Spring Training games start today. The Washington Nationals are in Viera, Florida and ready to play the best the Grapefruit League has to offer. Opening Day is 33 days away. Here’s your sneak peak into what you have to look forward to this season.
It’s safe to assume that 2010 will not be the year the Washington Nationals win a World Series. They’re still building a franchise and are mere youngins when compared to the veteran clubs in the Major Leagues today.
The Nationals haven’t had a winning season since moving to the District. They came close in 2005 by going 81-81, but since then they have finished last in their division (National League East) every year except 2007 when they finished second to last. So – it’s easy to understand if you haven’t made your way to the ballpark these past few years.
If you wanted to see a team win, a trip to Baltimore, dare I say … Philly, might be a better idea. Not this year though. The 2010 season has the potential to be different for the Nationals. And no – that’s not a joke.
General Manager Mike Rizzo assembled quite an ensemble of characters in the off-season. The squad is full of potential. All winter acquisitions were smart moves as far as business goes. The team spent smart money. They didn’t reach beyond their means. They got what they knew they could get.
What’d they end up with at the end of the off-season? Here’s the inventory: a mentor, a merch mover, a gift from God, and a little bit of hope for a winning season in 2010.
Good leadership is hard to come by if you’re a newer team in game obsessed with tradition. For all intensive purposes, the Nationals have lacked a real veteran mentor. Jason Marquis is now filling that void.
The guy’s got enough positive attitude for the entire 40-man roster and Spring Training squad combined. “I feel like you play 162 games to win 162 games. You don’t put expectations like ‘Oh, I hope we get to .500 this year,’” he told Florida Today late last month.
“Treat each and every day as an individual, treat each game as its own and try to win one game at a time, get an out at a time, make plays and execute, and I think it will lead to a good season.”
His quotes might be off-the-cuff but he makes a valid point. A little confidence can’t hurt.
The Merch Mover
At this point, if you call yourself a baseball fan and don’t know the name Ivan “Pudge” Rodgriguez, you haven’t been paying much attention to today’s All-Stars.
Here’s the deal: Pudge is ranked one of the greatest defensive catchers in the history of the game. He’s a 7 time Silver Slugger, 13 time Gold Glove winner, and a 14 time All-Star (not to mention he’s part of the reason the Cubs were robbed a World Series berth in 2003. Pudge was behind the plate for the 2003 World Series Champion Florida Marlins).
This guy is a big seller. Little Leaguers, baseball fanatics, and 20-something girls who go to the games for the beer are sure to be sporting his merch by the start of the season.
The Gift From God
And then there was the little engine that could. Stephen Strasburg is all anyone at Nationals Spring Training Camp seems to be talking about. Teammate Nyjer Morgan has gone as far as to say that he’s “Jesus”. Why? Morgan says it’s because that’s the first thing you say when you see him pitch, “Jeee-sus!”
The biggest question going into the regular season is: will Riggleman start Strasburg in the minors or the majors?
The right-handed kid out of San Diego State is the talk of NatsTown. The boy’s got a speedy fastball up near the triple digits, went 4-1 with a 4.26 ERA in his first professional assignment at the Arizona Fall League, and the entire Nationals squad is on his side.
Riggleman says that the final decision is still up in the air, “We’re going to continue to evaluate him. Most likely he will start in the minors. But he’s an exceptional talent, so I won’t say he can’t make it.”
To trust Riggleman in this situation wouldn’t be a bad idea. He’s done this before. Kerry Wood ring any bells?
Here’s a quick recap just in case it doesn’t: Riggleman was the Cubs manager during Wood’s rookie season in 1998. Wood was 20-years-old, started 26 games, threw 2,840 pitches, and struck out 233 batters – including a record-breaking 20 strikeout game. Riggleman has admitted he regrets how he handled Wood. He told the Washington Post, “I think if anything that I learned from it, having to do it over I probably would have pitched Kerry less.”
With that said, Strasburg and Wood aren’t the same person. The circumstances are different and Riggleman has 11 more years of managing on his resume going into the 2010 season. So – in this case – let’s just choose to say, “In Riggleman we trust.”
A Little Word Called “Hope”
American’s have an obsession with hope. Granted – President Obama’s campaign ran the word into the ground, but that doesn’t mean baseball fans aren’t still big supporters of the concept.
Remember the 2004 American League Championship Series? The Red Sox overcame a 0-3 deficit, secured their spot in the World Series, and went on to win their first Fall Classic since 1918. Then, they did it again in 2007.
And how about those 2003 Florida Marlins? Sure – they crushed the Cubs dreams by coming back from behind with the lovable losers just 5 outs away from the going to their first series since 1945 – but the fish went on to win the series and define the word “hope” for thousands of newly converted Floridian baseball fans.
Who could forget those 2008 Phillies? The list goes on and on, the stories never cease to amaze fans. That’s what is so great about the game of baseball.
Baseball is a game of circumstance and situation. Statistics can only tell you so much. It’s those moments that can’t be predicted that keep fans coming out to games every year. And this year – the Nationals have that hope in their back pocket.
There’s a saying in baseball ever since Field of Dreams came out in 1989, “If you build it, they will come.” GM Mike Rizzo built himself a decent squad. Now it’s time for the men in red to take the field and plaaay ball.