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What to Watch for: Philadelphia Phillies at Washington Nationals

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by Mike Feigen

What to Watch for: Philadelphia Phillies (3-6) at Washington Nationals (3-6)

April 16–19, Nationals Park

The Scene

What a difference a day makes.

The Nationals found an offensive rhythm from the very beginning of their 10-5 victory at Fenway Park on Wednesday afternoon, tagging Boston starter Wade Miley with two runs in the first inning and six more in the third. Ian Desmond and Tyler Moore belted their first home runs of the year, Bryce Harper doubled in the Nationals’ first run and reached safely three times, while Wilson Ramos cleared the bases with a three-run double during the six-run frame. Starter Gio Gonzalez, rookie Rafael Martin, and closer Drew Storen made the lead stand up, giving the Nationals a happy flight back to D.C. for their seven-game homestand against the Phillies and Cardinals.

Meanwhile, the Phillies come in losers of four straight after winning a pair of games against the Nationals last Friday and Saturday. Philadelphia was swept at Citi Field in New York, mustering just six runs in the three-game series.

The Stakes

Both teams could use a series win to gain their footing in what has started out as a wide-open National League East race. The Braves and Mets are both 6-3 in the early going, while the Nationals, Phillies and Marlins are three games back at 3-6. That said, it may be most important to avoid dropping three of four or getting swept this weekend. Nobody can win a division in April, but they can make it a lot more difficult on themselves with a slow start.

The Starters

THURSDAY, 7:05: RHP Doug Fister (0-0, 0.00) vs. LHP Cole Hamels (0-1, 3.75)

FRIDAY, 7:05: RHP Max Scherzer (0-1, 0.66) vs. RHP Sean O’Sullivan (0-0, 3.00)

SATURDAY, 1:05: RHP Jordan Zimmermann (1-1, 8.64) vs. RHP Aaron Harang (1-1, 0.73)

SUNDAY, 1:35: RHP Stephen Strasburg (0-1, 5.06) vs. RHP David Buchanan (0-1, 18.00)

Perhaps the top advantage the Phillies have entering the four-game set at Nationals Park is that their ace is on the mound in game one. Veteran left-hander Cole Hamels allowed just one run on two hits against the Nats on April 11, also the last time Philadelphia tasted victory. After that, right-handers Sean O’Sullivan, Aaron Harang and David Buchanan provide their own challenges against the Nats’ right-handed-heavy lineup.

All four of the Nationals starters in the series could lay claim to the individual matchup advantage, though the Phillies are more left-handed dominant at the plate and pose threats of their own. However, Fister and Scherzer allowed just one combined run last Saturday and Sunday in Philadelphia, while Zimmermann and Strasburg had to face the much more dynamic Boston Red Sox attack.

The Offenses

The Phillies still have many of the dangerous names Nats fans will remember, but they’ve scored the fewest runs in baseball to this point, with 22 tallies through nine games (2.44 per game). Second baseman Chase Utley homered twice off Matt Harvey two days ago, proving he’s still got the bat speed to compete with the National League’s best arms.

After a slow start in which they scored just 17 runs in their first seven games, the Nationals have matched that total in the last 14 innings. Right fielder Jayson Werth has contributed to the resurgence, as he reached safely to help spark the Nats’ six-run innings on both Tuesday and Wednesday. Washington also took a step forward with Michael A. Taylor in the No. 9 spot in the order, as the young center fielder collected two singles, a double, a triple and four runs batted in over the past two games.

The Best of the Rest

The Nationals will feature a new-look bullpen from the one they featured in Philadelphia last weekend. Absent are Craig Stammen (forearm stiffness) and Xavier Cedeño (designated for assignment) and in their place are the right-handed rookie Martin as well as left-hander Felipe Rivero, who was called up prior to Thursday’s game and could make his Major League debut during the series. Martin, 30, was incredible in his Major League debut Wednesday, striking out the final five Red Sox he faced in succession.

Nationals select contract of RHP Rafael Martin

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by Amanda Comak

Washington Nationals v Detroit TigersThe Washington Nationals selected the contract of right-handed pitcher Rafael Martin on Tuesday, adding the reliever to their bullpen. Left-hander Xavier Cedeno was designated for assignment.
Martin, 30, joins the Nationals for his first Major League assignment. Plucked from the Mexican Winter League after catching the eye of Nationals Director of International Scouting Bill Singer, Martin signed with Washington as a Minor League free agent on Feb. 25, 2010.
During a remarkable 2014 season, in which Martin advanced through three levels of the Nationals’ system, he was 3-2 with a 1.39 ERA and 11 saves. Martin, who relies on a dominant slider, did not allow a run from May 16 to Aug. 17, a span of 29 games (46.1 IP). His performance earned him an invitation to the Nationals’ Major League camp this spring.
The Nationals are Martin’s first Major League organization. A one-time construction worker in California, Martin signed with the Saltillo Saraperos of the Mexican League at the age of 22 after participating in in a tryout camp in Tecate, Mexico, on March 24, 2007.
In one game with Triple-A Syracuse this season (April 11 at Scranton-Wilkes Barre), Martin pitched two innings to earn the save, allowing two hits and striking out four.
Cedeno, 28, pitched in 25 games for the Nationals over the course of three seasons (2013-15). He was 0-0 with a 3.38 ERA (16.0 IP).

What to Watch for: Washington Nationals at Boston Red Sox

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by Mike Feigen

What to Watch for: Washington Nationals (2-4) at Boston Red Sox (4-2)

April 13–15, Fenway Park, Boston

The Scene

The Nationals will look to build on the momentum of their extra-innings victory on Sunday in Philadelphia, as they travel to Boston for the Red Sox’ home-opening series. Washington scored twice in the top of the 10th inning in Sunday’s 4-3 win, capitalizing on doubles from newcomers Yunel Escobar and Clint Robinson, a run-scoring wild pitch and an RBI single by Wilson Ramos.

The Red Sox dropped a 14-4 decision on Sunday Night Baseball in New York against the Yankees, as starter Clay Buchholz was battered for seven runs in the first inning. Despite winning two of three in the Bronx, the Red Sox put a lot of pressure on their bullpen, gutting out a 19-inning win on Friday night and needing 4.2 innings of relief on Sunday as well. Boston does get closer Koji Uehara back, a key ingredient in their World Series run in 2013.

The Stakes

With just 13 runs scored in their first six games of the year, the Nationals hope the return of Jayson Werth to the lineup will spark the club. The veteran outfielder has slashed .304/.396/.491 with 41 home runs, 61 doubles and 164 RBI over the past two seasons, highlighting his importance to the lineup. More importantly, an uptick in production will take some of the pressure off the Nationals’ pitching staff, a group that has a stellar 2.32 ERA through the first 54.1 innings of the season.

The two teams don’t have much history, but the Nationals swept the Sox behind strong starting performances by Jordan Zimmermann, Stephen Strasburg and Gio Gonzalez in June of 2012 — who happen to be the Nats’ starters the next three days.

The Starters

MONDAY, 3:05: RHP Jordan Zimmermann (1-0, 1.50) at RHP Rick Porcello (0-1, 4.50)

TUESDAY, 6:10: RHP Stephen Strasburg (0-1, 5.06) at RHP Justin Masterson (1-0, 3.00)

WEDNESDAY, 1:35: LHP Gio Gonzalez (0-1, 4.26) at LHP Wade Miley (0-0, 3.38)

The Nationals hope to get off to a strong start in the series behind the right arm of Jordan Zimmermann, a pitcher who hasn’t suffered a loss over his last 12 starts dating back to July 28, 2014. They will then give the ball to Stephen Strasburg, who took the loss against the Mets this past Wednesday, and Gio Gonzalez, who took a 1-0 lead into the seventh inning on Friday in Philadelphia.

Boston will counter with a pair of sinkerball specialists in the first two contests, as they hope to keep the Nationals’ powerful bats from clearing the Green Monster. The Nationals have five home runs in their first six games, though all have been solo shots. Wade Miley will pitch game three of the series, a pitcher the Nats have faced five times in the past four seasons when he was with the Arizona Diamondbacks. Ryan Zimmerman is 4-for-7 with three doubles and a pair of walks against the quick-working southpaw.

The Offenses

Boston’s attack features two new stars in the heart of the order, both of whom have worn out Washington pitching over the years. Hanley Ramirez, who moved from shortstop to left field this season after joining the team as a free agent from the Los Angeles Dodgers, has hit an incredible .336/.418/.623 with 30 home runs against the Nationals in just 121 career games, while third baseman and former San Francisco Giant Pablo Sandoval has hit .330/.370/.500 against Nats pitchers. Veteran sluggers David Ortiz and Mike Napoli are off to slow starts for the Red Sox, hitting just .130 (3-for-23) and .053 (1-for-19) on the young season.

The Nationals are still without Denard Span and Anthony Rendon at the top of the order, but Werth’s return could be a huge boost to the rest of the lineup. Escobar has been a pleasant surprise in the No. 2 spot thus far, hitting .304/.385/.391 with three walks and no strikeouts through the first six games of the season, while Robinson has four hits in 10 at-bats and could see time in the outfield or at designated hitter during the series.

Right fielder Bryce Harper has two home runs and a .346 on-base percentage on the young season, but hopes to see more RBI opportunities with the lineup becoming healthier.

The Best of the Rest

With Werth returning to the team today, Tyler Moore slides out of the regular lineup with Matt den Dekker joining Triple-A Syracuse. Moore is 0-for-12 on the year so far, but could regain his form in a familiar bench role. Left-hander Matt Thornton, who won a ring with the Red Sox in 2013, has yet to allow a run in 20 appearances in a Washington uniform. Former MVP Dustin Pedroia remains one of the toughest outs in the game, but has been quiet since homering twice against Cole Hamels on Opening Day.

Nationals reinstate OF Jayson Werth from 15-day DL

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by Amanda Comak

The Washington Nationals’ lineup got one of its biggest bats back on Monday as outfielder Jayson Werth was returned from rehab and reinstated from the 15-day disabled list, and outfielder Matt den Dekker was optioned to Triple-A Syracuse.

Werth, 35, returns to the Nationals’ active roster after missing the first six games of the 2015 season following offseason (January 9) surgery on the AC joint in his right shoulder. On a three-game rehab assignment with Single-A Potomac, Werth was 1-for-6 with three walks and one home run.

A career .276 hitter with a .370 on-base percentage, Werth has hit .282 with a .375 on-base percentage and a .452 slugging percentage in his first four seasons with the Nationals (507 games). Since arriving in the District in 2011, Werth has hit 108 doubles, five triples and 66 home runs. He has driven in 253 runs, stolen 46 bases and been caught stealing just seven times.

The veteran outfielder will transition his primary defensive position from right field to left field this season with Bryce Harper taking over in right.

den Dekker, 27, appeared in four games for the Nationals off the bench. He was 0-for-2 at the plate. den Dekker was acquired from the New York Mets on March 30 in exchange for left-handed pitcher Jerry Blevins.

Spring Training Broadcast Schedule

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NATSST_02112013_DMThe Washington Nationals broadcast partners, the Mid-Atlantic Sports Network (MASN) and 106.7 The Fan, will broadcast a total of 14 Nationals Spring Training games throughout the weeks leading up to the start of the 2015 regular season.

The Nationals 2015 Grapefruit League schedule features seven games televised by MASN and a combined 10 games airing on 106.7 The Fan, and partner station CBS Sports Radio 1580 AM.

Here’s the full broadcast schedule:

NATIONALS 2015 SPRING TRAINING BROADCAST SCHEDULE*

 

Date Opponent Time Location Broadcast
3/7 vs. STL 1:05 p.m. VIERA, FL MASN / 1580AM
3/8 @ NYY 1:05 p.m. Tampa, FL 106.7 The Fan
3/9 vs. ATL 1:05 p.m. VIERA, FL MASN
3/10 @ MIA 1:05 p.m. Jupiter, FL 1580AM
3/11 vs. DET 1:05 p.m. VIERA, FL MASN
3/16 vs. HOU 1:05 p.m. VIERA, FL MASN
3/19 vs. DET 1:05 p.m. VIERA, FL 1580 AM
3/21 vs. MIA 1:05 p.m. VIERA, FL 1580AM
3/22 @ DET 1:05 p.m. Lakeland, FL 1580AM
3/23 vs. NYY 1:05 p.m. VIERA, FL MASN / 1580AM
3/25 @STL 1:05 p.m. Jupiter, FL 1580AM
3/26 vs. NYM 5:05 p.m. VIERA, FL MASN
3/27 vs. STL 1:05 p.m. VIERA, FL 1580AM
4/4 vs. NYY 1:05 p.m. WASHINGTON, DC MASN/  106.7 The Fan

* Subject to change

Daily Wrap: First full squad workout, Escobar at second base & more

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by Kyle Brostowitz

Today was the day of the first full-squad workout for the 2015 Washington Nationals. Instead of rain, which was forecast throughout the Space Coast, there was excitement in the air. From bunt plays, to infield work to outfield drills to batting practice, this was the first day all 60 players in Major League camp got to work together, with their collective eyes on a single goal.

Manager Matt Williams addressed the entire group, (players, coaches, training staff, medical staff, clubhouse staff and front office staff) Thursday morning prior to the workout. He delivered a powerful message about “staying with the process” and let them know that “everything we do here has a purpose.” From there, it was time to go to work.

News of the Day:

Yunel Escobar took the field Thursday morning and instead of going to shortstop, where he’s played the majority of his career, Escobar went right to second base. This spring, the 32-year-old native of La Habana, Cuba will be given a crash course in the fundamentals of playing the position.

Escobar manned second base during the team bunt defense drills before taking full infield work with the rest of the team’s infielders, and batting practice. Following organized workouts, Escobar worked with Williams, shortstop Ian Desmond, and Defensive Coordinator/Advance Coach Mark Weidemaier, who is fluent in Spanish, on basic fundamentals of playing the position.

“What I saw is a guy who certainly has skill and that can play anywhere on the diamond if he wanted to,” Williams said. “Beyond that, what I saw was a guy who came in and asked for some extra work after practice. That’s the most important thing to me. It tells me he will take pride in playing second base and takes pride in his game in general. He wants to work at it. We made an agreement that, barring being sore or going through the ‘Spring Training soreness’ that he would like to do that on an everyday basis. That is a really good sign…If he wants to take grounders at 5 a.m., we’ll be here.”

Images of the Day:

 

Social Media of the Day:

Mr. @denardspan is #focused. #Nats #SpringTraining

A photo posted by @nationals on

 

Quote of the Day:

Depends on the guy. Depends on the manager. I’ve played for some guys who could set the tone and some who couldn’t it just depends on the guy. I would say our guy can set the tone,” – Nationals right fielder Jayson Werth on Matt Williams’ first address to the team.

From the Desk of Mark D. Lerner: Back in the swing of spring

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Good afternoon!

I am writing to you from my office at Space Coast Stadium on another picturesque day in Viera. Sorry, I know you’re all facing some pretty tough weather back in D.C. We just wrapped up Day 4 of our Pitchers and Catchers workouts and the full squad is just about complete. The position players will all report by this evening, get their physicals tomorrow, and on Thursday we’ll get them all out on the field together for the first time.

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Danny Espinosa’s mustache is something.

— Spring Training is one of my favorite times of year. It’s always so great to see everyone after the long winter. I truly enjoy hearing what our players did in the offseason, how their families have grown – some got married, or had children – or any of the interesting things they did in the time they were away. It’s a little like the first day of school. But way more fun.

I ran into Ryan Zimmerman in the hall outside the clubhouse just this morning. He looks great and is truly enjoying preparing to be our first baseman.

It’s also always fun to see who has worked hard all winter to grow their hair out – Anthony Rendon and Ian Desmond are leading this category right now – or who has been experimenting with a new facial hair look. You’ve all seen Danny Espinosa, right? Yosemite Sam, as we call him — just one of the names they’ve come up with in the clubhouse.

— We’ve now seen the pitchers all go through two rounds of bullpen sessions. And all that’s done for me is solidify how excited I am to see these guys compete this season. To stand in the bullpen and watch Max Scherzer throwing next to Stephen Strasburg, Gio Gonzalez throwing next to Doug Fister and Jordan Zimmermann, Drew Storen side-by-side with Matt Thornton – I could go on all day. It’s tantalizing to watch, and to think about what is to come.

2015-WNBC-Heath-Bell-03

It was great to see Heath Bell taking a little family time after a workout this weekend. (Photo by Paul Kim)

It’s also been great to see guys like Dan Uggla and Heath Bell in camp. That these players, with such accomplished resumes, are here in our camp as Non-Roster Invites speaks to our depth. Both players have arrived in tremendous shape – Heath Bell told me he’s lost 40 pounds and participated in two triathlons this winter – and I look forward to seeing what they will do during the Grapefruit League season. You never know how much of an impact their veteran presence can have on a club. We’re happy to welcome them to our team.

— I know I’m not the only one enjoying these workouts. It’s been wonderful to see so many of our fans lining the fences and taking the front-row-seat offered to them at Spring Training. The turnout has been fantastic and there really aren’t many better pro sporting experiences. The access for fans during Spring Training

Photo by Donald Miralle

Photo by Donald Miralle

workouts is really unparalleled. There’s no better opportunity to see these guys up-close-and-personal, and no better opportunity to get that autograph you’ve been seeking. Our guys have been signing each day after the workout. Nothing like the smile on a young fan’s face after they’ve received a prized autograph. There’s still plenty of time to plan a quick trip down here!

— Another part of Spring Training I really enjoy is that it’s a great time for me to catch up on all the movies I’ve missed. I enjoyed watching Aaron Barrett and Jerry Blevins battle it out on Twitter over their Oscars predictions earlier this week, and I got a chance to see American Sniper myself last night. Bradley Cooper was tremendous. I highly recommend it.

I also want to give a shoutout to our great staff at our complex here at Space Coast Stadium. They do a tremendous job, and we’re very lucky to have such wonderful people working for us and working to make the experience for everyone here so positive.

— We are thrilled that we’ll be welcoming ESPN’s SportsCenter here on Sunday morning, and really looking forward to them broadcasting LIVE from our camp all day. I know how eager our fans back in D.C. are to see these guys and for us to get back up north, so hopefully this will help make a cold Sunday morning that much warmer! Be sure to tune in!

Photo by Donald Miralle

Photo by Donald Miralle

— I want to personally congratulate our manager, Matt Williams, on having his option picked up for the 2016 season. Matt has done a tremendous job thus far and we are honored to have him guiding our players. The pride he takes in playing the game the right way and in helping our players reach their full potential is outstanding. I am really looking forward to watching him as he continues to lead.

Well, that’s about all for now. Don’t forget that single-game tickets are already on sale. While I’m already looking forward to the Grapefruit League opener on March 5, Opening Day will be here before we know it!

Until next time,
Mark

Black Heritage Month Spotlight: Black Baseball History in D.C.

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Images and content for this spotlight were provided by the Smithsonian’s Anacostia Community Museum. The exhibition, “Separate and Unequaled: Black Baseball in the District of Columbia” provides an overview of the popularity of African American baseball teams played on segregated fields in Washington, D.C., from Reconstruction to the second half of the 20th century.

Baseball: Universal Pastime in D.C.

Howard UMore than 150 years before the Nationals brought Major League Baseball back to D.C. in 2005, the city was home to a baseball mania comprised of every age, every race and even every government level. From schoolyards to the White House lawn, baseball flourished after the Civil War when thousands of men turned from the battlefield to the baseball field.

While baseball was played by all, the teams were segregated by race. While many white teams had fields, black clubs including the Washington Mutuals and Alert Base Ball Club were left to rely on the generosity of other clubs for the use of their fields and open spaces. As far back as the 1860s, black clubs came and went until the Homestead Grays formally called D.C. home in 1937.

DID YOU KNOW? From 1891 to 1965, Washington’s Griffith Stadium and St. Louis’s Sportsman’s Park were the only segregated major league ballparks hosting both black and white ball games.

“Home Away From Home:” Homestead Grays

Grays teamThe Homestead Grays are considered one of the most successful baseball teams to call Washington home, even if they split time between Washington, D.C. and Pittsburgh. While the first incarnation of the Washington Senators were busy giving Washington the distinction of being the “first in war, first in peace and last in the American League East,” the Grays won nine Negro National League titles and two consecutive Colored World Series. The roster featured Hall of Famers James “Cool Papa” Bell, Ray Brown, Josh Gibson, Buck Leonard and Jud Wilson. Each of these men is also a member of the Nationals’ Ring of Honor, displayed at Nationals Park.

Although the team was only in D.C. from 1937 until 1948, the team adopted Washington as its “home away from home” and scheduled many of its games at Griffith Stadium. Many historians report that their games often pulled larger crowds than the Senators, especially when the rival — and equally successful — Kansas City Monarchs came to town.

When World War II began to rage in Europe and the Pacific, many ballplayers, Major League and Negro leagues alike, traded in their baseball uniforms for that of the Army, Navy and Marines. The Negro leagues flourished during the war, however, due to the Kansas City Monarchs’ Satchel Paige and the Homestead Grays’ Josh Gibson being considered “4-F,” or unfit for service. Paige’s flat feet and Gibson’s creaky knees may have kept them from serving in the war efforts, but did not tarnish their baseball skills. With more employment opportunities in war-related industries and disposable income, black fans flocked to watch the Negro league stars. The Negro league franchises began bringing in revenues of more than $2 million a year, making them one of the largest black-owned and operated businesses in the country.

Although Jackie Robinson’s success in the Major Leagues in 1947 changed the course of baseball, his success also spelled the end of the Negro leagues. Due to financial difficulties and the collapse of the Negro leagues, the Homestead Grays franchise disbanded after the 1950 season.

DID YOU KNOW? When the Montreal Expos relocated to Washington after the 2004 season, “Grays” was one of the three finalists for the team’s new name along with the “Senators” and ultimately the winner, the “Nationals.”

Grays’ Spotlight: Josh Gibson

Grays jerseyJosh Gibson’s Hall of Fame plaque states that he is considered the “greatest slugger in Negro Baseball Leagues,” but many feel that he is one of the best hitters to ever play the game. Also known as “The Black Babe Ruth,” the Grays catcher hit for average and power and finished his 17-year career with a .350 batting average. While the final total is unclear, Gibson hit more than 800 homers, taking home nine home run titles and four batting championships along the way. Although Negro league statistics were not well kept, research has said that Gibson had a home run rate of one every 15.9 times at bats. This rate compares to the top nine home run hitters in Major League Baseball history. These didn’t just clear the fence either. Tales of Gibson’s long balls — and where they landed — only add to the myths surrounding this legend.

While he occasionally played against MLB competition, Gibson unfortunately never got a chance to play in a Major League Baseball game. On New Year’s Day 1943, he was diagnosed with a brain tumor, but refused operations fearing that he would suffer permanent brain damage. He did not reveal his condition to the Homestead Grays and continued to play for the team for four more seasons. Although he suffered from reoccurring headaches, those years were among the best of his career.  He won the Negro league home run titles in 1942 and 1943, won the batting title in 1943 with an average of .517, and hit 10 home runs in Griffith’s Stadium in 1943 — more than the entire American League hit in Washington that year. His supreme batting also led the Grays to win the Negro World Series in 1943. In Gibson’s last season, in 1946, he batted .379 and led the league with 16 home runs.

In 1947, at the age of 35, Gibson died of a cerebral hemorrhage. This was just three months before Jackie Robinson first played for the Brooklyn Dodgers. Robinson’s contributions to the game are colossal, but many feel that the honor of breaking the color barrier should have been Gibson’s. But his efforts did not go unnoticed. In 1972, he was elected to the National Baseball Hall of Fame. Gibson, behind Satchel Paige, became the second player inducted for their tremendous Negro league careers.

DID YOU KNOW? Clark Griffith, longtime Senators owner, attempted to sign Gibson and Leonard to play for the Senators in the early 1940s. Baseball officials intervened and forced Griffith to break off contract negotiations. The Senators would not become integrated until seven years after Jackie Robinson debuted with the Dodgers, signing Carlos Paulz in 1954.

Breaking Barriers: Sam Lacy

Museum ExhibitBefore there was television, fans who weren’t in attendance at the games were left to read all about it in the next morning’s newspapers. African American sportswriters not only played an integral role in the success of the Negro leagues, but Samuel Harold “Sam” Lucy wrote continuously about the injustice in segregated D.C. and the Homestead Grays. A Washingtonian and former Howard University student, Lacy covered sports for the Washington Tribune and the Chicago Defender before taking up a post at the Baltimore Afro-American. He constantly pushed for Senators’ owner Clark Griffith to integrate Grays players into Major League Baseball.

Encouraging others to not be satisfied with the segregated game, Lacy challenged racist standards while capturing the stars of the Negro leagues. Appropriately, it was Lacy who followed Jackie Robinson in the early days of integrated Major League Baseball, often sharing a room with the baseball legend.

Although Lacy wrote about African American success stories, he was a success story himself. In 1948, he became the first black member of the Baseball Writers Association of America. In 1997, he was awarded the J.G. Taylor Spink Award from the BBWAA for outstanding baseball writing, which placed him in the Baseball Hall of Fame’s writers’ and broadcasters’ section.

DID YOU KNOW? Sam Lacy’s love of sports started at a young age. Early in his life he worked in Griffith Stadium selling peanuts and popcorn in the black seating section of the park.

From the Desk of Mark D. Lerner: A look back, and forward

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Hello everyone,

Well, the month we’ve been staring at on the calendar all winter has finally arrived! It’s February, and that means our guys will be filing into our Spring Training complex in Viera soon and pitchers and catchers officially report in just two weeks.

— It has been great to watch Nationals President of Baseball Operations and General Manager Mike Rizzo and his staff work this offseason to put together our team for 2015. We were confident in all of the talent we had returning, but once again we feel like we’re in a great position entering Spring Training with the additions Mike has made.

Washington Nationals Introduce Max Scherzer— The most significant addition we made this offseason, of course, was signing 2013 American League Cy Young Award winner Max Scherzer. What an exciting day it was here at the ballpark on January 21st as we introduced Max to D.C. We couldn’t be more ecstatic to have installed him in a rotation that – quite honestly – is just filled with aces. Moreover, we are enamored with Max’s entire package: the player he is and the immense talent he possesses is obvious, but the person he is in the clubhouse and in the community is a large part of what made him a fit for us, too. He is a very special player and person.

I think Jayson Werth said it best. After he listened from the front row of the press conference to why Max decided the Nationals were the team for him, he told the Washington Post: “It was a very proud moment for me. The team that I believed in and decided to play for, and all the reasons of why I wanted to come here, were all about winning. Here we are a few years later, we have attracted the No. 1 free-agent pitcher, one of the nastiest pitchers in all of baseball, and we’ve attracted this guy in probably the biggest year of the franchise, especially in my contract, and it made me smile. As soon as he said that, it hit home. It was so relevant to me. I’ve been through that. But not in the same context. It was a proud moment. I was proud to be a Nat.”

I think we all were.

— On the other side of the excitement we all have for our new additions, like Max, there were a few fond farewells we bid this offseason, too. It will be strange to see our players lineup on Opening Day without Tyler Clippard and Adam LaRoche among them. I am thrilled that both players will continue their careers in great situations – Tyler as a key reliever for the Oakland Athletics, and Adam playing first base and DH-ing for the Chicago White Sox – and I am so thankful for all that both players did for our team, our fanbase, and our community. When we discuss the ideal type of players that we’d like to shape our team Tyler and Adam check all the boxes. They, and their families, were wonderful contributors to our organization and they won’t soon be forgotten.

And we will no doubt miss the contributions of Drake LaRoche as well! A constant, smiling presence in our clubhouse, Drake was a great reminder to us all, every day, what it is about this game that we love. He’s a wonderful young man, and I’m certain we’ll be seeing his name on draft boards in the next few years!

TenDaysTeddy_Bobble1— I hope you all are looking forward to our 10th Anniversary season as much as I am. I am not exaggerating when I tell you we have some absolutely wonderful things in store as we celebrate a full decade of history here in D.C.

I’m sure you’ve all been keeping an eye on our 10 Days of Teddy initiative going on right now, with everyone’s favorite Racing President, Teddy, helping to unveil some of the fantastic 10-Year promotional items we’ll be giving away at the ballpark this year – and that’s just the tip of the iceberg on our plans. Stay tuned throughout the season as we look back, and revel in all that has transpired since baseball returned to our city.

— It was wonderful to see so many of you at NatsFest, which was held on December 13th at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center. NatsFest is hands down one of my favorite days of the offseason, getting to see and interact with so many of our great fans, as well as getting a chance to see the whole team together in the offseason. The excitement for baseball in this town is evident, and it’s especially nice to see on a cold winter day. This year’s event was no different, and as it seems every year, it topped everything that had come before it. Can’t wait to see what next year’s event will have in store for our fans!

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IMG_2135— Starting with the Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic, which was just a spectacular event from start to finish and a wonderful showcase of our ballpark (and the Caps won, 3-2!), 2015 has already been such an exciting year for the organization.

That continued on Wednesday as we were honored to have new Major League Baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred visit our Partnership Summit at the ballpark and tour our Youth Baseball Academy. Youth baseball and softball is one of theinitiatives the new commissioner is most passionate about, and we are thrilled to be at the forefront of bringing the game to disadvantaged youths in D.C. We’re very proud of the Youth Baseball Academy, and look forward to all it can do for our community going forward.

It is, of course, a big change for baseball to have its first new commissioner in 22 years, but I look forward to what the commissioner will bring to the game as we all Commissioner of Major League Baseball Robert D. Manfred, Jr. visits the Washington Nationals Youth Baseball Academywork toward keeping America’s pastime thriving.

— Well, it is certainly about that time. Soon my wife, Judy, and I will begin the trek down to Florida for what is one of our favorite times of the year: Spring Training. And it does appear that our favorite time of year may be taking place in a new location in a few short years. We are very happy with all the progress that has been made toward finding a new Spring Training site in Palm Beach County, along with the Houston Astros, and are hopeful we will be able to keep the longstanding tradition of Spring Training baseball on Florida’s east coast alive and well for many years to come. I look forward to showing fans what the facility will look like. Hint… It’s awesome!

I can’t wait to see what 2014 NL Manager of the Year Matt Williams has in store for his second camp. If the first was any indication, I know it will be a well-run, no-nonsense Spring and our players will be more than ready when Opening Day rolls around.

Until next time,
Mark

Doug Fister reflects on an incredible USO Tour

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by Doug Fister

Last week, Nationals right-hander Doug Fister took part in the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Martin E. Dempsey’s USO Holiday Tour. Below is his first-person account from an incredible week.

USO Holiday Tour with Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of StaffAfter speaking with some of my teammates last year about the USO tour, I started to build some expectations about what we would be doing, where we would be going, and how the servicemen and women we would meet would react to our visit. I started wondering: What were their lives like?

After just a few minutes of being with the whole traveling party – the group of USO tour members and the military, those expectations went out the window.

There is really no way for me to describe my USO tour that would do it justice.

I can’t fully explain the incredible feelings and experiences that I was fortunate enough to have while on tour. From the travel, to the personnel involved, we were constantly soaking in something new. The excitement of ‘What’s around the next corner,’ was very real.

At the USO tour stop we made in the United Kingdom I was taken back to my childhood with my grandfather, who was a Chief Master Sergeant and a mechanic on B-52 bombers and KC-135 refuelers. RAF Mildenhall is the home for one of the KC-135 units, just like the ones my grandfather used to be a part of. To see that aircraft sitting in the hangar, and then to see it in flight, brought me back to him taking me to the flight line to watch them fly in.

It’s hard to pinpoint my favorite moment, because the trip as a whole was just overwhelmingly wonderful. But some of the moments that stand out most would start with the people  involved.

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The service men and women who make up the Chairman’s travel party were amazing individuals who exuded such great patriotism. They are what true soldiers, airmen, Marines, etc. are supposed to be.

USO Holiday Tour with Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of StaffI am most grateful for General Dempsey, and the example he sets for all Americans. He shows the honor, character, valor, loyalty, and way to carry one’s self with the confidence needed to be successful in life. He has surrounded himself with such great individuals, which gives us, as a country, the best chances to succeed in everything we do. Whether that’s on the front lines, or the traveling stage of the USO tour.

Traveling with the Chairman was like nothing I’ve ever experienced. He and his lovely wife are the most incredible and welcoming people. They are the epitome of a military family. Mrs. Dempsey has served her country, not just through supporting her husband, but as a military mother. She was constantly showing her appreciation to the service men and women, as well as to their families. She knows what it feels like to send sons and daughters off to war, as her own children have served. Despite what an unnerving experience that is, she has not only been a rock for them, but to the many families and military officials who have served under the General for all of his 41 years of service.

There was so much to learn from everyone I was on tour with, from those who work with the Chairman, to the “talent,” as they called us while on this USO tour. The patriotism that each of them shows — the way they carry themselves, the sacrifices they made in order to make the Chairman’s USO holiday tour as successful as it was — are just small parts of what we experienced together. The bonds that we created over the week are so tight. They are friendships that I will always be grateful for.

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USO Holiday Tour with Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of StaffI had the opportunity to fly into Afghanistan with a crew on their C-17, in full garb — kevlar helmet, vest and all. Flying into a war zone doesn’t mean the same thing to me now as it did two weeks ago. Each and every flight that these young men and women take is a huge risk, and leaves them vulnerable to so many enemy opportunities. There we were, sitting on thick sheets of bullet proof metal — the same ones that line the walls of the cabin — all designed to prevent rockets and small arms from compromising our aircraft.

As we made the short four-hour flight from Turkey into Afghanistan, I was able to get to know my new pal, CD. I listened to his stories of where he’s been throughout his life, and learned about his family and how proud he is of his wife and children, who always support him and love him from so far away. He told me some of the many obstacles that he’s gone through, showing his toughness, both physical and mental, and his determination to succeed. It was such an inspiration to me. I will remember him, and our flight together. He and the flight crew treated me as if I was one of them.

To be a small part of that flight, to see what a true crew should be like, and to look over at CD and see the man that he is, made me appreciate the many stories and things he had shared with me earlier in the flight.

It was one of the most memorable experiences I have had in my life.

Going in, I thought that the visit to Afghanistan would be the ultimate stop on the tour. We’ve heard so much for so long about the many missions and activities there. But to go in with the crew and CD, it was so much more. While we could only be there for a short amount of time, we met with many men and women serving there.  I look forward to meeting some of those people in the future and to hearing what they’ve gone through.

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A few of the best moments of the tour were the times when I was able to sit down and get to know some of the servicemen and women who serve and sacrifice for us.

USO Holiday Tour with Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of StaffListening to their stories and what had gotten them to that point — the way that they felt, the experiences that they had to overcome — it was very moving  for me.

It’s realizing the immeasurable amount of sacrifice that each of them chooses to give for all of us, whether physical or emotional. These men and women are incredible human beings, fulfilling such great and admirable tasks.

It’s Eric, the true warrior who fought on the battlefields beside his fellow soldiers, was injured by gunfire that nearly killed him, and spent months repairing and rehabilitating himself in order to be battle ready again. He joined us on the flight in order to be dropped back off with his troops. Meeting him and learning his story is something that I will never forget. The courage to go through battle and be attacked the first time is the epitome of sacrifice and giving of yourself for your country. But to be inserted back into the fight and take a helicopter to an unknown location in order to rejoin your troop is defining what it is to be an American Soldier.

Some of the men and women serving over there actually ripped patches off their shoulders and chests to hand them over to us as a ‘Thank you for showing you care and that we matter.’ To hear those words and to receive those items are huge tokens of my experience. They serve as reminders of each person and what he or she has sacrificed for me, specifically, and how grateful I am to have received such a gift.

The men and women who fight everyday just want to know that we care, that we remember them, and that we support them, regardless of the details. We are all Americans, and we all have the wonderful freedoms we do because of the things our service members do on a daily basis.

The Chairman USO holiday tour really opened my eyes to the world – and the war. The sacrifice, the threats, the teamwork and chemistry needed between individuals, are just a few of the many things that we were shown throughout this experience.

On the home front, we are always praying and thinking about our troops, knowing that they risk their lives each and every day, not only abroad but also here at home. Having the accessibility to go on to their bases, to actually see some of their installations and tools that they use, put those ideals into a whole new light.

I will never look at the U.S. flag the same way. There has been so much blood, sweat, and many tears given in order for that flag to fly the way  it does today.

USO Holiday Tour with Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of StaffAs a baseball player, I appreciate the experiences that I had getting mentally prepared to head into the war zone. I learned that each flight crew has their own rituals and superstitions when they go into battle. I was honored to take part in those rituals and learn the reasons they did them. This crew showed me what it really is to be brothers and sisters in battle. The way that they worked together, communicating and preparing for what lay ahead, was remarkable. Each member had his or her specific job in order to get the massive aircraft safely on the ground, and each person had just as many backup plans that serve them ‘just in case something happens.’

Of all my experiences while on tour, I will most remember the relationships I built in such a short amount of time.

Whether with the service men and women I had the honor of meeting and talking with, or the men and women that I was joined by on the tour. The talented men and women — actors, comedians, performers, people from all walks of life — joined together to show their patriotism and support for the military.

To see that they feel as I do, having so much pride in calling ourselves Americans, is such a grateful feeling and is such a true honor.

To learn more about the USO and ways you can help our nation’s troops and military families visit www.uso.org.

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