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!

Nationals Invite 18 Non-Roster Players to Major League Spring Training

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by Amanda Comak

With Pitchers and Catchers set to report to Viera, Fla., in just three weeks, the Washington Nationals released their list of non-roster invitees on Friday – a list that includes players recently signed to Minor League deals as well as some of the organization’s top homegrown talent.farm graphic

The Nationals announced their deals with right-hander Gabriel Alfaro, infielder Jamey Carroll, right-hander Manny Delcarmen, infielder Mike Fontenot, right-hander Clay Hensley, right-hander Daniel Stange, infielder Brock Peterson and catcher Chris Snyder, who all signed Minor League contracts with invitations to Major League Spring Training.

In addition, the Nationals extended invitations to Major League Spring Training to right-hander A.J. Cole, left-hander Tyler Robertson, left-hander Danny Rosenbaum, right-hander Blake Treinen, right-hander Chris Young, catcher Brian Jeroloman, infielder Josh Johnson, infielder Will Rhymes, infielder Matt Skole and outfielder Brian Goodwin.

Here’s a bit more about the new additions to the Major League clubhouse at Space Coast Stadium:

  • Cole and Goodwin, both top prospects, will take part in their first Major League Spring Training.
  • Cole, the No. 2 prospect in the organization according to Baseball America, went 10-5 with 3.60 ERA in 25 starts between Single-A Potomac and Double-A Harrisburg. He tallied 151 strikeouts, third-most among Nationals farmhands, and his 102 strikeouts with Potomac were the most on the club, despite his promotion to Harrisburg on July 23rd. 
  • Goodwin led the Double-A Eastern League with 11 triples and was third in the league with 82 runs scored in 122 games for Double-A Harrisburg.  He tied for the team lead with 115 hits and paced qualified Senators in on-base percentage (.355) and slugging percentage (.407).  On the season, he hit .252 with 19 doubles, 10 homers, 40 runs batted in. The Rocky Mount, N.C. native is ranked by Baseball America as the No. 3 prospect in the Nationals’ organization.
  • Alfaro, 30, struck out 12.0 batters per nine innings in 2013 while pitching for Guerreros de Oaxaca of the Mexican League. He went 4-3 with a 2.71 ERA and 26 saves in 63.0 IP (53 games).
  • Carroll, a career .272 hitter, spent the 2013 season with Minnesota before being traded to Kansas City on August 11th.  The 39-year old was selected by the Montreal Expos in 1996 and spent his first four Major League seasons (2002-05) with the Montreal/Washington franchise before stints with Colorado (2006-07), Cleveland (2008-09), Los Angeles-NL (2010-11), Minnesota (2012-13) and Kansas City (2013). An original member of the Nationals, Carroll is one of six members of the 2005 Nationals who are still active. The others: Marlon Byrd, Endy Chavez, John Rauch, Luis Ayala and Ryan Zimmerman.
  • Delcarmen has spent parts of six MLB seasons pitching for Boston and Colorado, amassing an 11-8 record to go along with a 3.97 ERA in 298 games.  The 31-year old spent the 2013 season in Baltimore’s chain, appearing in 48 games for Triple-A Norfolk, going 3-3 with a 2.83 ERA.
  • Fontenot, 33, spent the 2013 season in Tampa Bay’s organization, playing 120 games for Triple-A Durham. He hit .264 with 32 doubles, two triples, four home runs, 42 runs batted in and 53 runs scored for the Bulls. Fontenot last appeared in the Major Leagues with Philadelphia in 2012 and previously spent time with San Francisco (2010-11) and Chicago-NL (2005-10).
  • Hensley has spent parts of seven Major League seasons pitching for San Diego (2005-08), Miami (2010-11) and San Francisco (2012), going 28-34 with 10 saves and a 4.00 ERA in 271 big league games.  The 34-year-old went 2-1 with a 2.57 ERA in 33 relief appearances with Triple-A Louisville (CIN), Triple-A Nashville (MIL) and the Sugar Land Skeeters of the Independent League last season.
  • Stange, 28, struck out 73 batters in 65.2 innings between Triple-A Tucson (SDP) and Triple-A Salt Lake City (LAA) in 2013.  He went 5-1 with a 4.52 ERA in 52 games between the two organizations last season, appearing in three games for Los Angeles (AL).
  • Peterson led the Triple-A Pacific Coast League with 25 home runs and was second in the league in slugging percentage (.531) and OPS (.895) in 2013.  He hit .296 with 30 doubles, one triple, 25 home runs, 86 RBI, 44 walks and 69 runs scored in 122 games for St. Louis’ top affiliate.  The 30-year old made his Major League debut on July 20th vs. San Diego and appeared in 23 games for the Cardinals.
  • Snyder, 32, returns to the Nationals after spending the 2013 season in the Los Angeles (AL) and Baltimore organizations. He combined to hit .273 with 14 doubles, 13 home runs, 45 RBI and a .330 OBP in 73 Triple-A contests with Salt Lake (Pacific Coast League, 21 games) and Norfolk (International League, 52 games).

Pitchers and catchers are slated report to the Nationals’ Spring Training facility in Viera, Fla., by Thursday, Feb. 13. Position players must report by Feb. 18, and the first full-squad workout is scheduled for Feb. 20.

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 Thank You and a Look Ahead

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by Noah Frank

As we begin what promises to be an exciting year, we wanted to take a quick moment to thank you for your continued support of the Nationals, and particularly our writing here at Curly W Live. Thanks to your readership, we rose to No. 8 in the 2013 Top 100 MLBlogs rankings. We try our best both during the season and the offseason to bring you stories and information that we think you’ll appreciate as fans. In that spirit, here are eight of your favorite posts from the past year, which you can reread for fun or check out for the first time if you missed them when they were originally posted:

1.25: Taft Makes Five

2.14: This One’s for the Birds

2.16: Hair Today…

4.14: Guess Your Players’ Pups

8.03: To the Last Man

9.18: Improbabilities and Impossibilities

10.16: Harper Turns 21

12.10: Adam LaRoche and the 2013 USO Holiday Tour

We’re always looking for new and better ways help you connect with the team, so please leave your suggestions in the comments below, and let’s have an even greater 2014!

16 days until NatsFest

35 days until pitchers and catchers report

85 days until the home opener at Nationals Park

Down on the Farm: Nationals announce Minor League Coaching Staffs

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by Amanda Comak

The Washington Nationals announced their minor league managers, coaches and coordinators for the 2014 season on Friday, welcoming two new managers to the chain and promoting three complete staffs within the system.

farm graphicFormer Triple-A Syracuse manager Tony Beasley, and hitting coach Troy Gingrich, have been promoted to minor league co-field coordinator and hitting coordinator, respectively. And among the new faces, the Nationals have added former players, Michael Barrett, Joe Dillon and Tim Redding to their minor league coaching and managerial ranks.

Nationals Vice President of Player Personnel Bob Boone, Assistant General Manager and Vice President of Player Development Doug Harris and Director of Player Development Mark Scialabba made the joint announcement.

The Nationals promoted manager Brian Daubach, pitching coach Chris Michalak and hitting coach Mark Harris from Advanced-A Potomac to Double-A Harrisburg. Manager Tripp Keister, pitching coach Franklin Bravo and hitting coach Brian Rupp moved from Single-A Hagerstown to Advanced-A Potomac. Patrick Anderson was promoted to Single-A Hagerstown after serving as manager in the Gulf Coast League, and is joined on his staff by pitching coach Sam Narron and hitting coach Luis Ordaz.

Additionally, the Nationals promoted Paul Menhart from pitching coach of the Harrisburg Senators to the same position with the Syracuse Chiefs, Amaury Garcia from the Gulf Coast League to Single-A Auburn and Jorge Mejia from the Dominican Summer League to the Gulf Coast League.

Billy Gardner Jr. will manage the Triple-A Syracuse Chiefs and Barrett will lead the Gulf Coast League Nationals, the two new managerial additions to the Nationals’ staff this season.  In addition to those changes, Dillon will serve as the hitting coach at Triple-A Syracuse, and Redding will serve as the pitching coach at Single-A Auburn.

Barrett, Dillon and Redding join the coaching ranks after successful professional careers, while Redding and Barrett also have ties from their playing days to the organization.

Redding spent two years pitching for the Nationals, working to a 4.53 ERA in 48 starts between 2007 and 2008, and posted a 4.95 ERA in parts of eight major league seasons. This will be the right-hander’s first season transitioning from playing to coaching.

Barrett, a first-round selection by the Montreal Expos in 1995, spent parts of 12 seasons in the major leagues, including six in an Expos uniform. In over 1,000 Major League games, Barrett posted a career .263 average, .320 on-base percentage and .466 slugging percentage, while starting 820 of those games behind the plate. In 2005, while with the Chicago Cubs, Barrett won a Silver Slugger Award.

Over the course of a 12-year professional career as a utility infielder, Dillon spent parts of four seasons in the Major Leagues with Florida, Milwaukee and Tampa Bay. He is a career .263/.344/.378 hitter in 137 Major League games.

Beasley will replace Bob Henley, who was recently named the Nationals’ third-base coach.  Gingrich fills the position of hitting coordinator made vacant by the promotion of Rick Schu to Nationals’ hitting coach last July.  Jon Kotredes will move to the position of medical and rehab coordinator after spending the 2013 season as Harrisburg’s athletic trainer.

Triple-A Syracuse Chiefs                                       Short-Season Single-A Auburn 
[International League]                                           [New York-Penn League]
Manager – Billy Gardner Jr.                                Manager – Gary Cathcart
Pitching – Paul Menhart                                       Pitching – Tim Redding
Hitting – Joe Dillon                                                 Hitting – Amaury Garcia

Double-A Harrisburg Senators                          Rookie-Level GCL Nationals
[Eastern League]                                                      [Gulf Coast League]
Manager – Brian Daubach                                    Manager – Michael Barrett
Pitching – Chris Michalak                                    Pitching – Michael Tejera
Hitting – Mark Harris                                             Hitting – Jorge Mejia

Single-A Potomac Nationals                               Rookie-Level DSL Nationals
[Carolina League]                                                    [Dominican Summer League]
Manager – Tripp Keister                                       Manager – Sandy Martinez
Pitching – Franklin Bravo                                    Pitching – Pablo Frias
Hitting – Brian Rupp                                              Hitting – Jose Herrera

Single-A Hagerstown Suns
[South Atlantic League]
Manager – Patrick Anderson
Pitching – Sam Narron
Hitting – Luis Ordaz

Coordinators
Co-Field Coordinator – Tony Beasley
Co-Field Coordinator – Jeff Garber
Hitting Coordinator – Troy Gingrich
Pitching Coordinator – Spin Williams
Outfield/Baserunning Coordinator – Gary Thurman
Coordinator of Instruction – Gary Cathcart
Medical and Rehabilitation Coordinator – Jon Kotredes
Strength and Conditioning Coordinator – Landon Brandes
Rehabilitation Pitching Coordinator – Mark Grater
Minor League Equipment Manager – Calvin Minasian

Down on the Farm: The Rule 5 Draft

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by Noah Frank

One of the most confusing and misunderstood of all of baseball’s annual traditions took place last week at the Swan and Dolphin Hotel in Orlando. The Rule 5 Draft, the unofficial closing to baseball’s Winter Meetings, is a function of the Major League Baseball Players Association’s collective bargaining agreement that helps give players a chance with a new club if they meet certain eligibility requirements. Unlike the Rule 4 Draft (more commonly known as the First-Year Player Draft, which takes place each June), players are picked from other organizations in both a Major League and Minor League phase. You can learn more about the intricacies and minutiae of the proceedings in this handy FAQ.

farm graphicThe Nationals’ 40-man roster was already full heading into the draft, so they did not procure anyone in the Major League phase (though they saw catcher Adrian Nieto taken by the White Sox). They did, however, make a couple of acquisitions in the Minor League portion of the event, selecting outfielder Theodis (Theo) Bowe from the Cincinnati Reds and right-handed pitcher Martires Arias from the New York Mets.

Aside from his terrific name, Bowe brings both speed and defense as a center fielder. In essence, he helps replace Billy Burns, recently traded to Oakland for left-handed reliever Jerry Blevins. Bowe is one season removed from a 70-steal campaign, and at just 23 years of age, Nationals Director of Player Development Mark Scialabba hopes to get a look at what he might provide moving forward.

“Bowe is still a young, left-handed outfielder that possesses two plus tools in his speed and defense,” explained Scialabba. “We had good information on his makeup, skill set and the way he played the game. He will compete for a spot at Double-A Harrisburg.”

Finding Arias is a credit to Nationals Director of Player Procurement Kasey McKeon, who scouted him in the Dominican Republic earlier this year and recommended him for the Rule 5 Draft. Also 23 years old, the 6-foot-7 hurler reaches the mid-90s with his fastball, giving Scialabba and the Nationals’ staff another pitcher in the mold of many the organization has drafted in recent years.

“He’s another tall, power arm that we can add to our inventory and take on as a project,” Scialabba said. “We would like to see if we can make some adjustments to maximize his ability.”

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

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