The umpteenth article on Nationals’ games being televised ran today in the Washington Post. What it means to me, here in Annapolis, 30 minutes away from the stadium? That 185,000 television households – other than mine – get to watch Nats games on TV. I can watch reality shows where people switch moms and wives, but I can’t catch an inning of D.C. baseball? Please.
What are the odds, seriously, that baseball comes back to D.C. and the Wizards are in the playoffs? While the rest of Washington seemed to be tuned into the MCI Center, the Nationals have been cruising on a three-game win streak and improved their record to 21-17.
Attention is finally back on baseball in this city, and it’s perfect timing.
After claiming the series against the Cubs, Marlon Byrd made his Nationals debut by going 3-for-4 with three RBI in a 5-2 win over the Brewers’ Monday night. Byrd was acquired from the Phillies in a trade for Endy Chavez last Saturday.
They’ve got one job – just one. Make the right calls. The umpires didn’t do that in all 13 innings Sunday night, and the Giants stole a 4-3 win from the Nats on two bogus calls – one that both the Washington Post and MLB.com said went the other way on instant replay.
In the bottom of the fifth, it looked like shortstop Cristian Guzman threw out Omar Vizquel, but first-base umpire Greg Gibson called Vizquel safe. The replay appeared to show that Vizquel was out. It cost the Nationals a run.
The Giants scored another controversial run in the bottom of the eighth inning. With Vizquel at first, Edgardo Alfonzo hit the ball down the left-field line. A young Giants fan leaned over and touched the ball with his glove, but home-plate umpire Lance Barksdale allowed Vizquel to score.
"You go out there on the field and you compete and if you get beat, you get beat. … But you don’t like it when they take it away from you," manager Frank Robinson said.
Sure, there’s a little room for human error in all officiating, but two costly runs?
Ok, I did it. I admit it. I went North Friday night. Headed up I-695. I went to that other ballpark 30 miles away from Annapolis. And I saw a first-place team as the O’s easily cruised past the Devil Rays.
First, lemme tell you about these seats, since for the first time, in say, at least five years, they weren’t in the press box. We had a front-row view of first base. Rick Dempsey was so close I could see the spit fly out of his mouth. Not that I haven’t seen these guys spit before. When you’re a beat writer, you pretty much have all-access. You’re on the field for BP before the game, even hanging out in the dugout. You’re in the locker room where you can see more than you want to. But you’re working. You’re focused. You’re in the zone and you don’t give a hoot about Sammy Sosa being Sammy Sosa.
All you care about is getting it right, writing it tight, and writing it tonight.
I was sitting there watching this game with a newfound awe, and a rekindled love for it. We got some beers. Some burgers. Some fries. And yeah, a couple more beers. We sang "Take me out to the ball game." We almost got drilled by a foul ball. I forgot what it was like to be a fan. All it takes is one trip to the ball park to remember, and it doesn’t matter which direction you go.
The Mets haven’t even put their uniforms on yet for tonight’s 7 p.m. game at RFK, and top executives and scouts for the Nationals are already prepping for the June 7 draft. How refreshing. What’s interesting about it, even moreso than the Nationals’ seemingly genuine determination to make the right pick, is the historic significance of it. The top two college guys will already be snagged by the D-backs and Kansas City Royals by the time the Nationals make the fourth pick. As GM Jim Bowden points out in the Post article, "This is going to be the first Washington National-scouted, developed, home-bred player, and we want to make sure we get the best all-around player with the best all-around makeup to end up with the best result for this franchise. It’s the most important decision of the 2005 season for this club long-term."
The Mets are coming back to D.C. tonight, and I can’t believe I can actually say I’ve already seen them play in RFK. I covered the exhibition game for MLB.com, and despite all the hype surrounding the regular-season opener, there was truly a buzz from the people there who felt that was THE day baseball returned to D.C. The atmosphere at RFK is definitely old-school, but fans are an interesting blend of old and new. It’s a concrete, no-frills arena, with a pitching mound that’s electronically lowered to convert the field into a soccer field. Honestly, the fans were so into the game it had the carnival-like aura of minor league ball parks without all the hoopla.
It’s about time shortstop Cristian Guzman took his thumb out of his mouth long enough to talk to reporters. I’m sure fans, though, would rather him talk with his bat than "vow to start producing," and you know, do what he gets paid to. Here’s a guy who’s been nominated as an All-Star and is hitting .178 with a home run and three RBIs. He said he is "not adjusting to National League pitching."
Thanks for the update.
"I’m glad I don’t have to look at the lineup every day, because I know I will be in there."
So what, is there no competition at short? If I’ve got 10 stories to write for my editor and I only write one by the end of the week, I guarantee he’s gonna get somebody else to write ’em. That’s a whole different post, though.
I have two different perspectives on this: One is a sports reporter who has been in MLB locker rooms trying to get players to open their yaps. (Once, after hitting a key home run, former Oriole Delino DeShields told me, No … hablo … Engles). The other is a fan of the game, who, quite frankly doesn’t care what Guzman has to say as long as he’s making plays.
Bottom line? Hit the ball, and then talk to me, baby.
They’ve still got a winning record (11-10), they’ve got All-Stars on the ballot, and most importantly, the Nats are unpredictable. How boring has it been to watch those doggone Yanks win all the time, or the Pirates lose? These guys keep us guessing, which makes for entertaining games. Not one team has been able to sweep a three-game series against Washington, although they have dropped four of five to Florida. STILL … they’re on top of the Phillies this season after Nick Johnson and Brad Wilkerson both homered tonight to lead the Nationals to a 3-1 win and even the home series. … Here’s a scrappy team in its first season in a new city. Fans don’t need a championship yet, they just need baseball.
Let’s not get carried away. It’s a long, I mean LONG season. This seven-game homestand, in which the Nats went 4-3, was probably a legit indication of how the season is going to go – up and down.
Still, the hype around Vinny Castilla is deserved. Of the top five players on the roster with at least 48 at-bats, Castilla leads the team with a .375 batting average and he’s driven in 11 RBI. His on-base percentage is .434. Jose Vidro is also on the verge of being the player he was in 2002, when he hit .315 with 19 home runs and 96 RBI.
Both of those guys, along with Cristian Guzman, have made All-Star appearances before. All-Stars, though, don’t usually make game-defining errors in the bottom of the ninth. And other players like Ryan Church are still trying to find their place on the team. Such intangibles will be difference-makers down the road.
Question is, does it matter? Baseball is back.