The 2013 Chairman USO Holiday Tour rolled on this week, and Washington Nationals first baseman Adam LaRoche continued to soak in the experience. While the internet connections aren’t always frequent for the group, when LaRoche has gotten a chance to send a dispatch back to D.C., it’s always been filled with excitement.
“Just lifted off from Afghanistan on a C-17 transport plane,” he wrote in an e-mail on Wednesday morning. “We spent the last couple of days here bouncing from base to base. It’s been incredible, to say the least.”
Prior to visiting Afghanistan, the 2013 USO Holiday Tour entertained troops in Greece.
“I’ve never been around so many people who genuinely appreciate us being here,” he added. “We continue to try to make it clear with our troops that we’re getting more out of this than we think they are.”
The 2013 Chairman USO Holiday Tour, led by Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Martin Dempsey, includes not only LaRoche, but Grammy Award-winning singer/songwriter Bridget Kelly, former New England Patriots offensive tackle and three-time Super Bowl champion Matt Light, actor/comedian Thomas “Nephew Tommy” Miles, stars of A&E’s hit reality show “Duck Dynasty” Jep and Willie Robertson, and former correspondent on NBC’s “The Voice” Alison Haislip.
Over the course of the seven-day USO tour, the group will visit four countries and several military venues.
For LaRoche, who has spent a good deal of his time in D.C. visiting soldiers at the Walter Reed Army Medical Center and working with non-profit organizations that support the troops, like the USO, the experience is extremely meaningful.
“You would never understand the purpose and depth of this war without coming over and seeing it firsthand,” LaRoche wrote. “We’ve made time to meet with the lowest-ranking foot soldier to the highest-ranking generals. They all have the same goals: to make this a safe place for the Afghan people.”
The experience has been a humbling one for all of the celebrities on tour, and while there have been some light moments – “I’m rooming with Matt Light in a cargo container and he takes up half of it,” LaRoche quipped – it has also made a significant impact on him.
“We visited some (Forward Operating Bases) via Chinook, Black Hawk and Apache helicopters,” he said. “It has been a great pleasure to speak with a couple thousand troops every night.
“We spent most of one morning in a base hospital, where they save almost 99 percent of the wounded soldiers who come in. It is truly amazing.”
For more updates from LaRoche and his experiences on the 2013 Chairman USO Holiday Tour as they become available, check back right here on Curly W Live.
How have the last six weeks been since you were named manager of the Nationals?
It’s been busy. It’s been an adjustment. The baseball part of it is all the same. But we’re busy with roster planning, Spring Training schedules and all of that stuff. I had the chance to get back to D.C. a couple of times, trying to get to know everybody, so that’s been good. It’s been fun.
After that initial weekend in D.C. for your press conference, was it nice to get home and get focused on the job?
It was nice to get to work. You go do the interview, you don’t know if you’re going to get hired, you don’t know when it’s going to happen, and then all of a sudden it happens. And then it’s time to get to work. I’ve enjoyed that process, putting together everything and looking toward Spring Training.
What was it like getting to know Randy Knorr in Arizona?
It was great. It was easy. Randy came out and spent parts of four days with us. He’s got a unique knowledge of all these guys, which is important. He’s great with everything – letting me know what his thoughts are, how he views things. I’m going to rely on him a lot because of that knowledge and his familiarity [with the club]. We went through everything you can possibly think of. He’d come over for dinner, we’d eat dinner and all of a sudden it was midnight. We had fun. We enjoyed it.
What has your communication been like with the other coaches?
We have weekly conference calls. They’re all going through their own responsibilities, and we’re taking their input into the schedule for Spring. So I’ve been getting to know everybody and their philosophies, their thoughts on guys and how those thoughts could be best implemented.
With everybody strewn all over the place, it’s great this way. Everybody jumps on the conference call and we go through it. Those calls last, probably, a couple of hours. It’s been good.
Probably after the first of the year, I’ll get a chance to see (first base coach) Tony Tarasco, he’ll come out to Arizona, and I know (hitting coach) Rick Schu from Arizona. But it’s been good communication on all fronts, which is great.
What kind of communication have you had with your players thus far?
I went to Jayson Werth’s house when I was in D.C., talked to Ian Desmond, Ryan Zimmerman, Adam LaRoche, and talked to Stephen Strasburg via text. I’ll continue to make an effort to reach out to the players. It’s holiday time, families have new babies, and all kinds of stuff so guys are busy.
But from a baseball perspective, once the first of the year hits, it’s baseball time again. I’ll continue to reach out and talk to those guys. We’re going to put together a schedule for Spring and I’ll get a chance to send that to the players and let them review it so they have a sense of what they’re getting into. Then I’ll follow up with a phone call and say, ‘Hey, here’s what we expect. What are your thoughts? What would you like to accomplish?’ But I’ve talked to some of the guys already.
Have you enjoyed those chats?
Yes. When guys are comfortable, and they know that their manager has their back and he understands them, then their natural playing ability comes out easier. That’s what I hope to accomplish: to get to know them first as men. They know the manager-player relationship. We all do. But I want to understand them. That’s part of the process. So when they tell me something, I know what they really mean. That’s half the battle.
What was your reaction when Nationals President of Baseball Operations and General Manager Mike Rizzo told you about the trade for Doug Fister?
Oh yeah. Wow. He’s somebody who I view as undervalued. His numbers stack up against anybody’s. He does it a different way — it’s not a power, 97-mph fastball — but he throws strikes, he commands the strike zone, throws over the plate, he’s a ground-ball machine. He knows how to pitch. What I like about him is that he pounds the strike zone. He’s not afraid. That’s a good thing. I’m glad to have him.
And when you look at our board and see our depth, it’s unusual to see a board like that. You’ve got, potentially, eight or nine guys competing for your starting rotation. It causes problems, too, but I don’t know anybody who wouldn’t want to look at that board and say, ‘That’s our team.’
Has it been interesting for you to be here and be a part of the roster planning?
It’s great to know that there’s been a lot of thought put into the roster and what everybody can bring to the team. Ultimately, we need that depth to win a championship. Very rarely are there 25 guys who play every day, all season. I want to understand everybody in the front office, and how they’ve formed their opinions. It’s great to be a part of.
Do you think at this time next year you’ll feel even more comfortable asserting your opinions on how to shape the team and what you’d prefer as a manager?
I know, from a defensive perspective, what I want now. I have strong opinions on that. But it’s all a product of who’s available and what you’ve got in other aspects of the team. Those questions happen every year.
I don’t know how many years of baseball knowledge are in (the Nationals suite at the Winter Meetings), but when you look around the room, it’s easy to know that there’s a lot. There’s a lot of value there. And everybody’s been great with me so far. It’s been fun. It’s been good to see everybody and get to know the guys who I don’t know. They’re not holding back, which is good. They’re giving me their opinion. It’s good that they feel comfortable. I value that, because it’s important to have it.
Does it feel like it’s taking forever for Spring Training to arrive?
Yes. And I’m anxious to get going. Everybody is. I think everybody sees the potential. I’m not alone in that. But it takes time to make sure we get it all planned out, and that’s good, because then we can make sure it runs seamlessly when we get there.
Greetings from the Swan and Dolphin Hotel in Orlando, where I am on the ground at Major League Baseball’s Winter Meetings.
I understand everyone back home is dealing with the aftermath of yesterday ice/frozen rain/hail storm and that more snow accumulation could be on the way.
The rumor here is that Central Florida is drenched in bright sunshine with temperatures in the low 80s, but I’d never know it, if not for passing a hotel window every so often. Our work here keeps us inside and the hotel’s layout on the Disney Campus does not present many opportunities to enjoy the warm weather.
Congratulations to Bobby Cox, Tony La Russa and Joe Torre on their election to the National Baseball Hall of Fame. Could there be any more baseball symmetry than these three gentlemen being inducted together this July in Cooperstown?
Together, Cox, La Russa and Torre combined on 7,558 regular-season victories, eight World Championships and infinite respect from both inside and outside the game.
The trio set the standard for baseball’s modern manager in the dugout and cultivated lasting relationships with the likes of Chipper Jones, Tom Glavine, Albert Pujols, Yadier Molina, Derek Jeter and Mariano Rivera in the clubhouse.
Sure, they had great players, but they established programs and team cultures that have lived on well past their departures from the Braves, Cardinals and Yankees. This is truly a fantastic moment for the game of baseball.
- Speaking of managers, I flew down to Florida with Matt Williams over the weekend. We had another in a long line of fantastic chats. Some dealt with baseball. Some did not. If it is possible, I am even more convinced that Matt was the right hire for our club at the right time.
- For those who followed his career, preparedness was a big part of Matt’s game. No detail is too small. Well, he seems to have carried this over to his managerial career. For instance, Matt and his staff are in the late stages of scheduling Spring Training workouts. But before Matt signs off on the final schedules, he is driving an hour over to Viera, Fla., so he can lay his own eyes on Space Coast Stadium and the layout at the Washington Nationals Training Complex. In Matt’s 25 or so years in baseball (he was drafted in ’87), he has experienced only one spring in the Grapefruit League. In 1997, Matt spent Spring Training with the Indians in Winter Haven, FL. To the best of Matt’s recollection, he did not travel east that spring to Viera. So, rather than leave workout schedules to chance, Matt will visit Viera for himself on Thursday.
- Mike Rizzo held his first staff meeting this morning in the team suite. He went over the roster, handed out staff assignments and talked about some of the team’s needs. Matt Williams had his turn at bat and spoke too. This was our scouting staff’s prime opportunity to pick Mike’s mind, compare notes on various players and offer names (internal and external) to keep an eye on. Mike seems pleased with the offseason’s progress to date, but he verbalized that there was more work to be done.
- I have to think the primary reason for Mike’s upbeat meeting was last week’s acquisition of Doug Fister. From what I’ve gathered, Doug is a Grade-A individual who just so happens to be 6-foot-8 and throw a heavy 89-90 mph sinker, from an arm angle that gives opposing batters fits. And Fister, unlike recent offseason rotation additions such as Dan Haren and Edwin Jackson, will be here for a while. We control his rights for two seasons. Doug’s repertoire should benefit when contrasted with the 95+ mph fastballs of Stephen Strasburg, Gio Gonzalez and Jordan Zimmermann.
Well, that’s it for today. For those battling the elements back in DC, please stay safe, warm and dry.
#GivingTuesday is a national movement that recognizes the Tuesday following Thanksgiving as the opening day of the giving season. Nonprofits across the country participate in a competitive, 24-hour online fundraiser for their causes.
The Washington Nationals Dream Foundation — the Nationals’ charitable arm — is proud to be a major supporter of the new Youth Baseball Academy and other important community projects that focus on children’s education, health and recreation.
Click the link below between 12:01 a.m. and midnight on Tuesday to learn about our work and make a donation to help improve the lives of families across the D.C. region.
Additional prize money will be awarded to nonprofits with the most donors during the hours of 6 a.m., 8 a.m., 2 p.m., 4 p.m., 6 p.m. and 10 p.m., so please donate during those hours if you can!
In 2010, the Hahne Family received news that changed their lives forever. Only six years old, Kyle Hahne was diagnosed with leukemia. What started as a website to update friends and family about Kyle’s hospital trips, Kyle’s Kamp soon became a way to raise money to support Children’s National Medical Center for pediatric cancer research.
As Kyle was an avid baseball fan, one fundraising effort is a series of baseball tournaments. Through a partnership with the Washington Nationals, some of these games are played on the field at Nationals Park.
It was at those games that we were first introduced to a remarkable young man named Gavin Rupp and his family.
Having gone through countless radiation treatments and two surgeries to remove a tumor from his brain, Gavin wanted to continue to play baseball. One month later, another tumor was detected, this time in the center of Gavin’s brain. Surgery was too risky, and the 13 year old became a hospice patient. He and his family tried to make the most of the time he had left.
While we wish it were under different circumstances, the Washington Nationals are thankful to Kyle’s father Rob for introducing us to Gavin. We invited Gavin to throw out the ceremonial first pitch before a game last July and to meet his favorite player, Bryce Harper.
Upon their meeting, Gavin and Bryce quickly became friends, forming a lasting bond that provided a special moment for the Rupp family. Our thoughts continue to go out to the Rupp family, as we were all saddened by Gavin’s passing.
We are thanking Kyle’s Kamp as part of our Week of Thanks. For more on #NatsWeekOfThanks, click here.