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.
— 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!
— 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!
— 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 work 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,
By John Walls
One hour. You’d be surprised how much you can get done and what a difference you can make in that time. For about as long as it takes to watch my favorite Netflix show, the time I spend mentoring at the Washington Nationals Youth Baseball Academy is giving me the chance to make a positive difference in the lives of young people, and to form relationships I hope will last for years to come.
As part of the Academy’s mission of focusing on helping youngsters in some of D.C.’s more challenging areas develop better academic and life skills, mentors in language arts, math, and science work regularly with scholar-athletes. I’ve been working with fourth graders Chalore and Kayla since the fall, and we just added Mikael to our group last week.
They’re quite a bunch! Sure, we might not always get through every lesson plan. Conversations about school, movies, dance teams, or whatever, tend to weave through the time we spend together. And I’ll admit, I’m not always sure I’m getting through to them.
But then you have one of those moments.
The eyes light up. The giggle’s for real. Or you can genuinely sense their pride when you give them a “Great Job!” when working through a nightly reading assignment. You know that being there, when you’re supposed to be, just for them, and really listening to what they have to say is making a difference.
That’s what mentoring is all about.
It’s a blessing to have the chance to be a positive role model for young people who really need that in their lives. The Academy is playing a vital role in the community, and it really is a privilege to be a part of it. You can watch Netflix any time, but you can make a difference in a child’s life, right now. Give it a try!
January is National Mentorship Month, a great opportunity to highlight the work of theWashington Nationals Youth Baseball Academy – a new, state of the art education and recreation facility in Southeast D.C. – where Nats players and community volunteers alike have forged strong mentoring relationships with youth from at-risk communities.
For more information on how you can serve as a mentor at the Nationals Youth Baseball Academy please visit: http://washington.nationals.mlb.com/was/youthbaseballacademy/getinvolved.jsp