Nationals acquire INF Yunel Escobar from A’s

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by Amanda Comak

Chicago White Sox v Tampa Bay RaysAdding depth to their middle infield, the Washington Nationals acquired infielder Yunel Escobar from the Oakland Athletics on Wednesday, in exchange for right-handed reliever Tyler Clippard.

Escobar, an eight-year Major League veteran, joins the Nationals after stops in Atlanta (2007-10), Toronto (2010-12) and Tampa (2012-14). He was traded to the A’s just four days ago (Jan. 10), along with INF/OF Ben Zobrist, in exchange for C John Jaso, INF Daniel Robertson, OF Boog Powell and cash considerations.

The slick-fielding infielder is a career .276 hitter with a .347 on-base percentage and a .381 slugging percentage. A shortstop for the majority of his Major League career, Escobar has started 950 games at shortstop since 2008 – the most in the Major Leagues over that span. Escobar started 20 games for the Braves at second base in 2007 – a season after which he finished sixth in the Rookie of the Year voting – and has experience at third base as well.

Escobar, 32, hit .258 with seven home runs and 39 RBI in 137 games for Tampa Bay in 2014. In his previous two seasons, both with the Rays, Escobar has averaged 145 games played and hit .257 with a .328 on-base percentage, 45 doubles, 16 home runs and 95 RBI.

Against National League opponents (472 games), Escobar is a career .291 hitter with a .366 on-base percentage and a .407 slugging percentage.

After defecting from Cuba in 2004, Escobar was drafted by the Braves in the second round (No. 75 overall) of the 2005 MLB First-Year Player Draft.

Division Series - San Francisco Giants v Washington Nationals - Game TwoClippard, 29, went 34-24 with 34 saves and a 2.68 ERA in 414 games spanning seven seasons with Washington.

Acquired in Dec., 2007, from the New York Yankees in exchange for RHP Jonathan Albaladejo, Clippard is the only reliever to appear in more than 70 games each of the last five seasons (2010-14). He went 7-4 with one save and a 2.18 ERA in 2014 and, for the second time in his career (also 2011), led Major League Baseball in holds with 40. His 2014 season was just the third 40-hold campaign in MLB history (TBR’s Joel Peralta 41 in 2013, SDP’s Luke Gregerson 40 in 2010).

Nationals acquire catcher Dan Butler from Red Sox

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by Amanda Comak

Boston Red Sox Vs. Baltimore Orioles At Fenway ParkAdding depth to their catching corps, the Washington Nationals acquired catcher Dan Butler from the Boston Red Sox on Wednesday, sending left-hander Danny Rosenbaum to Boston to complete the swap.

Butler, 28, joins the Nationals after six seasons in the Red Sox organization. The right-handed hitting catcher appeared in seven Major League games for Boston in 2014, starting five behind the plate and going 4-for-19 (.211). Three of his four hits went for doubles.

Over the course of six Minor League seasons, the reliable backstop is a career .256 hitter with a .349 on-base percentage and a .416 slugging percentage. In 2013, Butler caught 72 games for Triple-A Pawtucket of the International League and posted a .262 average with 14 home runs, 19 doubles and 45 RBI.

Butler, who is considered a strong defensive catcher, was a two-time Mid-Season Minor League All-Star (2010, South Atlantic League; 2011, Carolina League) and a four-time Minor League Player of the Week.

Rosenbaum was selected by Washington in the 22nd round of the 2009 First-Year Player Draft out of Xavier University in Cincinnati, OH.

In six seasons in Washington’s Minor League chain, Rosenbaum went 34-36 with a 3.12 ERA in 121 games (116 starts). He is currently rehabbing from May, 2014, Tommy John ligament reconstruction surgery.

Butler will be added to the Nationals’ 40-man roster, which is currently at 39.

Nationals announce 2015 Minor League staff

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by Amanda Comak

Washington Nationals v Cincinnati RedsThe Washington Nationals named their Minor League managers, coaches and coordinators for the 2015 season on Wednesday, including the addition of former Nationals player Rick Ankiel, who will fill a newly-created Life Skills Coordinator role.

The Nationals promoted Paul Menhart to Minor League Pitching Coordinator and named Spin Williams as Senior Advisor for Player Development. Menhart embarks on his 10th season in the Nationals’ Minor League system.

Menhart, who spent the 2014 season as the pitching coach for Triple-A Syracuse, has overseen the development of many of Washington’s top pitching prospects. Additionally, Michael Barrett will take an increased role as Catching Coordinator, working with the catchers across all levels of Washington’s system. He will continue to serve as the Manager of the Gulf Coast League Nationals.

Washington is happy to welcome Bob Milacki and Tommy Shields to the organization. Milacki will serve as the pitching coach for Triple-A Syracuse while Shields joins the organization as a Co-field Coordinator.

Milacki comes to the Nationals after spending six seasons (2009-14) in the Philadelphia chain. Prior to joining the Phillies, he spent eight years as a pitching coach in the Pittsburgh Pirates organization (2001-08). Milacki Appeared in 143 games, going 39-47 with a 4.38 ERA over parts of eight seasons in the Major Leagues, with Baltimore (1988-92), Cleveland (1993), Kansas City (1994) and Seattle (1996). He was selected in the second round of the 1983 MLB Draft by Baltimore.

Shields, a native of Fairfax, VA, comes to the Nationals after spending three seasons as the manager of the Burlington Royals in the Kansas City Royals’ chain, earning Appalachian League Manager of the Year honors in 2012. Shields joined the Royals after spending six years as the Atlanta Braves’ minor league infield coordinator (2006-11), and from 2007-10 he served dual roles as the field and infield coordinator. He played parts of eight Minor League seasons in the Pittsburgh, Baltimore and Chicago Cubs’ organizations. A left-handed-hitting infielder, Shields made his Major League debut in 1992 with the Baltimore Orioles but earned his first MLB plate appearance with the Cubs in 1993.

Washington also welcomes back to the organization Ankiel, who will serve as the Life Skills Coordinator. Ankiel retired in 2013 after playing parts of 11 Major League seasons with six different clubs, including the Nationals (2011-12). He will draw on his vast experience as a player to help mentor Nationals farmhands.

The Nationals have also added Jerad Head, who will serve as a coach during Extended Spring Training and for the Rookie-Level Gulf Coast League Nationals. Head played eight seasons in the Minor Leagues, including the 2013 season within the Nationals’ chain. Head appeared in 10 games for the Cleveland Indians in 2011 and collected his first MLB hit in his big league debut, August 28 vs. Kansas City.

Here are the full Nationals’ Minor League coaching staffs:

Triple-A Syracuse Chiefs
[International League]
Manager – Billy Gardner Jr.
Pitching – Bob Milacki*
Hitting – Joe Dillon
Athletic Trainer – Jeff Allred
Strength & Conditioning Coach – Brett Henry
Double-A Harrisburg Senators
[Eastern League]
Manager – Brian Daubach
Pitching – Chris Michalak
Hitting – Mark Harris
Athletic Trainer – Eric Montague
Strength & Conditioning Coach – Tony Rogowski
Single-A Potomac Nationals
[Carolina League]
Manager – Tripp Keister
Pitching – Franklin Bravo
Hitting – Brian Rupp
Athletic Trainer – TD Swinford
Strength & Conditioning Coach – Mike Warren
Single-A Hagerstown Suns
[South Atlantic League]
Manager – Patrick Anderson
Pitching – Sam Narron
Hitting – Luis Ordaz
Athletic Trainer – Don Neidig
Strength & Conditioning Coach – Gabe Torres
Short-Season Single-A Auburn Doubledays
[New York-Penn League]
Manager – Gary Cathcart
Pitching – Tim Redding
Hitting – Amaury Garcia
Athletic Trainer – Darren Yoos
Strength & Conditioning Coach – RJ Guyer
Rookie-Level GCL Nationals
[Gulf Coast League]
Manager – Michael Barrett
Pitching – Michael Tejera
Hitting – Jorge MejiaCoach — Jerad Head
Athletic Trainer – Kirby Craft
Strength & Conditioning Coach – Edwin Jimenez
Rookie-Level DSL Nationals
[Dominican Summer League]
Manager – Sandy Martinez
Pitching – Pablo Frias
Hitting – Jose Herrera
Coach – Emiliano Alcantara
Athletic Trainer – Miguel Cabrera
Strength & Conditioning Coach – Santo Del Rosario
Coordinators
Co-Field Coordinator – Jeff Garber Outfield/Baserunning Coordinator – Gary Thurman
Co-Field Coordinator – Tommy Shields* Coordinator of Instruction – Gary Cathcart
Pitching Coordinator – Paul Menhart Rehabilitation Pitching Coordinator – Mark Grater
Sr. Advisor, Player Development – Spin Williams Medical and Rehabilitation Coordinator – Jon Kotredes
Hitting Coordinator – Troy Gingrich Strength and Conditioning Coordinator – Landon Brandes
Catching Coordinator – Michael Barrett Life Skills Coordinator – Rick Ankiel
Minor League Equipment Manager – Calvin Minasian

Nationals acquire RHP Joe Ross and a Player To Be Named from the Padres

The Washington Nationals acquired a former first-round draft selection in right-handed pitcher Joe Ross, and a player to be named, from the San Diego Padres on Friday in exchange for outfielder Steven Souza Jr. and left-hander Travis Ott. The deal was part of a three-team trade that included the Tampa Bay Rays, who will ultimately receive Souza Jr. and Ott.

Seattle Mariners v San Diego PadresRoss, 21, was 10-6 with a 3.92 ERA in 23 games (22 starts) between Single-A Lake Elsinore and Double-A San Antonio in 2014.

The 6-foot-4 righty struck out a career-best 106 batters and walked just 29 in 2014 — a 3.66 strikeout-to-walk ratio, the best of his career. In four games (three starts) for Double-A San Antonio, Ross fanned 19 batters while walking just one. He went 2-0 with a 3.60 ERA (8 ER/20.0 IP) after his late-July promotion. He features a mid-90s fastball that induces groundballs to go along with an above average slider.

In the hitter-friendly Single-A California League, Ross went 6-4 with a 3.76 ERA in 14 starts en route to being named a California League All-Star. In addition, he garnered California League Pitcher of the Week honors on May 5 after striking out nine batters in six innings of shutout ball, April 29 vs. Visalia (ARI).

Ross, who has improved his strikeouts per nine innings and walks per nine innings at each level of the Minor Leagues over the last two years, was considered by multiple industry experts to be one of the Padres’ Top 10 prospects. He was rated by Keith Law of ESPN.com as the No. 41 overall prospect in baseball during the 2014 season.

Ross was originally selected by San Diego in the first round (No. 25 overall) of the 2011 First-Year Player Draft. He attended Bishop O’Dowd High School in Oakland, Calif. and is the younger brother of Padres pitcher Tyson Ross.

Souza Jr., 25, was selected by the Nationals in the third round of the 2007 First-Year Player Draft out of Cascade High School in Everett, Wash. He spent seven seasons in Washington’s Minor League system before making his Major League debut on April 13 at Atlanta. Following the 2014 season, Souza Jr. was named Washington’s Minor League Player of the Year and earned International League Most Valuable Player honors for an outstanding season at Triple-A.

The athletic outfielder’s signature moment as a National came on the final day of the 2014 regular season when he sealed Jordan Zimmermann’s no-hitter, the first in Nationals history, with an outstanding leaping catch in left field.

Ott was selected in the 25th round of the 2013 First-Year Player Draft out of Shippensburg Area (PA) High School. He was 4-4 with a 3.96 ERA in 23 minor league games (20 starts).

Barrett, Frandsen visit MedStar Georgetown University Hospital & Nationals Youth Baseball Academy

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by Kyle Mann

Washington Nationals reliever Aaron Barrett and utility man Kevin Frandsen made the most of their respective visits to D.C. for NatsFest last weekend, coming in a day early to brighten the spirits of local children.

Barrett and Frandsen started their day on Friday, Dec. 12 by visiting with patients battling life-threatening illnesses at MedStar Georgetown University Hospital at its annual Hope for Henry Foundation’s Winter Wonderland Holiday Party. They followed that up with a visit to the Washington Nationals Youth Baseball Academy, located in Ward 7’s Fort Dupont Park.

gingerbread nats park with barrett and frandsenDuring the hospital visit, the players, and their wives, visited patient rooms and took part in fun activities with the children, including participating in a photo station and decorating a gingerbread replica of Nationals Park — complete with Racing Presidents. The stunning detail put into the gingerbread Nationals Park illustrated the level of care Hope for Henry and MedStar Georgetown put forth in preparing the entire day for the children and their families.

Hope for Henry, a charitable organization founded by Laurie Strongin and Gingerbread nats parkAllen Goldberg in 2003 following the loss of their son Henry to Fancolni anemia, made the visit special for everyone. When going through years of treatments with Henry, they noticed how much visits, parties, and even cupcakes and pizza meant to Henry, so they decided to focus on lifting the spirits of other children suffering with life-threatening diseases and their families.

Frandsen spent the much of his time focusing on the siblings of patients during his visit.

As a child, he spent a lot of time accompanying his brother, DJ, who passed away in 2004, to the hospital. After DJ’s passing, Frandsen started ’19 for Life’ to honor his brother. For more on his foundation, visit www.19forlife.org.

Frandsen said he felt a connection with Henry’s brother, Joseph, who attended the holiday party.

“To see Henry’s brother, Joe — at 13 — put everything on and raise the money to do it all was a totally different experience,” Frandsen said. “What Joe did today was unbelievable.”

Barrett at YBA 2Later in the afternoon, Frandsen and Barrett visited the Washington Nationals Youth Baseball Academy. Both players felt compelled to return after visiting the Academy this past summer and coaching scholar-athletes in the Summer Academy Program.

During the visit, the players provided some hands-on baseball instruction and each took part in a Q&A session. Based on the hard-hitting questions asked of Barrett, some of the Academy’s scholar-athletes may have a future as Nationals beat writers.

The “Bear” was asked to name the entire Nationals roster (he went position by position with aplomb), if he was friends with Ian Desmond (of course), and perhaps the toughest question of all, would he rather eat a toenail or dog food (he begrudgingly answered dog food).

Frandsen at YBADespite the good-natured ribbing, Barrett once again came away impressed by the Academy and its scholar-athletes.

“It’s a great facility — certainly the nicest I’ve seen,” Barrett said. “It was fun to interact with kids and teach them some things I was taught at their age. It’s wonderful how the Academy focuses on education and nutrition as well as baseball.”

Frandsen estimated it was the fourth or fifth time he’s visited.

“It’s always enjoyable coming here,” he said. “Some of the kids remember you and you can get to know their names, which has been great. I’ve been on a lot of teams (that focus on) kids in the community, but never with one central academy like this, in this Ward where they need it.”

Barrett at YBA 1The goals of the Washington Nationals Youth Baseball Academy are to use baseball and softball to foster positive character development, academic achievement and improved health among at-risk Washington, D.C. youth. Frandsen said the fact that it all can happen at one facility is one of the many standout qualities of the Academy.

“There is a common goal,” Frandsen said. “It’s a spot for education, tutors, they teach teamwork, eating right and all of this is accomplished at a common location to work together to help to achieve all of these goals.”

Recapping a fantastic NatsFest

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The Nationals would like to thank all the fans, players and staff members who made this past Saturday’s NatsFest an overwhelming success. Re-live some of the best moments from the Walter E. Washington Convention Center in this exclusive photo gallery and recap video from the event. We’re counting the days until spring!

***

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.

***

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.

***

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.

***

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.

Jerry Blevins on his experience in the Japan All-Star Series

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by Jerry Blevins

In November, Jerry Blevins joined other Major League All-Stars in a tour of Japan, the Japan All-Star Series. When he returned from his second visit to Japan, Blevins wanted to offer a first-person account of the remarkable trip. What follows is straight from the mind of the Nationals’ left-hander. 

For as long as I can remember, I’ve loved traveling. Experiencing new cultures — trying new foods, seeing new places, hearing different languages — has filled my dreams since I was a kid. Intriguing me, and captivating my imagination and curiosity.

The truth is, I’m a curious person by nature. That’s why my friends call me ‘Whiskers.’

(No one calls me ‘Whiskers’. I stole that from Will Ferrell. ‘Whiskers’ isn’t something I want to be called even though I’ve definitely been called worse.)

Anyway, back to traveling. Baseball has given me many opportunities to travel while playing the game I love. In 2012, I was a member of the Oakland A’s and we opened the season playing the Seattle Mariners in Tokyo. It was, in short, an amazing trip.

2014 Japan All-Star Series - Game 2:  Samurai Japan v. MLB All-StarsI enjoyed Tokyo so much I had planned on going back on vacation. When I heard that MLB and the MLB Players Association were putting together a team to play in Japan against their national team, Samurai Japan, I couldn’t put my name in the mix fast enough.

Thankfully for me, and my fiancé, Whitney, who came with me, I was selected. And during this trip, we would be playing Samurai Japan in Tokyo, as well as, Osaka, Sapporo, and Okinawa.

Before we even left I knew this was going to be a great trip. Not only did Whitney and I get to travel to these cities, but I got to play baseball with an amazingly talented roster. Robinson Cano, Evan Longoria, Yasiel Puig and Justin Morneau were just a few of the players. It was a true all-star caliber team.

Plus some guy named Blevins.

***

One of the things I love about travel is seeing the differences in cultures. But one of the things I love about baseball is that it is virtually the same game wherever it is played.

There are subtle differences about how each country chooses to execute the game. But at it’s core, baseball is baseball: nine innings, three strikes, three outs.

Japanese baseball has evolved, along with the game we know in America. Abner Doubleday is credited with inventing baseball in Cooperstown in 1839, but an American teacher named Horace Wilson taught his students in Tokyo the game sometime between 1867 and 1873. From there, Japan adopted baseball as its own country’s favorite sport.

Without question, the level of talent in Japan makes them an integral part of baseball’s international elite. The talent of those players has translated to MLB success as well. Players such as Ichiro Suzuki, Hideki Matsui, Norichika Aoki, Hideo Nomo, Yu Darvish, and so on, can not only hold their own in MLB, but are some of the best our game has to offer. Hisashi Iwakuma and Tsuyoshi Wada even played for our MLB team against Samurai Japan on this trip.

There were some future MLB players on the Samurai Japan team too. Two pitchers to keep an eye on are Kenta Maeda and Shohei Otani.

As I mentioned, part of what makes baseball so great is that it is a game that transcends differences. The game itself is always the same. That said, playing a baseball game in Japan is a different experience than playing in the US.

Giants & Tigers v MLB All Stars - FriendlyInstead of players picking a walkout song, the fans sing a song for that individual player. They bang on drums and blow trumpets and create a tune specific to that player. I found myself, throughout the tournament, humming along with a couple of the more catchy tunes.

Also, there is no heckling. The Japanese fans are always positive in their cheering. Some American players I know might miss the heckling, others wouldn’t. But I found it so interesting that it just isn’t a part of Japanese baseball at all.

Still, even with the differences in my experiences of playing in Japan, like I said before, baseball is baseball. It is one of the many things I love about the game. But I won’t get into the others, that is an entirely different story.

***

Our first exhibition game was held in Osaka. We played at Koshien Stadium, where Babe Ruth played on MLB’s 1934 tour. It is still in really good shape, considering it was built in 1924.

After the exhibition game, we played our first game that counted in the Osaka Dome. When we took batting practice, I couldn’t help but constantly look up at the roof. It made me feel like I was inside a space ship. Very different from any dome I’ve been in before.

When we were done playing in Osaka, Whitney and I joined a large portion of the traveling party in driving to Kyoto on our off-day before heading to our next game in Tokyo.

Kyoto was incredible. If you ever go to Japan, I would highly suggest you plan to go to Kyoto as part of your trip. The city is wonderfully preserved to showcase Japan’s history and culture. The architecture with temples and shrines are wonderful to see. A place where Japanese traditions are still alive today. If you have ever seen a samurai movie, chances are it was filmed in Kyoto.

Blevins2

Courtesy of Jerry Blevins

For our lunch break, all the players, coaches, wives, and staff on the trip got to experience a geisha performance. Geishas danced and sang for us as we ate. Towards the end of our lunch, they had some of us participate in one of their dances. The dance was both an ode to baseball with a take on rock, paper, scissors.

Of course, no one volunteered right away and Whitney pushed me forward to participate. I ended up beating Puig in a rock, paper, scissors battle. It is up for debate who was the better dancer, but I like to think I held my own. Whitney went up as well and won her match against Julianna Zobrist. International Geisha Rock-Paper-Scissors Champions! We never did get our trophy. Must be in the mail.

We took the bullet train from Kyoto to Tokyo. That was great — once we got on it. The adventure began immediately, as we had a small window from when the doors opened on the train to let passengers in to when they closed. It was a concerted effort to get all of us, with our stuff, on the train before they closed the doors and took off. Apparently, on past trips some people were left behind, bags in hand, as the train sped away.

Once on the train, there wasn’t much to it. It was super smooth as it sped towards Tokyo. The highlight of the ride was getting to see Mt. Fuji. That is a sight. Magnificent how it rises above all that surrounds it.

While in Tokyo, the team was invited to visit the US Ambassador to Japan, Caroline Kennedy. The complex where we were invited was amazing. It is in the heart of Tokyo, surrounded by tall buildings. But on the grounds, there is a huge garden and a huge house where she lives. It is wonderful to walk in the yard and feel serene while you look up and see skyscrapers.

Blevins1

Courtesy of Jerry Blevins

I made sure I took a photo in the same room where Emperor Hirohito and General McArthur took their famous photo together after Japan surrendered in World War II.

One of the highlights of Tokyo was seeing some of the presentations given to our Players Trust and some of our players.

On March 11, 2011, Japan was hit with an earthquake and tsunami. The damage caused by the earthquake and tsunami devastated northeastern Japan. Over 15,000 were killed with tens of thousands more being displaced without homes. I can’t even pretend to be able to do that tragedy justice with a few short sentences as to how much damage was caused.

The Players Trust, our charitable foundation where we support causes that are important to us as a group, donated $1 million to help in the recovery of the earthquake and tsunami. Before one of our games in Tokyo, the players and Players Trust director, Melissa Persaud, got to see five presentations from the five different recipients of our grants.

It was touching and inspiring to see how they were using our donations to better their lives and the lives of those in their community. If you want to know more about it, visit: playerstrust.org.

The morning before we left Tokyo, Whitney and I went to Shibuya Crossing. It is a famous intersection where five streets meet. All the traffic lights turn red at the same time, and then it’s a true scramble. We sat up in a second-story Starbucks to watch it for a while. The Starbucks itself was an adventure — it is one of the busiest in the world. But from there, the view of the crossing is hard to beat. A full sea of people embark to cross at the same time, filling the streets.

From Tokyo, we flew to Sapporo. Sapporo is famous for their beer, of course, but also for their snow. The city hosted the Winter Olympics in 1972. Luckily for us, there was only a couple of inches on the ground.

We played our game in the Sapporo Dome. This is easily the biggest dome I’ve ever seen. I was told it could hold the Tokyo Dome inside its own dome. The dome is famous for having a retractable surface. The baseball games are held on turf and soccer games are played on grass. The grass surface slides in when some of the bleachers are rotated to accommodate the change. Unfortunately, they opted for fiscal responsibility and didn’t acquiesce to my request to see the switch at work for my own amusement.

And yes, I did have a Sapporo while in Sapporo. And it was glorious. On the same night I drank their famous beer, I tried a food that wasn’t glorious in any sense.

 

Whitney and I went to dinner with Rob Wooten of the Brewers and his wife, Chris Capuano of the Yankees and his wife, and Randy Choate of the Cardinals and his wife. As we were reading the menus we came across the name “Maguro Shuto.” The translation under the item was as follows: Fish Guts pickled in Salt of the Tuna. As soon as he read this, Rob Wooten yells, “I dare you to eat that!” Wonderful Rob, thanks buddy.

If you follow me on twitter, @JerryBlevins_13, you might have seen the video I posted of me completing this dare. If you happened to miss that gem I’ll help you out. It was not good. I thought something might have been lost in translation. Turns out, the only thing lost was my appetite.

We ended our tour of Japan by flying from the northern city of Sapporo to the southern city of Okinawa.

Courtesy of Jerry Blevins

Courtesy of Jerry Blevins

Okinawa was a great place to end the trip. It was warm and touristy in the best sense. Most of the people we ran into were on vacation; including the Japanese people. Along with the warm weather, Okinawa is home to 32 US military bases. The best thing about playing in Okinawa for myself, and a lot of the other players, was the ability to play in front of a large contingent of US military personnel.

To end the trip playing in front of the wonderful and mixed crowd of Japanese and Americans was perfect.

Japan is really a beautiful country. I love a city with a skyline and Japan has several of them. The skylines of Osaka and Tokyo are true masterpieces. They are right up there on my list with some of my favorite American road stops in San Francisco, Toronto, and Chicago.

If mountains are your thing, Mt. Fuji is beauty in the truest sense. It is breathtaking. There is a reason why so many have featured it in paintings. It’s too bad I only got to see it from the bullet train this visit. During the Opening Series in 2012, I was fortunate enough to take a helicopter ride nearby, and was able to admire it from a better perspective. But even from a speeding train, its beauty is unmistakable.

Japan is also extremely clean. There isn’t any trash on the ground — wherever you look. Some of the other players and I used to search for it in public places, to just point it out to each other. “There it is! Look at it!” I carried an empty bottle I saw on the ground for 20 minutes looking for a trash can while walking through Tokyo before I threw it away in the hotel — not because I’m a great person, but because there aren’t any trash cans on the streets either.

I was also told it’s considered rude to eat and drink while walking in public. They have so much respect for their country, and each other, that they don’t want to soil it. People either consume what they buy where they buy it and throw it away there, or they take the trash home with them and recycle it themselves. Hence, no trash cans on the streets.

Whatever the reason for the cleanliness, it is a great part of their culture and one I wish we would adopt in a more widespread way here in the US.

***

Remember back at the beginning here when I let you all in on my curious nature? I think my curiosity has developed from one basic question that I’ve often asked myself: “What would my career be if I were born _____?”

If I were born in England, would I be a soccer player? Had my parents lived in Canada, would I be playing hockey? Probably not, but curling looks like a blast. My aspirations to understand something or someone that is different from me is what pushes me to travel. I think I’ve always possessed an ability to empathize with others and understand where they are coming from. And learning as much as I can about other places and cultures is an extension of that.

So the question is: what if I were born in Japan? I think that answer is a fun one.

I believe I would still be a professional baseball player. That is where my love and respect for Japan starts. The beautiful country, with beautiful people, keep me talking about it. Hopefully I will be able to visit it again. ​

Nationals acquire 2B Chris Bostick and RHP Abel de Los Santos in exchange for LHP Ross Detwiler

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by Amanda Comak

Milwaukee Brewers v Washington NationalsThe Washington Nationals concluded the 2014 MLB Winter Meetings by completing a trade that brought two new prospects into the organization. The Nationals acquired second baseman Chris Bostick and right-handed reliever Abel de Los Santos from the Texas Rangers on Thursday in exchange for left-handed pitcher Ross Detwiler.

Bostick, 21, has a .270 career batting average and a .341 on-base percentage in four Minor League seasons ranging from Rookie Level to high Class-A. In 2014, with Single-A Myrtle Beach of the Carolina League, Bostick hit .251 with a .322 on-base percentage and a .412 slugging percentage. While he played 122 of his 130 games at second base in 2014, Bostick has played 18 Minor League games at shortstop in his career.

Bostick ranked among Carolina League hitters in runs scored (second, 81), hits (T-sixth, 124), doubles, (T-fifth, 31),  triples (T-fifth, 8), stolen bases (ninth, 24), and RBI (T-ninth, 62).

A 44th-round selection in the 2011 MLB First-Year Player Draft out of high school, Bostick was originally drafted by the Oakland Athletics. He was acquired by the Rangers, along with Michael Choice, on Dec. 3, 2013, in exchange for Craig Gentry and Josh Lindblom.

de Los Santos, 22, was a teammate of Bostick’s in Myrtle Beach for much of the 2014 season. Though he made eight appearances to begin the year in Single-A Hickory of the South Atlantic League, de Los Santos made 33 appearances for Single-A Myrtle Beach, where he was 5-2 with a 1.97 ERA.

On the season, the 6-foot-2 right-hander pitched to a 1.92 ERA with 65 strikeouts in 56.1 innings pitched (41 games).

Signed out of the Dominican Republic by the Rangers in 2010, de Los Santos worked to a 0.959 WHIP in 2014 (Walks and Hits per Innings Pitched) and struck out 10.4 batters per nine innings in 2014. He allowed just two home runs all season and his eight saves were good for second on the Myrtle Beach club.

Against left-handed hitters in 2014, de Los Santos surrendered just 14 hits while striking out 35 of the 85 lefty batters he faced.

Detwiler, 28, joins the Rangers after eight years in the Nationals’ organization.

The No. 6 overall selection in the 2007 MLB First-Year Player Draft, Detwiler was 20-32 with a 3.82 ERA over the course of six Major League seasons. In his lone playoff appearance with the Nationals, Detwiler spun six innings of one-run ball over the St. Louis Cardinals in 2012.

A starter for the first five years of his Major League career, Detwiler was shifted to a bullpen role in 2014. The 6-foot-5 left-hander had a 4.00 ERA in 2014, going 2-3 in 63.0 innings of work.

From the Desk of Mark D. Lerner: Hello from the Winter Meetings

Hello everyone,
I’m writing to you today from our team headquarters at the Manchester Grand Hyatt here in San Diego, where the Winter Meetings have been given a beautiful backdrop to heat up the hot stove.
image

A view from inside our team suite at the 2014 Winter Meetings.

  • It’s been great to be back talking baseball with Nationals President of Baseball Operations & GM Mike Rizzo and his staff as we look forward to 2015 and focus on building our club for another 162-game — and beyond — challenge. That’s not to say that we’ve pushed 2014 out of our minds. I still haven’t recovered from the abrupt end to our season — but it has only served to fuel Mike, manager Matt Williams, and the rest of our organization to put together another great team so we can make another run at a World Series championship next season.
  • The task in front of Mike and his staff is not an easy one. As an organization, and with Mike at the helm, we’ve always taken the approach that we must focus on improving our ballclub for the immediate, and long-term, future. That’s never been more important than now, as we enter a new situation for our team with many of our young, talented players having reached the Major Leagues at the same time, and obviously now potentially reaching free agency at the same time. But the way Mike has built the organization the last several years, depth has been of extreme importance and that allows us to be in a position where building our team — for 2015 and beyond — can mean that anything can happen. That’s one thing I always love about the Winter Meetings in particular: the excitement, anticipation and buzz in the air. Everyone is curious to see what each team will do, and where free agents will land.
  • For us, the Winter Meetings are also a chance to get our entire baseball operations department together, and especially all of our professional scouts, for really the only time all year. It’s always so great to catch up, meet some of the new people that we’ve brought into the organization, and have so many wonderful baseball minds in the same room. Our front office staff has been working all year to prepare for this week, and it’s exciting when the ideas really start bouncing around the room.
  • I’d be remiss if I talked all about the excitement of this week without mentioning NatsFest this Saturday, Dec. 13, at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center. We are so thrilled to be bringing NatsFest back into the District and back at the Convention Center.This is always one of my favorite events of the offseason. It’s always so wonderful to see all of our players after a few weeks apart, and of course to get a chance to interact with all of you, our great fans. I know, from all of the planning that has gone into it, that this will no doubt be our best NatsFest yet. From the new games and programs they’ve been prepping to the new space that we’ll be utilizing inside the convention center, I just can’t wait to get there on Saturday morning and to enjoy a full day of Nationals spirit with all of you.

I look forward to seeing you all soon and think NatsFest will be the perfect kickoff to the holiday season.

Mark

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