Results tagged ‘ Natitude ’

The Fan In The Arena

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“It breaks your heart. It is designed to break your heart. The game begins in the spring, when everything else begins again, and it blossoms in the summer, filling the afternoons and evenings, and then as soon as the chill rains come, it stops and leaves you to face the fall alone. You count on it, rely on it to buffer the passage of time, to keep the memory of sunshine and high skies alive, and then just when the days are all twilight, when you need it most, it stops.”

These are the words of A. Bartlett Giamatti, from his classic essay “The Green Fields of the Mind,” which warrants a full read, whenever you are ready to digest the entirety of the end of the baseball season.

Even if you are not ready, though, not ready for baseball to come to such a sudden, screeching halt after riding an express train into October, do not run from it, do not abandon your feelings. Own this moment, as it is now an inescapable part of your team’s history, one that will, over time, earn you respect from fellow Nationals fans and opposing fans who have been through the same. It will make you stronger next year, and in the years after that. When the champagne comes again, it will taste sweeter.

The 2012 season was the beginning of an era for the Washington Nationals.

More so, remember the many other aspects of this season that will define it more than the final inning. In a season that began with modestly hopeful predictions, the 2012 Nationals won the most games in baseball. In the fever of the pennant race, that fact was reflected in home-field advantage, but some of its impact was no doubt overlooked in the moment.

As a young, hungry team and fan base, our time began on Opening Day and continued all summer long, as the Nationals held down first place longer than any other division winner, exceeding even the most optimistic of expectations. When the year began, Mike Rizzo explicitly stated that his goal this year was “to play meaningful games in September.” Instead, he and Davey Johnson guided the team into October.

The Nationals played, by far and away, the three most meaningful games in the history of the young franchise in Washington this week, and went toe-to-toe with the defending World Series champions in front of over 135,000 rabid, red-clothed fans. The city and the fan base showed a National audience that they have arrived, that baseball in Washington is a force to be reckoned with.

Fans ignited their NATITUDE well before this week, though, as crowds averaged over 30,000 per game for the first time since baseball returned to the Nation’s Capital in 2005. Nationals fans proudly took back the park in May during a pivotal series vs. the Phillies. And though the division rival fans to the north chirped mightily all season long, the Nationals came through on the field, wresting the division crown away from the five-time division champs.

In a season full of signature moments (which we will relive in more thorough detail throughout the coming weeks), the division clinch during the season’s final series may not have been the most dramatic, but it was certainly the most meaningful, representing a shift in the NL East balance of power.

Any opposing fan who believes this was a one-year fluke is, at best, blissfully oblivious to what has been built in Washington. With a roster overflowing with young talent just beginning to grow into itself, this is merely the end of chapter one, with many volumes remaining to be written in the coming years. So wear your Curly W’s proudly today and hold your heads up high throughout the winter. Baseball will spring anew again next year, and we will all be a year wiser, a year stronger, and ready to – in the words of Teddy Roosevelt – strive valiantly once again.

“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”

From the Desk of Mark Lerner: NATITUDE Park

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Hello again Nats fans,

I hope everyone is well and enjoying the season thus far.

I’d like to start with last weekend’s crowds at ‘NATITUDE Park.’ I am very proud to say that over 100,000 were in attendance for the three-game set against the rival Philadelphia Phillies. D.C. baseball fans left little doubt that they take their baseball seriously. Taking two of three from the Phillies is always welcome, but to do so in front of back-to-back-to-back large crowds made the weekend memorable for all.

Bryce Harper has provided an extra spark for the Nats lineup.

Being a part of ESPN’s Sunday Night Baseball was a thrill for all of us. It was our first ESPN Sunday Night game since Nationals Park opened on March 30, 2008. Everything looked fantastic, as usual, in HD and the entire atmosphere was electric.

How about Bryce’s steal of home on Sunday? Not only won’t that moment be forgotten, it’s likely to be talked about with reverence for years to come. I have had friends tell me this week that the swipe was Bryce’s “arrival” on a national stage.

I know that Jayson Werth and Bo Porter both had a hand in educating Bryce on Cole Hamels’ pickoff tendencies. That was a true team effort. All in all, everything about last weekend went perfectly, Sunday’s result and especially Jayson’s wrist injury notwithstanding.

As I write this, the Nationals are caught in a three-game losing streak. The bats have been a tad flat, but that should be temporary, especially with Ryan Zimmerman and Adam LaRoche now back in the lineup. And Mike Rizzo tells me that Michael Morse and his Beast Mode are progressing quite well. We can really use that jolt in the middle of the lineup.

I’d also like to recognize the strong play of LaRoche thus far. He’s leading the club in the Triple Crown categories: a .316 batting average, five homers and 19 RBI. After an injured left shoulder hindered his play last season, I am glad to he is back this season and playing at the levels he expects for himself. Rizzo calls Adam a two-way player. In my mind, he is a three-way player, as there is also no finer gentleman or community advocate in our clubhouse.

Adam’s homer in the ninth inning on Tuesday night in Pittsburgh was the 1,000th home run hit by the Nationals since arriving in Washington in 2005. I remember being at the Nationals first game in Philadelphia and watching Terrmel Sledge launch our first homer at Citizens Bank Park. Why does that initial game in April of 2005 seem like such a long time ago? And at the same time, why does it seem like yesterday? I suppose that is the nature of this game.

Stephen Strasburg returns to the hill for the Nationals Thursday night.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t acknowledge the continued excellence of Steve McCatty’s starting rotation. Collectively, Stephen Strasburg, Gio Gonzalez, Jordan Zimmermann, Edwin Jackson and Ross Detwiler are the best rotation in the game right now. I don’t think anyone can objectively argue this point. Consider, in 16 the last games, the rotation has posted 15 quality starts and allowed one run or less 8 times. That’s sustained dominance.

Tonight, Strasburg takes the mound at PNC Park. Here’s to this three-game slide being temporary!

The NHL playoffs, and the Capitals series with the New York Rangers, also have my attention.

Game 6 was really something last night. I attended the game with Drew Storen as my guest. Drew along with many of his teammates, are really enjoying the Caps and their march through the Eastern Conference. Incidentally, Drew’s elbow is feeling fantastic and he is very anxious to get back on the mound.

As for the game, Ovechkin’s early goal really set the stage for loud evening at the Verizon Center. In between the pipes, Braden Holtby played with a grace and poise well beyond his years. He’s been just fantastic.

After further review, I just noted that the Nationals play in Cincinnati on Sat. at 7:05 p.m. And the Caps play Game 7 that same night at Madison Square Garden at 7:30 p.m.

Nearly simultaneous starts, again? That’s two straight weekends! Not that I am counting!

We will start at our homestand Monday night against the San Diego Padres. Please come out and support the team. They are playing great ball and as we all know they are fun to watch.

Let’s go Caps!

Let’s go Nats!

Please enjoy the weekend and Happy Mother’s Day!

Q&A with Buster Olney

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With Washington baseball stepping into the national spotlight tonight on Sunday Night Baseball, Curly W Live took a moment to catch up with one of baseball’s foremost authorities – ESPN’s Buster Olney. He shared his thoughts on the 2012 Nats, the importance of this weekend’s series, the power of NATITUDE, and of which superstar pitcher tonight’s starter Jordan Zimmermann most reminds him.

Curly W Live: What has stood out to you the most about the Nationals so far?

Buster Olney: Well, the pitching is reaching its potential. I’ll make a lot of stupid picks every year, but I felt kind of smart by picking (the Nationals) to make the playoffs before the year started. I thought the biggest thing was that when you were going to play the Nationals in a series, you were going to have really tough at-bats. And I think that’s what we’ve seen. My favorite stat so far this year is the fact that they’ve allowed fewer homers as a team than Ervin Santana has. They’re the first team since the ’97 Braves to finish the month of April having allowed fewer homers as a team than some individual pitchers. That’s pretty high praise. So I think their pitching has been good. Obviously offensively they’re a work in progress with Bryce Harper coming up and (Ryan) Zimmerman having been out and (Adam) LaRoche having been out, so it will be interesting to see if they get better. And I think this weekend is one of those weekends – and I agree with what (Phillies outfielder) Hunter Pence said – the Nats have a chip on their shoulder.

CWL: How important is this weekend’s series for the team?

Olney, right, chats with Nationals GM Mike Rizzo before Sunday night’s nationally televised game.

BO: I think it’s important. If the Phillies were to get swept in this series, I don’t think it would bother them, because they’ve been there. But I think there’s one thing that has to happen, and I talked to Shane Victorino about this yesterday. Every team that is growing has to learn how to win games against good teams. He talked about how there was a time when the Phillies were the team trying to win those games, and now it’s the Nationals. So I think in that regard, it’s an important series where you can match up. We saw Pittsburgh last year. They were good, they were competing in their division, and then they absolutely hit a wall and fell apart. I think for the Nationals, the question is, ‘How do you get through those grind-it-out parts of the season?’ And I think they’re doing that, because when you look at their run production – I think going through Thursday they were 28th out of 30 teams in runs scored – that tells you that they’re winning close games. They’ve had the walk-off wins. That’s a really good sign.”

CWL: That said, do you expect the Nationals to get a big boost from when Ryan Zimmerman returns?

BO: No question. And Ryan’s one of the best players in baseball. I think when you add him, it’s going to be a plus. At some point, your pitching staff is going to hit a lull, no matter how good it is, every staff has it. So you’ve got to win your share of 8-6 games, and they just need to be more capable of doing it when that time comes.

CWL: How has your impression of the Nationals changed this year?

BO: The energy level is coming, it’s that thing about NATITUDE. And I agree with what Davey Johnson said – once you start winning games, people will start coming into your park. When I covered the Orioles in 1995-’96, they owned that park. And as time went on, it became more of a Red Sox park, more of a Yankee park. And I think as time goes on and these guys are playing well, there will be more attention in this city, they’ll draw more people, and there will be a higher percentage of Nats fans. That’s the thing that jumped out at me: the ratio of Nats to Phillies fans has certainly gone up.

CWL: Let’s talk about the other Zimmerman(n), tonight’s starter, Jordan. What are your thoughts on him?

BO: I think he’s underrated nationally in that people don’t realize quite how good he is. He’s one of my favorite guys to watch. He reminds me so much of Matt Cain of the Giants, in that he’s just a plow-horse. And I say that with 100% respect – his mother grew up on a farm, so I think he’ll take it that way. He’s got that mentality where nothing is going to bother him. He’ll just go out and pitch his game. He’s not going to worry about peripheral stuff, he’s just going to go out and compete. He’s a tough kid. He’s one of my favorite guys to watch pitch. And the more that Nationals succeed, the more people are going to get to know him and understand that he’s comparable to someone like a Matt Cain.

Thanks again to Buster for taking the time to chat before tonight’s series finale. First pitch on ESPN’s Sunday Night Baseball is at 8:05pm.

Our Park: Series Preview

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Welcome to NATITUDE Weekend at Our Park. This three-game set will feature the top of the Nationals rotation taking on the Philadelphia Phillies for the first time since Washington completed a four-game road sweep at Citizens Bank Park last September. For a complete guide to everything you need to know, click here. As far as the basics are concerned, the matchups are as follows:

Philadelphia Phillies (13-13, 4th place, -3.5 GB) vs. Washington Nationals (16-9, 1st place, 0.0 GB)

Game 1: Friday, May 4, 7:05pm

Probable Starters: RHP Kyle Kendrick (0-2, 6.59) vs. RHP Stephen Strasburg (2-0, 1.13)

Tickets: Still available

Gio Gonzalez will get his first taste of the Nationals/Phillies rivalry this weekend.

Breakdown: Reigning National League Pitcher of the Month Stephen Strasburg takes to the hill looking to lead the Nationals to their third consecutive win. The right-hander has allowed one or fewer runs in four of his five starts to date. Facing the Nationals lineup will be Kyle Kendrick, normally the Phillies swingman who is filling in the rotation for the injured Cliff Lee. Kendrick has allowed nine runs on 16 hits in 9.0 innings of work in his two starts so far, losing both.

Game 2: Saturday, May 5, 1:05pm

Probable Starters: RHP Vance Worley (2-1, 1.97) vs. LHP Gio Gonzalez (2-1, 1.82)

Tickets: Very limited

Breakdown: Gio Gonzalez saw his scoreless innings streak reach 25 before coming to an end in his last start. He shares the team lead and the fifth-highest total in the National League with 34 strikeouts as one of the four Nationals starters with both a sub-2.00 ERA and sub-1.00 WHIP. Vance Worley continues to be a solid find for the Phillies after an impressive campaign in 2011, but has surrendered a team-high four home runs.

Game 3: Sunday, May 6, 8:05pm

Probable Starters: LHP Cole Hamels (3-1, 2.78) vs. RHP Jordan Zimmermann (1-2, 1.89)

Tickets: Still available

Breakdown: Jordan Zimmermann will toe the rubber for the Nationals in the ESPN Sunday Night Baseball feature. A victim of low run support, the righty has won just one game despite striking out 22 batters against just three walks and posting a team-low 0.84 WHIP. The report on Cole Hamels shows that he is having another solid year, leading the team with 36 strikeouts. He has not been untouchable, though, allowing a run in every start and two or more in four of his five outings.

A Fan’s Guide to NATITUDE Weekend

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Well, it’s finally here. Welcome to NATITUDE Weekend at Nationals Park, the first three-game set of the year against the rival Phillies. If you are planning to attend any (or all) of this weekend’s games, here’s a handy guide to help arm you with the NATITUDE you need to show the Philly fans who decided to make the trip south to Our Park that Washington is ready to turn the tide both on the field and off.

1. Knowledge is power

Stephen Strasburg was named National League Pitcher of the Month for April.

The Nationals are off to a great start to 2012, and it helps to understand just how good they’ve been so far. As any Phillies fan will tell you, pitching is all-important in building a winner. So far, the Nationals have had the best staff in the game, and by a decent margin at that. Stephen Strasburg, who is scheduled to start the series opener on Friday, just took home National League Pitcher of the Month honors for April after going 2-0 with a 1.13 ERA (4 ER/32.0 IP), striking out 34 batters while walking just six over his first five starts of the year. In fact, four of the five Nats starting pitchers – including all three slated to start in this series – have ERAs under 2.00 going into Thursday night’s game. That’s something neither Phillies starters Cole Hamels (2.78) nor Roy Halladay (3.40) can claim.

2. Understand your history

Yes, the Phillies have won five straight National League East titles. You already know this, but you will no doubt be reminded of it several times this weekend. However, were you aware that the Nationals beat Philadelphia, 10-8, in the season series in 2011, including the final five games? Before completing a four-game sweep at Citizens Bank Park in September, the Nats won their last home game over Philadelphia in an extra-inning walk-off affair. Two days before that, Ryan Zimmerman cleared the bases with two outs in the bottom of the ninth with a walk-off grand slam.

3. Speaking of walk-offs…

Ian Desmond has played the hero recently for the Nationals at home.

The Nationals enter their series finale with the Diamondbacks Thursday night with a 9-3 home record, best in the division. Four of those victories have come in walk-off style, including Wednesday’s dramatic, two-out, two-run, come-from-behind, game-winning home run off the bat of Ian Desmond. The winning run in those games has been scored by four different players (Zimmerman, Danny Espinosa, Wilson Ramos, and Desmond), so you never know who the hero might be when you come to the ballpark.

4. There’s this guy named Bryce

They may boo him, but every opposing fan will have their eyes trained on home plate when 19 year-old Bryce Harper digs in. The outfielder turned in the first three-hit game of his young career on Wednesday, and is already altering games on defense with his cannon of an arm. Make sure you’re in your seat when Harper bats – you just might witness a piece of history.

5. Root, root, root for the home team

Bring your passion and energy to Our Park to cheer for the Nats. It’s going to be a fun, rowdy environment for sure, so bring your yelling voice. But should you run into some unruly visiting fans, don’t worry about wasting it on them. Let them regale you with stories about their .500 ballclub, and about how good they used to be. You know, in the past. Just take the high road and Ignite Your NATITUDE to support the NL East-leading Nats, the most exciting young team in baseball.

See you at Our Park this weekend!

The Publications Go Public

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It’s time for the Nationals to return to D.C. for Opening Day, which means a lot of things to a lot of people. For Nationals memorabilia fanatics, there’s often no better way to show your pride or commemorate the history of your favorite team than by collecting each of the official magazines and playbills. And so today, we’d like to give you a sneak peek at the first issues of both Nationals Magazine and Inside Pitch (our official playbill), which will be available to those of you who attend Nationals Park for the first homestand of the season.

First up, Nationals Magazine. There are also features on both the Natitude campaign and Jayson Werth, but the lead story and the cover belong to Stephen Strasburg, who made his first ever Opening Day start last week at Wrigley Field. Pick up a copy around the ballpark for $5 or, if you are from outside the area, keep an eye out on Curly W Live, where we’ll provide a link to purchase publications later in the season.

For the first Inside Pitch, we had to go with Ryan Zimmerman, who recently signed a long extension and even more recently plated his 500th career RBI. Inside Pitch is available for free at every Nats home game, so make sure to pick yours up at the ballpark!

We’ll keep updated covers of the current publication available at the ballpark over in the right-hand column here at Curly W Live, so that you know which issue awaits when you come to a game.

Cleaning Up the Offense

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Sunday brought some good news and some bad news for the Nationals. The bad news: the dream of a perfect 162-0 season is gone, as is their streak of come-from-behind victories. The good news: even though they came up just short against the Cubs on Sunday, the Nats still took two of three at Wrigley to start the season, and head to New York to take on the Mets for a three-game set before heading back to D.C. for the home opener on Thursday.

Ryan Zimmerman appreciates Adam LaRoche's hot start so far this season.

The trends of the first two games continued, as again the offense was dormant early but exploded late. Unfortunately, Washington came up a run shy in the loss, but the team has now scored nine of its 12 runs in the eighth inning or later, after Adam LaRoche’s two-run shot in the ninth on Sunday afternoon. It was the second longball in as many days for the first baseman, who lost most of his 2011 season to injury but has started this season with a bang (or rather, two).

There was a lot of preseason talk about a former Nationals first baseman named Adam – Dunn, that is – heading into the season as a candidate for the Comeback Player of the Year. The way LaRoche has played so far, he seems primed to enter his own name into that debate. He is batting .412 (5-for-12) with the two dingers, three runs scored and four RBI through his first three games, numbers that have to feel especially good after struggling through just 43 games last season.

There was a even a smattering of Nationals red in the crowd at Wrigley enjoying Washington’s series win. Those of you who follow us on Twitter may have already seen this, but we figured it was worth a share with everyone. As if the drama of the last three games wasn’t already enough, hopefully this helps you Ignite Your Natitude. After all, baseball comes home to Washington in just three days.

Also, make sure to check in on Facebook around noon tomorrow, as a few Nationals will be visiting the MLB Fan Cave and taking your questions live. Which players, you ask? You’ll just have to drop by and find out.

Our Time Begins on Opening Day

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“Don’t tell me about the world. Not today. It’s springtime and they’re knocking baseballs around fields where the grass is damp and green in the morning and the kids are trying to hit the curveball.” – Pete Hamill

Native Washingtonian and esteemed sportswriter Thomas Boswell once penned the famous notion that time begins on Opening Day. For baseball fans of every generation, this simple ideal expressed their love for the sport in a way that resonated and persisted. It is a sentiment still referenced each spring as planes scatter and leap from the two hubs of the game’s preseason universe only to come to rest in the metropolises that dot the nation. This is our signal, the raised starter’s pistol, of the beginning of the season and, as such, time itself.

Stephen Strasburg takes the hill as the Nationals open 2012.

On this day, hope is always in grand supply, but its depth is not universally equal amongst the 30 squads. By now, even the blindest of faith, the homers of all homers, have admitted to themselves the boundaries of their team’s potential. Nationals fans, such as yourself, have surely looked at past editions of the team with this hesitation – with the hope that you are proven wrong by the team’s success. It’s hard to open yourself up to a team, to become vulnerable, only to have your love go unrequited in the doldrums of the dog days of summer.

Indeed, winning takes time. Building a sustainable, competitive organization takes more than that. It takes smart personnel hires, diligent research on potential draft picks, key pickups through trades, valuable free agent acquisitions, and a generally keen eye for exploiting market inefficiencies. With most winning teams, there is a moment where everything comes together and clicks. It often happens quite suddenly, so that only in hindsight can you look back and say, “well, sure, of course they were that good.”

This spring, your friends and family from Philadelphia and New York will tell you that your team is too young, that they lack the firepower to be true contenders. Some, at their most forgiving, might allow the concession that the Nationals could be competitive in a few years, somewhere down the line. It is neither the time, nor the place to argue with their steadfast proclamations. Simply nod politely, smile, and wait.

You understand. You know that their team’s clock, their time, began years ago. They are clinging to memories of teams past, or younger versions of the ones on the field in front of them this April. They are watching as the grains of sand dwindle in the top of their hourglass. The louder they chirp, the more obvious it is that they understand this. The more they dismiss the reality of the situation, the more clearly they are in denial of where the Nationals are in their own timeline.

Our team’s hourglass flips today, as full of potential as any fan could hope.

Make no mistake, none of it means anything yet. Nothing has been accomplished, not a single game won in the standings. But the squad has been assembled and the excitement in the air is both real and justified. There is no cause for celebration, just anticipation for a truly new beginning. The opportunity is there for the taking in front of a team, an organization, and a city aching for a winner.

It’s time to rethink everything you used to know about your team, right here, right now.

Let’s play ball.