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Recapping the first two days of Spring Training

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by Amanda Comak

The first two days of Spring Training 2014 have gone off without a hitch. And as more and more position players roll into camp, the pitchers and catchers continue on their head start toward the season. Here are a few snaps from the first two days of workouts here in Viera, Fla., along with some live video below.

Ross Detwiler, Stephen Strasburg and Jordan Zimmermann all worked in the bullpen during Sunday morning’s first session:

Craig Stammen, Gabriel Alfaro and Blake Treinen followed in the second group:

Tyler Clippard, Jerry Blevins and Drew Storen rolled in with the third group:

Back at Space Coast Stadium, where a few of the early-reporting position players worked out, Nate McLouth, Matt Skole and Anthony Rendon took a little batting practice:

Manager Matt Williams even got in on the fun, hitting grounders to the infielders and, as seen here, throwing some batting practice of his own to Jamey Carroll:

He Who Holds The Ball Controls The Game

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by Amanda Comak

VIERA, Fla. — The words sit atop the printed schedule posted in the clubhouse each day. They’re tone-setters, for the most part. Conversation starters, in an ideal world. They are meant to be the first thing the Washington Nationals players see when they check the schedule each morning, and to help put them in the proper mindset each day.

“He who holds the ball controls the game,” read the line atop Saturday’s schedule as pitchers and catchers went through their first workout of the spring, and manager Matt Williams’ first at the helm of the club.

schedule

In a brief morning meeting, Williams made his feelings on the potential for the team clear and he had a simple message: Whatever this season will become for a talent-laden Nationals squad, it started Saturday. 

Matt Williams holds his first meeting as Nationals manager.

Matt Williams holds his first meeting of the spring. (Photo by Donald Miralle)

The quotes have drawn a lot of attention this first week. Players notice them. Members of the media are intrigued by them. Sometimes, Williams has warned, it won’t be a full quote but just a word. That will be their word for the day.

“I want them to talk about it,” Williams said later, during his session with the media. “As an example, today’s quote is, ‘He who holds the ball controls the game.’ I want them to have a conversation about that, and talk amongst themselves. This is pitcher-catcher camp, it starts with the guy who holds the ball — we can control tempo, we can control the game if we do things properly on the mound. I want them to start that conversation.

“That, and I want them to be reminded that that’s the way we think as a staff. We think that everything starts and stops with our pitching staff, and if we do things properly, we’ve got a chance every night. Pretty simple stuff, but it’s just a reminder to get them talking.”

The schedule runs through all 41 days of Spring Training, and right now there are 41 quotes or words of the day printed out.

As Williams’ session with the media went on, and more questions about the quotes followed, he chuckled.

“Really, they’re not that great,” he said with a shrug. “Most of them are not that great. But most of them pertain to our team, what we want them to accomplish, and how we want them to go about it, so it’s kind of (just) for us.”

Jose Lobaton talks trade, and how he earned the ‘Ice Cream Man’ nickname

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by Amanda Comak

VIERA, Fla. — With his future uncertain, Jose Lobaton couldn’t sleep Thursday morning. Rumors swirled the night before that a trade may be in the works that would send him from Tampa to Washington. He tossed and turned, and told his wife, Nina, “I can’t sleep. I’m thinking too much. If I’m going to be part of the Nationals, or not, I just want to know. I just want to make sure I’m going somewhere.”

He’d finally drifted back off to sleep when the call came in from the Tampa Bay Rays. It was official, he was a Washington National.

Acquired on Thursday, along with left-hander Felipe Rivero and outfielder Drew Vettleson in exchange for right-hander Nathan Karns, Lobaton wasted no time. Before 1 p.m., the Nationals’ new catcher was inside the clubhouse at Space Coast Stadium getting fitted with new red gear and catching up with countryman Wilson Ramos.

New Nationals catcher Jose Lobaton.

New Nationals catcher Jose Lobaton.

“I feel happy,” Lobaton said. “Because it’s a new team, and they’ve got faith in me. At the same time, I was with the Rays for, (almost) four years. I was feeling kind of sad (leaving) all the friends that I’ve got there.”

When Nationals President of Baseball Operations and General Manager Mike Rizzo met with the local media to discuss the trade late Thursday afternoon, he praised Lobaton’s receiving and defensive skills.

Just how well-liked and respected was Lobaton among the Rays’ vaunted pitching staff? The first call he got after news of the trade spread was from former American League Cy Young winner David Price. A picture of a sad Rays pitching staff followed via text.

“I’m going to miss you,” Price told Lobaton.

But by midday on Thursday, Lobaton was already refocusing on his new team. He chatted with Ramos about his new teammates and got a quick scouting report on the new pitching staff — led by Stephen Strasburg, Jordan Zimmermann, Gio Gonzalez and Doug Fister — that he’ll be charged with helping to reach its exceptional potential.

“When you’ve got a staff like that, oof, it’s unbelievable,” Lobaton said. “It made me feel better that the team has faith in me, that you can handle those guys. It’s a long Spring Training, and we’ve got time to get ready and be in that place that I want to be with them. That’s all I need.

Jose Lobaton earned the nickname "Ice Cream Man" while with the Tampa Bay Rays. (Photo via @RaysBaseball)

Jose Lobaton earned the nickname “Ice Cream Man” while with the Tampa Bay Rays. (Photo via @RaysBaseball)

“I’m the kind of catcher, I like to talk to the pitcher. Whatever they want. I’m not the kind of catcher who is like, ‘I want something, I’m going to call it.’ I want to do whatever they want. He’s got the ball… Communication, we worked a lot with the Rays on that. That’s what I like to do: try to be on the same page. Whatever they want. If they want the glove low, I’ll put it low. ‘Just let me know’ – that’s all I say to the pitchers: ‘Whatever you want, I’m going to do my best.’”

Lobaton also explained how he got the nickname “Ice Cream Man” while with the Rays. And it’s actually quite a hilarious story, so we’ll just let him tell it:

“I like ice cream,” Lobaton said. “Not in the way that, I love it and I’m going to get ice cream every day or anything, but I really like it. (Before a game in 2012), I was like, ‘Okay, I’m going to get ice cream.’ Luke Scott saw me and said, ‘I want you to stay in baseball. If you want to stay in baseball, you can’t get ice cream every day.’ I was like, ‘Why not?’ He said, ‘That’s not good for you. You’re going to get fat.’ I was like, ‘That’s true.’

“(But) in two hours, I was getting another ice cream. After that, (Scott) put in a lot of (signs): ‘Lobaton can’t be here.’ ‘Lobaton is not allowed to get ice cream.’ He said, ‘I’m going to help you.’ After that, it was no ice cream for me. And then we’re playing in Baltimore. He said, ‘This is a good park to hit your first homer.’ I had no homers in the big leagues at that moment. I’m like, ‘Okay, let’s do it.’

Jose Lobaton tweeted a picture of his first ice cream purchase as a National on Thursday night. (Photo via @JLobaton21)

Jose Lobaton tweeted a picture of his first ice cream purchase as a National on Thursday night. (Photo via @JLobaton21)

“In the second or third at-bat, I hit a homer. Before that at-bat, he said, ‘If you hit a homer, you’re going to get free ice cream.’ I was like, ‘Okay, whatever you say.’ I hit the homer. When I was sitting in the dugout, he came up the tunnel and gave me the ice cream, and it was on TV so everybody asked me. I hit another homer, they gave me more ice cream.

“(In 2013), I kept hitting homers, and they gave me ice cream. In one series, I hit a triple and a homer. After the last game – the homer – we were ready to fly somewhere. On the plane, it was Joe Maddon. He came and gave (me) a four-gallon (bucket of) ice cream. After that everybody was calling me the Ice Cream Man.”

So, the question had to be asked, what is his favorite ice cream?

“Coconut,” Lobaton said.

“Now maybe I’m going to get a new nickname here,” he added, smiling. “I’m okay with whatever they want to call me.” 

Nationals acquire catcher Jose Lobaton, LHP Felipe Rivero and OF Drew Vettleson from Tampa Bay

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by Amanda Comak

VIERA, Fla. – The Washington Nationals shored up their catching corps and added more talent to the upper levels of their Minor League system on Thursday, acquiring catcher Jose Lobaton, left-hander Felipe Rivero and outfielder Drew Vettleson from the Tampa Bay Rays.

In exchange, the Nationals sent right-handed starter Nathan Karns to the Rays. To clear space for Rivero on the team’s 40-man roster, right-hander Erik Davis was placed on the 60-day disabled list with a right elbow sprain.

Lobaton, 29, hit .249 with a .320 on-base percentage and .394 slugging percentage in 311 plate appearances with the Rays in 2013. Splitting time with veteran Jose Molina, Lobaton — who is considered an above-average defensive receiver — helped guide the vaunted Tampa Bay pitching staff to the fifth-lowest team ERA in the American League.

The Venezuela native joins countrymen Wilson Ramos and Sandy Leon, along with Jhonatan Solano, as catchers on the Nationals’ 40-man roster and gives Manager Matt Williams a strong layer of depth behind Ramos.

He became an October hero in 2013, crushing a walk-off home run for the Rays off Boston Red Sox closer Koji Uehara in Game 3 of the American League Division Series.

Rivero, 22, went 9-7 with a 3.40 ERA in 25 games/23 starts for Charlotte of the Florida State League in 2013. Rated by FanGraphs.com as the No. 10 prospect in Tampa Bay’s organization, Rivero’s fastball has been clocked as high as 96 mph. His nine wins paced Single-A Charlotte, as did his 127.0 innings pitched.

He participated in the 2012 XM All-Star Futures Game in Kansas City and earned Midwest League mid-season All-Star honors while with Single-A Bowling Green.  Rivero was signed by the Rays on July 30, 2008 and is a native of San Felipe, Venezuela.

Vettleson, originally selected by the Rays in the first round (42nd overall) of the 2010 First-Year Player Draft out of Central Kitsap (WA) High School, was ranked as the No. 8 prospect in the Rays’ organization entering the 2014 season by Keith Law from ESPN.com.

The 22-year old spent the 2013 season with Single-A Charlotte, hitting .274 with 29 doubles, six triples, four home runs, 62 RBI and 50 runs scored.  During the 2012 campaign in which he played 132 games for Single-A Bowling Green, Vettleson set a Bowling Green franchise record with 139 hits and his 15 home runs and 69 RBI were both in the top five among Rays minor leaguers.  In two of his first three professional seasons, Vettleson also stole at least 20 bases.

Following the 2012 season, he was named an MiLB.com Organization All-Star, a Midwest League All-Star and Bowling Green’s Most Valuable Player.

Vettleson, a native of Bremerton, Washington, was cited by Baseball America as being the Best Pure Hitter among high school talents entering the 2010 Draft.

Karns, 26, was the Nationals 2012 Minor League Pitcher of the Year and made three starts for the Nationals in 2013.

In 54 Minor League starts, from the Gulf Coast League up through Double-A Harrisburg, Karns has a career Minor League ERA of 2.66. The hard-throwing right-hander was selected in the 12th round of the 2009 First-Year Player Draft out of Texas Tech University.

Davis, 27, went 1-0 with a 3.12 ERA in 10 games with the Nationals last season, his first in which he appeared in the Major Leagues.

State of the Nationals

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The Washington Nationals’ Baseball Operations staff is about to descend upon Viera, Fla., next week as another Spring Training gets underway.

With the bulk of his offseason work done, Nationals President of Baseball Operations and General Manager Mike Rizzo has a personal message for fans on the State of the Nationals entering a promising 2014 season.

Take a look:

A NatsFest Thank You

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There were more than 8,400 Nationals fans who packed the Gaylord National Resort & Convention Center on Saturday afternoon.

And because of them, it was an unforgettable day.

We can’t say “Thank you” enough to those of you who were able to join us, and share in our excitement for the 2014 season.

Here is a small glimpse into the day that was, and with just 17 days remaining until pitchers and catchers report, hopefully this will warm your baseball-loving souls for just a little bit longer.

Enjoy!

From the Desk of Mark D. Lerner: Gearing Up For NatsFest

Hello, everybody.

Nationals Principal Owner Mark Lerner, right, along with President of Baseball Operations and GM Mike Rizzo at NatsFest, 2013.

One of the Washington Nationals’ Principal Owners,  Mark Lerner, right, along with President of Baseball Operations and GM Mike Rizzo at NatsFest, 2013.

I hope everyone is dealing well with this cold and wintry week here in the Nation’s Capital. When it gets cold like this, I usually calculate the days remaining until pitchers and catchers report to Spring Training (21 days!). This week is a bit different as we are just hours away from NatsFest.

  • Just as a reminder, NatsFest is on Saturday, January 25, 2014 from 11:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. at the Gaylord National Resort & Convention Center. New venue. We hope you can join us. I am so excited to welcome Matt Williams and an impressive roster of players to DC. Stephen Strasburg, Bryce Harper, Jayson Werth, Gio Gonzalez, Tyler Clippard, et al. Come early, stay warm, talk baseball.
  • We are also expecting a special visit from arguably our most beloved Nationals alum, … Livan Hernandez. Livan, who threw the first pitch in the history of the Nationals, completed his 17-year big league career in 2012 with 178 wins, 44 of which came as a member of the Nationals. It will be fantastic to sit down and catch up with Livan.
  • Speaking of Livan, it will be fun to have another inaugural-season National in camp with us upon arrival in Viera. In case you missed it, we signed infielder Jamey Carroll earlier this month and he’ll be competing for a spot on Matt Williams’ bench. Jamey also played for the Expos, so he should have some interesting perspective on how far this organization has come as we enter our 10th season in Washington.
  • As we reach the late stages of the offseason, I think it is worth remembering that most of Mike Rizzo’s key moves came quite early: Doug Fister, Nate McLouth, Jerry Blevins. Mike and his crew are still hard at work searching for the right fits. Always looking to improve.
  • We recently signed four-year Player Development Contracts with both Triple-A Syracuse and Double-A Harrisburg. Through the years, we have really valued our relationships with the Chiefs, Senators and their respective fan bases. There is a sense of organizational satisfaction in being able to establish roots in both Syracuse and Harrisburg.
  • I would like to offer my deepest condolences to the family and friends of Frank Ceresi, who passed away recently. For those that are not aware, Frank played an integral role in developing the art program that we collectively enjoy at Nationals Park. He was an enormous baseball/Nationals fan and he will be sorely missed.

I hope to see everyone on Saturday at NatsFest.

Mark

A Wonderful Week of Giving

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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!

Adam LaRoche wraps up unforgettable USO Tour

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by Amanda Comak

As Adam LaRoche curled himself into a corner table at the Occidental Grill Friday night, it was hard for him to figure out exactly what time it was supposed to be. His day started in Germany. And since he’d embarked on the 2013 Chairman’s USO Holiday Tour with the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Martin Dempsey a week earlier, LaRoche had visited four countries and three different time zones.

From left to right, Jep Robertson, Adam LaRoche, Willie Robertson and Matt Light at the Occidental Grill on Friday night, after returning from the 2013 Chairman USO Holiday Tour.

From left to right, Jep Robertson, Adam LaRoche, Willie Robertson and Matt Light at the Occidental Grill on Friday night, after returning from the 2013 Chairman USO Holiday Tour.

Flanked by his friends and travel companions, Willie and Jep Robertson from A&E’s hit show Duck Dynasty, and three-time Super Bowl champion Matt Light, the group shared stories from what they all agreed was an unforgettable experience.

“Every time I look at the flag, and I look at it every night when they play the national anthem, I can’t say I ever really looked at the flag and thought, ‘Somebody paid the price for that,” LaRoche said. “I will now. I hope it’s going to be a lot easier to not take those things for granted like we typically do.”

The USO tour took the four companions to multiple bases and through several hospital visits. They met soldiers all over the world –in Greece, Afghanistan, Italy and Germany – and absorbed as much as they could.

It was an exhausting stretch. Time with Chairman Dempsey is calculated down to the second, and they knew little about what was ahead of them when they left the U.S. on Dec. 6 – they were told to pack for weather ranging from 30 degrees to 80 degrees. But they talked with soldiers who were just 72 hours removed from a firefight, and learned about the challenges the troops face in trying to both eliminate the threat of terrorism while at the same time serving to aid the Afghan people.

Here are a few of the stories the group told Friday night as they rehashed their experience for a handful of local media members:

●●●

Adam LaRoche: “I’m thinking, ‘What could I possibly say to relate to these guys?’ It’s not easy for me, for sure. I feel like, and I told them this, ‘We should be sitting down there [in the audience] and some of you guys, specifically some of the older Sergeants and Generals, you guys should be up here [on stage] talking to us. I don’t need to be up here trying to motivate you.’”

Jep Robertson: “I just think they want to forget for a few minutes what they’re actually doing. Just have a good time and relax and not worry about tomorrow, just have time to laugh.”

ALR: “That’s why [Willie and Jep] are such a big hit, because they go up and do their thing together. It kind of caps the whole show off. They did like 20 minutes and it’s not sitting there bringing back memories and all about what they’re going through. They’re just telling jokes, talking about the show, talking about Uncle Si, so you’re right, that’s probably what they want to do: feel like they’re back home.”

Willie Robertson sings "Hairy Christmas" with the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Martin Dempsey.

Willie Robertson sings “Hairy Christmas” with the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Martin Dempsey.

Willie Robertson:  “We wanted to give them a piece of America, what they had known from the show. We came up with the [performance] on the flight over, of what we would do. We had no idea what we would do. And as it turns out, with our album out, Duck the Halls, Chairman Dempsey said we should sing a song and I said, ‘Well let’s do “Hairy Christmas.”’ He had no idea what the song was. I gave him the CD, he listened to it and he said, ‘Let’s sing that at the end of the show.’ And then all of the USO talent came up at the end and we all sang it together. It was the perfect ending to the whole show.”

ALR: “Dempsey actually came out in the full beard and a USO bandana headband (like Willie).”

Could you get a sense of what it meant to the troops?

WR: “Oh there was no doubt.”

ALR: “They were blown away. They were so blown away that you’d think nobody’s ever been over there. There have been a lot of USO shows that go through, but I think every time they just appreciate it so much.”

●●●

Jep: “You’ve got to hear about the dog and Matt.”

ALR: “This is good.”

Matt Light: “They’ve got these military dogs cruising around all over the base. They were a little bit intimidating. I was talking to one of the guys about their dogs…They are pretty jacked up about these dogs. They talk about the training they do. I’m looking at this dog and I’m thinking to myself, ‘I hear what you’re saying, you all probably work them pretty good, but it’s a 40-lb or 50-lb dog.’ I’m looking at it thinking, ‘That’s probably not going to hold up against a 300-pound man.’ So I smarted off a few times and the following night they arranged to break out the suit, like Ralphie’s little brother in A Christmas Story.

ALR: “It’s like 11 o’clock at night because our schedule was packed.”

ML: “So I put this suit on.”

ALR: “So now he’s 400 pounds.”

ML: “They had us stand in these DVQs, Designated Visitors Quarters, which were shipping containers stacked on top of each other with a railing on each of them. There was basically room just to turn around and walk back-and-forth inside of it. That’s where you live if you’re in Afghanistan. In front of it on the base, in the rain, and it’s very dark, there’s a guy holding a dog. Basically, they give you instructions. First of all, they say don’t let your arms come out of it – and I’m two sizes too big for this. So it’s just barely snug up towards the end of my arm, you have to suck your hand [up in the sleeve]. They said, ‘You need to go down there and agitate them and then turn and run, and don’t look back.’”

ALR: “People had come from everywhere because they heard that morning that this was going to go on. So the railings were packed.”

ML: “They wanted me to run like 60 yards, and I told them I hadn’t run like 10 yards in a year-and-a-half. So we cut that distance in half and I got about three-quarters of the way down and I think he jumped up and missed me the first time – I mean, small target – but when he did finally latch on, he latched on consistently like right here on my elbow. And the first round I think I had the upper hand, obviously if I wasn’t in the suit I’d be in a world of trouble. He got thrown around a little bit.”

ALR: “This dog had no chance. The dog never touched the ground. It looked like a helicopter.”

ML: “I got this speech from one guy who was telling me what to do, he was like, ‘Here’s the code word,’ and it was some phrase and I’m like, ‘I’m never going to remember that.’ I said, ‘No, ‘cinnamon.’ If I yell cinnamon, come get this dog off me.’ We did it like four more times. They weren’t going to let me out of the suit. The dog had a pretty good bite. That dog was chompin’. We got some good pictures of teeth snarling mid-air. It was a great experience. I had a mini-heart attack and it was a bit of a monsoon inside the suit. It was like hot yoga inside there.”

JR: “It was really cold, but then he was running.”

ML: “It took about an hour-and-a-half to get back to normal.”

ALR: “But that was so late at night because to squeeze something in [that’s how it had to be]. If Willie were to say, ‘Hey, this guy wants me to come by his barracks and come meet his buddy or see something,’ you would run it by a guy and then he would have to run it by the whole team who’d say, ‘OK, Willie needs security here at this time,’ and then they’d have somebody there before he arrives. This isn’t just like they let you run around and do whatever you want. Because they’re getting IEDs (Improvised Explosive Devices), even on the big bases we were on. It’s not unusual for the sirens to go off because somebody shot an IED into the base. A week or two before they said they lost two guys, who were asleep in the same type of containers we were sleeping in, and an IED went through and killed two of them. You can’t just stroll around. It was a deal for them to get set-up. So this dog thing took a lot of planning.”

●●●

JR: “We went to (Camp Leatherneck in Afghanistan) and they said they’d just been in a 72-hour battle. The troops, you could tell they were happy we were there, but they had just come out of a firefight.”

ALR: “There were a couple guys shot, one guy blown up while we were there, but we didn’t see him until this morning in Germany. We saw him in the hospital in Germany.”

WR: “I met that guy in Afghanistan! I met him, took a picture with him, two days later I’m in Germany, he’s in the hospital bed. I walked in and was like, ‘Ah, good to see you again.’ He actually was way better than when I saw him in Afghanistan. He had a full neck brace and was pretty loopy then. Couldn’t hardly talk. In Germany he was like, ‘Hey there!’ He’d already told his family that he had met me, so the second time he had all these questions about the show.”

●●●

ALR: “The troops said the Afghan people are the toughest people in the world, which I never would’ve guessed.”

WR: “When you see the conditions they live in, you have to be tough.”

ALR: “The problem is, you’re trying to get rid of one group of people and make friends with the other group of people. The local Afghanis, the troops are doing everything they can to help them. They’re giving them food and water, training their cops, training their military guys, rebuilding a lot of their hospitals and communities – on top of fighting. So you’re trying to rebuild a country and protect yourselves at the same time.”

WR: “But the terrorists are like thugs. No different than big American cities where you have drug guys and it’s hard to go in there and extract that one person without condemning the whole neighborhood. Most of the people are good and they’re trying to raise their families but you’ve got a couple people who are bullies. I saw it as similar to that.”

ALR: “They said, ‘This is just a street fight. They come out, they hit, they run, they hide…But the troops, they do surgery for a lot of the locals. They bring them in. Fix ‘em up.”

WR: “I was shocked at how much the American troops care about these people and are trying to make them better. I was amazed.”

Washington Nationals first baseman Adam LaRoche meets U.S. Marines at Camp Leatherneck in Afghanistan.

Washington Nationals first baseman Adam LaRoche meets U.S. Marines at Camp Leatherneck in Afghanistan.

ALR: “What we were told is that our guys are never going out looking for Taliban. The majority of our guys are going out to villages every day to keep training them (the Afghanis).”

WR: “The whole goal is for them to sustain their country to fight off terrorism.”

ML: “Our troops are legitimately invested in their mission, not to go over there and wipe out a people. They’re there to really try to help those people. And they don’t really care what’s going on over here. I think one of the biggest reasons to go over there, especially listening to these knuckleheads in Washington all day every day, you don’t get a sense. They’re not telling the story of any of these young men and women who, each and every day, are waking up and putting themselves in danger. Seeing a little Afghani kid, and 10 minutes later that kid is gone. They’re not looking for trouble. They’re trying to help. They truly care about these people. None of them talk about what we hear over here. They don’t give a damn about that. They literally just want to do their job.”

●●●

ALR: “I was probably most shocked by the fact that there’s like 20–25,000 troops on one base.”

JR: “They had a TGI Fridays.”

WR: “Sadly, my brother was most impressed by the TGI Fridays.”

ALR: “You have no idea how many people are sitting at computers doing stuff, and how many mechanics, and cooks and the guys who sweep the rooms, that’s the majority of the guys – the ones who don’t get recognized, who are behind the scenes, who make the whole thing work.”

WR: “There are a lot of civilians, too.”

ALR: “There are contractors there. Full time electricians, plumbers, so there are civilians staying on base too. They’re building stuff, taking stuff down, sending a lot of stuff home right now.”

The group posed with Marines before leaving Camp Leatherneck.

The group posed with Marines before leaving Camp Leatherneck.

WR: “I was impressed by the amount of organization by the U.S. military to be able to run an operation like that. They build cities that are bases. Airports. Lodging for 30,000 people. That’s what impressed me. How do you come into this country, build things, fight for your life, run troops and in and out? It was unbelievable. It just blew me away. And the spirit of the troops was super impressive, their dedication to it. The general said it best. It’s built on trust. These guys trust each other with their lives.”

ML: “I think one of the big things, too, is you say: what do you do now that you’ve had this experience? What’s next? I think you can really start spreading the word to everybody around. I told the troops, ‘I can at least tell your story and get [people back home] talking about it. I can let them know the things you are doing and what you do go through.’ To some degree, don’t we all owe it to our service men and women to do something? Not if you’re a celebrity, or whatever. If you’re some dude on the street. I think we all should at least take the time to think about that more than just on Veterans Day or something else. Maybe it’s just a mindset or a perception, get people to stop and realize.”

●●●

For more on LaRoche’s time on the 2013 Chairman USO Holiday Tour, you can catch up on the dispatches he sent back while he was overseas here and here, and check out a photo gallery here.

You can also take a look at some of the coverage by local media:

nationals.com

MASNsports.com

CSNWashington.com

The Washington Post

From The Desk of Mark D. Lerner: Wrapping Up the Winter Meetings

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Hello, everybody.

As you likely know by now, Orlando served as a productive (and warm) backdrop for our club as MLB’s Winter Meetings concluded yesterday.

Mike Rizzo was able to add a pair of players – outfielder Nate McLouth and left-handed reliever Jerry Blevins – during our stay at the Swan and Dolphin Hotel.

  • Left-handed reliever Jerry Blevins comes to the Nationals after parts of seven seasons in Oakland.

    Left-handed reliever Jerry Blevins comes to the Nationals after parts of seven seasons in Oakland.

    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.
  • Ian Desmond and Bryce Harper share a laugh at last year's NatsFest.

    Ian Desmond and Bryce Harper share a laugh at last year’s NatsFest.

    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.

Mark

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