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