence has been less frequent this year.
“I usually save him for when we need him,” Werth jokes. “The old ‘rally dog.’”
Gonzalez’s French Bulldog, Stitch, has become a frequent visitor at the Nationals’ Spring Training complex, and also sometimes accompanies his owner into the Nats’ home clubhouse in D.C. Every appearance by the dark-coated pup leads to teammates, coaches and team personnel flocking around, making Stitch the center of attention.
“I know the chefs love him. I know that,” Gonzalez says with a laugh. “He hangs out in the kitchen all day long. He’s like, ‘You’ve gotta go to work? I’ve gotta go to work, too! I’m gonna go crush this bacon spread out here.’ But they love him. Everyone that sees him loves him. He snores really loud. He sounds like a little pig running around. He’s real friendly, friendly with kids. Personality-wise, I wouldn’t trade him for any other dog in the world.”
Only recently has Gonzalez added another dog to the mix — another French Bulldog, named Kylo.
“He’s got more of the energy,” Gonzalez says. “He’s a full-time ‘Red Bull’ the whole time. He’s full throttle. And Stitch is more laid-back. But Kylo’s still a puppy.
“Both of them now are in boot camp. This is the first time in my life I’ve ever seen Stitch lay down, stay still, and stay by someone’s side. You can see this joy in Stitch’s face, this joy where he actually wants to go to these boot camps.”
While Kylo and Stitch are only now going through the boot camp classes, Scherzer’s three dogs — Bo, Rafi and Rocco — have already graduated. Scherzer and his wife, Erica, got the pups (all of which were adopted from shelters) off-leash trained, allowing them to take the trio out and about, even on crowded D.C.-area streets.
“I’m able to go down any major road, and they heel,” Scherzer says. “And I get on a bike and I have them heel and we can march down anywhere. As long as there’s a sidewalk, we can cross anywhere. They know how to sit at stoplights. And once we get to bike paths, dog trails, they know that once I say, ‘Free!’ they can kind of roam and chase anything they want.”
Scherzer is well-known throughout the baseball community for having two different colored eyes, a genetic anomaly called heterochromia iridum. The condition affects roughly 1-in-500 humans.
In the Scherzer household, however, heterochromia iridum affects three of five living creatures. Two of Scherzer’s dogs, Bo and Rocco, have it, as well.
“You wouldn’t believe the number of people who send pictures to me of dogs with two different colored eyes saying I should adopt this one,” Scherzer says. “I get a lot of ’em. So that’s how we found all three of (our dogs).”
Scherzer’s love for dogs, and for pets in general, isn’t just lip service. It led him to take part in charitable work for The Humane Society’s “Pets for Life” program, which helps pet owners in underserved communities get access to affordable pet care.
“A dog will love anybody,” Scherzer says. “As soon as you go up to a dog and pet it on its ears and show it love, it will instantly love you back. They’re incredible creatures. Just how much trust they build with you and understand you, it’s just been awesome having three.”
For Werth, leaving for road trips means not just saying goodbye to his wife and two sons, but also his dogs. And those goodbyes don’t exactly sit well with Magnus.
“Those dogs don’t live that long,” Werth said of Great Danes. “So when I leave for a long road trip, I think it’s longer for him than for anybody else. You can tell he’s the most hurt. He misses me more than anybody else. He’s only going to live for like 7-8 years. So I think the time is different for those dogs.”
The Gonzalez family unit has grown significantly in the last year. Not only did Kylo get brought home last winter, Gio’s finance, Lea, gave birth to the couple’s first child, a boy named Enzo, this spring.
When a long road trip ends, and Gonzalez is able to return home, he says having that support system there to greet him helps bring everything into perspective.
“I think just seeing my entire family around is awesome — Lea, Enzo and the dogs,” Gonzalez says. “It’s almost like everything you’re worried about at the field, you come home and it’s a weight off your shoulders. You get to smile and just be yourself and relax. And I think that’s the joy of having a family like that. The dogs kind of put the icing on the cake.”
9.28.13: Nationals 2, Diamondbacks 0
Stat of the Game: Dan Haren was in command in his final start of the season, scattering four hits over seven scoreless frames.
Under-the-Radar Performance: Another former D-Back, Chad Tracy, went 2-for-3 with a walk and a solo shot, his first homer since June 17.
It Was Over When: Rafael Soriano got the final three outs to record his 43rd save, second-most in the National League.
9.27.13: Nationals 8, Diamondbacks 4
Stat of the Game: Jayson Werth and Wilson Ramos each blasted three-run home runs in the victory.
Under-the-Radar Performance: Stephen Strasburg worked 7.0 solid innings in his final start of the year to earn his ninth victory, lowering his ERA to an even 3.00 for the season.
It Was Over When: Ramos’ blast doubled Washington’s lead, providing the final margin.
9.20.13 – Nationals 8, Marlins 0
Stat of the Game: Jordan Zimmermann pitched a complete-game, two-hit shutout, giving him an NL-best 19 wins.
Under-the-Radar Performance: Anthony Rendon went 2-for-4 with a run and an RBI, while making several strong defensive plays at second base.
It Was Over When: The Nationals sent 11 men to the plate in the bottom of the sixth inning, plating seven runs.
The videos below are supplemental bonus footage of some of Bryce Harper‘s season highlights, featured in the To the Last Man cover article in Issue 12 of Inside Pitch. For the full story, be sure to pick up a copy this homestand at the the ballpark.
7.1.13 vs. Milwaukee Brewers: The Triumphant Return
In the first at-bat of his first game back off the disabled list, Harper hit the second pitch he saw over the left-field wall for a home run, bringing Nationals Park to its feet, demanding a curtain call.
7.25.13 vs. Pittsburgh Pirates: The Walk-Off
After opening the game with a terrific diving catch in left, Harper saved the day by blasting his first Major League walk-off home run to snap Washington’s losing streak and beat the Pirates.
8.23.13 at Kansas City: The Comeback
After falling into a 6-0 hole through two innings, the Nationals roared back for their biggest comeback win of the season, thanks in large part to Harper’s team-high three RBI. In the ninth, his sprawling catch helped preserve the one-run win.
The videos below are supplemental bonus footage of some of Ryan Zimmerman’s walk-off home runs, featured in the Mr. Walk-Off cover article in Issue 11 of Inside Pitch. For the full story, be sure to pick up a copy this homestand at the the ballpark.
6.18.06 vs. New York Yankees
3.30.08 vs. Atlanta Braves
9.6.09 vs. Florida Marlins
7.6.10 vs. San Diego Padres
7.31.10 vs. Philadelphia Phillies
8.19.11 vs. Philadelphia Phillies
7.26.13 vs. New York Mets
We are putting our own spin on the traditional “10 Questions” format this season. To mix it up a little, we are asking players, front office members, coaches, prospects and others nine questions we think you’d like to know the answer to, then bringing you their responses in written and video form. This Q&A originally appeared in Volume 6, Issue 10 of Inside Pitch.
1. How happy are you to be back in the lineup after missing some games early in the season?
I am very happy because I want to help the team. It’s not easy to watch the game on TV – I’m happy to be back here with my teammates.
2. What emotions did you go through when you hit the go-ahead home run and had 5 RBIs in your first game back?
I was excited. I felt the same way as I did when I played my first game in the Majors. That was a great moment for me.
3. Did that rank among your best games ever? How did it compare with your walk-off base-hit against the Phillies last year and walk-off homerun against the Mariners three years ago?
For me, those three were all special moments. The biggest one was when I hit the walk-off homer, but July 4th was exciting, too.
4. What do you feel are your strongest qualities as a catcher?
My strongest qualities are throwing runners out on the bases, blocking balls in the dirt and just calling the game. I think calling the game is the most important thing for the catcher.
5. What’s your favorite part about calling a game?
The best part is when I put zeroes on the scoreboard. It’s great when I put something down (a sign) and the pitchers trust me.
6. Growing up in Venezuela, who were some players that you looked up to? Did you have any role models?
When I was young, I followed Ivan Rodriguez’s career. Getting an opportunity to play with him here was unbelievable for me. I also followed Miguel Cabrera when I was coming up.
7. Which is better for you – hitting a home run, or blocking the plate to get a guy out at home?
Those two are both good, but I feel most excited when I hit a homer. That’s the better moment for me. Blocking the plate is also good, but you don’t want to get hit, so a homer is better.
8. What are your personal goals for the rest of the season?
Stay healthy. After the surgery last year and two times on the DL this year, I don’t want to think about that. I just want to concentrate on staying healthy for the rest of the season. That’s the most important thing for me right now.
9. Do you have any team goals for the rest of the year?
Make it into the postseason. That’s the first step. You have to make it into the playoffs first, and then fight for the World Series.
We are putting our own spin on the traditional “10 Questions” format this season. To mix it up a little, we are asking players, front office members, coaches, prospects and others nine questions we think you’d like to know the answer to, then bringing you their responses in written and video form. This Q&A originally appeared in Volume 6, Issue 7 of Inside Pitch.
1. After the first two months, how would you describe your 2013 season?
I can tell you I had a lot more fun month two than I did month one. I’m getting closer to where I want to be with each day and each game that goes by.
2. How have your years of experience helped you and your teammates stay relaxed through the good times and bad?
It’s great because I can relay to these guys the importance of not panicking over a small slump. The longer I’ve played, the more I know that when I look back at the year the numbers will be fine, and the production will be there. There’s nothing to worry about.
3. Even when you’re struggling, discuss how your defense never takes a day off.
It is two separate parts of the game. You’ve got to be able to learn not take a bad at-bat into the field, and to not take an error in the field to your next at-bat. If you’re not hitting, you can at least do something productive.
4. Does the fact that the baseball carries farther in warmer weather give you more confidence at the plate?
It’s almost like going to smaller ballparks. The ball flies, so even if you’re in a deep rut there’s a little bit of hope in the back of your mind. You’re thinking, ‘Man, I could miss one here and still hit it off the wall or hit a home run.’ It’s the same thing when it warms up.
5. With the heat rising, do you anticipate your teammates getting hot as well?
They say hitting can be contagious, and I’ve actually seen it over and over. A couple guys get going and other guys get going at the same time. That’s just a part of baseball.
6. With three multi-home run games to your credit already this season, is it any coincidence that you hit them in bunches?
It may have something to do with getting the first one early and going up with a little different outlook. Confidence is everything in this game. Once you hit one and you’re feeling good that day, you get into that groove.
7. You’ve won a Gold Glove Award and a Silver Slugger Award. What would it mean to you to add an All-Star appearance to your career accomplishments?
I thought last year I had a good shot — at least I was in the conversation. If and when that happens it would be pretty special to add to the list.
8. As you’ve grown up, how have you found the balance between baseball, family life and your offseason, off-the-field pursuits?
It has been easy for me, it always has. Without going into crazy detail, I’m a religious person. I feel like this is why I was put in this position of playing baseball … to be an influence. I choose not to let the game of baseball dictate who I am as a person.
9. What is it like having your son Drake with you on the road?
It’s awesome. Do you want to interview him?
The video below is supplemental bonus footage of Anthony Rendon‘s first Major League at-bat, featured in the Smile Like You Mean It cover article in Issue 10 of Inside Pitch. For the full story, be sure to pick up a copy this homestand at the the ballpark.
The video below is a supplemental bonus feature for the Gio Gonzalez: Positive Energy cover article in Issue 9 of Inside Pitch. For the full story, be sure to pick up a copy this homestand at the the ballpark.
Plus, check out our District 9 with Ian Krol, where he reveals the mystery behind his Twitter handle.