Back, Back, Back: The 2015 Home Run Derby

“Back, back, back, back, back” “That’s a five-backer!”

Chris Berman’s booming voice marks what has become a staple of the Midsummer Classic – The Home Run Derby. Some of the most powerful sluggers on the planet convene in one ballpark one evening every summer for a night that consists of mammoth blasts and tape-measure bombs. The Derby has evolved into a fan-favorite, with ticket prices soaring into the hundreds as eager spectators try to nab a home run from the stands. In an attempt to make the Derby more watchable this year, the format has been significantly changed.

Instead of the classic “10 outs” format, this year it will be timed. Hitters will have 5:00 to go yard as many times as they can. Additionally, hitters can earn extra time for the distance of their hits. If a batter hits two balls 420’+ during one turn, they earn an extra minute. If a batter hits a ball 475’+, they earn an extra 30 seconds. Personally, I think this is a welcome change, as hitters will be less inclined to take pitch after pitch, waiting for that perfect strike to connect. Also, it is following a bracketed format where the participant with the most home runs this season is matched up against the player with the least. They square-off, the winner advances, and so on.

While it is disappointing that sluggers Giancarlo Stanton and Bryce Harper will not be participating in Cincinnati this year (broken hamate bone and personal decision, respectively), along with the two-time defending champion Yoenis Cespedes, the event still promises to be chock-full of entertainment with the A-list that is set to take part. Because of the popularity of the event, I thought it would be beneficial to provide those watching with just about all the information they could need in regards to being prepared for what they see.

First, we will take a look at the stadium.

Great American Ball Park

Located along the Ohio River just a short walking distance from Paul Brown Stadium (home of the NFL’s Bengals), the Reds played their first game at Great American in 2003. Affectionately known as the Great American Small Park due to the prolific amount of home runs hit there, Great American has seen quite a number of baseballs fly over its walls over the past 12 and a half seasons. At one point there was even a streak of 70+ games with a home run hit.

Great American Ball Park

The dimensions of the stadium are relatively generous, especially to the gaps. It’s only 328′ to left, 325′ to right, and 404′ to center. However, while in most stadiums the gaps are where it’s hard to muscle out a home run, it’s only 379′ to left-center and 370′ to right center. Along with what many believe to be a breeze that blows out towards the river from downtown, we can take a look at the park factor to see just how hitter friendly Great American is. In the 2014 season, GABP (Great American Ball Park) had a park factor for home runs of 113 according to FanGraphs. This was second only to the Rockies’ Coors Field of 116. Essentially what this means is that there are 13 more homers hit at GABP than the average Major League field. For righties, GABP had a home run park factor of 114, once again second to the Rockies at 115. Lefties on the other hand were just slightly less successful, something that will be interesting to note on Monday night as the three lefties attempt to hit a ball out of the stadium and into the Ohio River. GABP ranked fourth at 112 for lefties.

As you can see, the Ohio River is just across the street in right field; accessible by a power shot of a home run.

As you can see, the Ohio River is just across the street in right field; accessible by a power shot of a home run.

Many watching will be waiting to see if any balls leave the stadium. I have included video from two times that it has been done during a game. Adam Dunn holds the record for farthest home run hit at GABP: a 535 foot behometh in 2004 that promptly exited the stadium in Center field. A second 500’+ shot was recorded by Juan Francisco in 2011 and left the stadium over the right field stands (watch it here).

According to the distance calculator provided by the Reds, it looks to require about 500′ of power to blast one into the river. Hitting one into the river also means another significant accomplishment: hitting the ball into another state, as the Ohio there is actually owned by the commonwealth of Kentucky. Next, we take a look at the competitors.

Home Run Derby

#1 Albert Pujols vs. #8 Kris Bryant

It’s a match-up of experience vs. youth. Master vs. apprentice.

To be fair, Bryant hasn’t been in the majors all season to compile a larger home run total, as he made his debut on April 17th for the Chicago Cubs. His 12 home runs pale in comparison to Pujols’ 26, but Bryant definitely does not lack power. He has mashed some of the season’s longest, including this 477 footer off the Wrigley Field jumbotron. That dinger happens to be the second-longest of derby contestants; second only to Josh Donaldson’s 481′.  A third of his home runs have come in the first two pitches of his at-bats. Nine of the twelve have been to either left or left center, a good indication for what is to come on Monday. He is considered a part of the new generation of power-hitters, along with the likes of Trout, Harper, Puig, and now Joc Pederson and Joey Gallo.

Kris Bryant

Kris Bryant

Albert Pujols is entering his fourth Home Run Derby and enters as the #1 seed, but he has never won the event. He performed admirably but lost in the final round in 2003 to Garrett Anderson. He made an early exit in his two other appearances, 2007 and 2009. There’s more info on Pujols because of the much larger sample size, and especially at GABP. From his days on the Cardinals in the NL Central, Albert has visited Cincy and has played many a game in the Small Park, and has knocked 20 homers over his time there. Pujols has been on an absolute tear lately, hitting homer after homer; 18 of his 26 have come since May 27th. Pujols hit the 11th longest four-bagger at Great American with a distance of 477′ in 2003.

Albert Pujols

Albert Pujols

#2 Todd Frazier vs #7 Prince Fielder

Todd Frazier comes into the Derby as by far and away the crowd favorite since he is the hometown hero in Cincinnati.

As Brandon Phillips slowly phases out of the game, and Joey Votto sees patches of struggle, Frazier has evolved into a face of the franchise for the Reds. Frazier knows Great American better than any of the other contestants. He knows its nooks and crannies, he knows the power alleys, and, on top of that, he was the runner-up in the Home Run Derby last year in Minneapolis. In that Derby, it seemed Todd just seemed to do what was needed in order to advance. He only hit 10 total home runs, compared to the winner Cespedes’ 28. In round 3 and the final round, he only hit 1 homer in each round.

Frazier enters with 25 home runs and with an average true distance of 398.4′, according to the ESPN Home Run Tracker. Frazier will feed off the energy of the crowd, and it will be interesting to see how he uses his home park to his advantage as he tries to accomplish what he failed to last year. Frazier holds 4 of the 20 longest recorded home runs at GABP.

Todd Frazier from last year's Home Run Derby

Todd Frazier from last year’s Home Run Derby

Prince Fielder has been there and done that. The #7 seed has won the event twice, in 2009 and 2012. He also has the fourth-most total Derby homers of all-time with 68, and he has a chance to take over first place this year if he hits a total of 10. Fielder’s 13 bombs this year have an average true distance of 411.1′. He also has 12 career home runs at GABP. *Lefty alert* Be on river watch

Prince Fielder from the 2013 Home Run Derby

Prince Fielder from the 2013 Home Run Derby

#3 Josh Donaldson vs. #6 Anthony Rizzo

Former Oakland A’s standout Josh Donaldson has been a catalyst of the Blue Jays explosion of an offense this season. ESPN’s Home Run Tracker puts his average speed off the bat at 105.2 MPH, with an average true distance of 408.1′. Donaldson holds the longest home run of derby competitors after launching one 481.2′. His powerful swing will look to do damage as he seeks his first Home Run Derby title.

Josh Donaldson, pictured here with the Oakland Athletics

Josh Donaldson, pictured here with the Oakland Athletics

The second Cub and the second lefty we take a look at is Anthony Rizzo. His average true distance is just over 400′ at 402.1′. Six of his 87 career homers have come at GABP. With a top exit velocity of 112 MPH (third to last among participants), Rizzo is also seeking his first HRD crown. *Lefty alert* Be on river watch

CHICAGO, IL - JUNE 06: Anthony Rizzo #44 of the Chicago Cubs hits a walk-off, two-run home run in the 13th inning to beat the Miami Marlins at Wrigley Field on June 6, 2014 in Chicago, Illinois. The Cubs defeated the Marlins 5-3 in 13 innings. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)

CHICAGO, IL – JUNE 06: Anthony Rizzo #44 of the Chicago Cubs hits a walk-off, two-run home run in the 13th inning to beat the Miami Marlins at Wrigley Field on June 6, 2014 in Chicago, Illinois. The Cubs defeated the Marlins 5-3 in 13 innings. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)

#4 Joc Pederson vs. #5 Manny Machado

This is the power match-up I’m really looking forward to watching, and I hope it doesn’t disappoint. As mentioned in the beginning, Pederson, who made his debut late last season, is one of the most powerful young swingers of today’s game. So far this season, he holds the farthest average home run distance over all of MLB, even farther than Giancarlo Stanton. His 2o have averaged 431′ and he is also the only one in the field to have hit one 475’+. I think Pederson is the best bet to put one in the Ohio River, and I’m excited to see him mash. Here’s to hoping he doesn’t pull a Puig from last year and throw up a goose egg. *Lefty alert* Be on river watch

Joc Pederson

Joc Pederson

The Orioles’ third baseman, Manny Machado, is known more for his dazzling defensive spectacles, but he has been known to put a charge into one. While his home runs don’t always travel to the moon, he hits a decent amount. Machado has only hit one homer of 430’+ in his career, while Pederson has notched has already notched 11 of such a distance in 2015 alone. Machado does have the top exit velocity of 114.9 MPH.

Manny Machado

Manny Machado

Predictions

For those of you that are 18 years or older and are interested in winning $5,000, you can fill out a Home Run Derby bracket by clicking here. For what it’s worth, I’ll share what I think will happen, so if you’re making a bracket, you can be sure the opposite of whatever I predict will probably happen.

In the first round, I see all four top seeds moving on. I think the only real toss-up is Pujols and Bryant, because Bryant could really put on a display, show up Pujols, and knock him out early. Just not sure this is going to happen.

I have Pederson moving on taking care of Pujols in the second round, and Frazier besting Donaldson to move on to the finals.

My winner will be Joc Pederson. While it would be fun for the Cincinnatians to see their guy Frazier take home the title, I think he comes up just short again this year. However, Frazier is the betting favorite.

Regardless of my predictions, I am fully expecting one of the best home run derbies of recent memory. It will be a sight to see these power sluggers putting their strength on display in the Great American Small Park. So be sure to tune in to ESPN at 8 PM Eastern on Monday Night. And keep your eyes out for excitement besides the hits too; you never know, one of those shaggers may make another crazy catch.

Playing Favorites: Ranking All 30 MLB Teams from Greatest to Least

2014 was a year which fell short of expectations for the Nationals. We made the playoffs, but once again could not make it out of the first round.

As we ring in 2015, for my first post of the year I decided to rank all 30 teams of Major League Baseball by how much I like them. Steve just did this yesterday, and he was saying he’d like to see what I thought. I’m excited to see what this year brings! Feel free to comment on your preferences or if you feel, in your opinion, I got something wrong.

1)   Washington Nationals – Does this really need explanation?

2)   Cincinnati Reds – Without a DC team, I loved the Reds with so much of my family from Cincinnati. I still love the Reds, but only when they don’t play the Nats. If anyone has tickets to the All-Star Game this year, let me know.Jordan Zimmermann's No-Hitter 006

3)   Chicago Cubs – It’s been a lot of years since they’ve won the World Series. If the Nats aren’t in it, I would guess a lot of baseball fans would like to see them take one.

4)   Chicago White Sox – First Adam Dunn and now the beloved Adam LaRoche. They also signed David Ross, the veteran catcher, who I met a long time ago when he was a member of the Reds. I wouldn’t mind seeing them win.

5)   Kansas City Royals – Captured America this year during their magical postseason run. Sadly, they ran into a certain roadblock by the name of Bumgarner.

6)   Cleveland Indians – Poor Cleveland. It seems like they have pieces to do well, it just needs to come together.

7)   Seattle Mariners – I’ve been to Safeco, and the Nats have good memories from this year of their visit to Seattle.

8)   San Diego Padres – All of a sudden the Padres mean business. They got Derek Norris, who I’ve watched progress since his days with Potomac, and a bunch of other big name players recently in free agency. I wouldn’t mind seeing them do well.

9)   Houston Astros – Their mascot, Orbit, is about the only reason they’re this high on the list. He’s probably the best mascot in all of MLB. Click here, here, here, here, here, here, and here to see why.

10)   Miami Marlins – Stanton drops bombs. I’m still trying to catch one of his BP homers when the Marlins come to Nationals Park.

11)   Colorado Rockies – Coors Field is so nice, I’ve seen a game there, and my dad lived in Colorado for a while. They also participated in a stand-off with the Nats this season, which I loved.

12)   Tampa Bay Rays – One of my favorite movies ever is The Rookie, and Jim Morris was on the Rays.

13)   Oakland Athletics – Moneyball showed such an interesting view of baseball, and poor Oakland never seems to succeed anymore. Before the Royals grabbed my attention, I was hoping the A’s would find themselves in the World Series.

14)   Detroit Tigers – I played on the Tigers and it gave me some of my best youth baseball memories.

15)   St. Louis Cardinals – They win a lot. A lot of people really don’t like them. I, however, are one of few neutral fans who don’t mind them. I love watching the battery of Wainwright and Molina. There’s a reason they’re not higher up on this list, but those are the reasons they aren’t lower either.

16)   Texas Rangers –Jim Morris made his debut for the Rays on the road at the Ranger’s stadium. I’ve also seen their stadium from driving around it, and it was a sight to see.

17)   Minnesota Twins – Anymore, the Twins are sorta just, there. Not great, not awful, just there.

18)   Toronto Blue Jays – You don’t hear a ton about the Blue Jays but watch out this year, they could make a run for the AL East.

19)   Los Angeles Angels – Mike Trout is a stud. Also, I rooted for Anaheim when they were in the World Series a lot of years ago.

20)   Los Angeles Dodgers – I don’t particularly dislike the Dodgers, but I don’t really like them either; I’m indifferent.

21)   Arizona Diamondbacks – Whenever I went to Reds games when I was younger, it seemed like I always saw the Diamondbacks play. There was only so much of Craig Counsell’s swing I could take.

22)   New York Mets – I also played on the Mets in Little League, but being in the NL East, I don’t like them as much.

23)   New York Yankees – Along with the Cardinals, I don’t hate the Yankees. But Derek Jeter was one of the major reasons I tolerated them, and now that he’s gone, they’ve fallen lower on this list.

24)   Milwaukee Brewers – I still remember sitting in the hotel room in Virginia Beach and watching Josh Willingham hit his second grand slam of the game for the Nats in Milwaukee.

25)   Baltimore Orioles – Peter Angelos, why do you make things so difficult? They also ruin the National Anthem.

26)   Philadelphia Phillies – Lingering dislike from when the Phillies fans would pack Nats Park.

27)   San Francisco Giants – I’m just not a huge Giants fan. Used to love them with Barry Bonds, but then he used steroids.

28)   Pittsburgh Pirates – I don’t have a ton against the Pirates, except that they play in Pittsburgh. And that right there is the major problem.

29)   Boston Red Sox – Boston and Pittsburgh, my two least favorite sports cities in America. I’ve visited Boston (not Fenway), and the city itself has so much history. But we’re talking sports and baseball here, and man do I not like those two cities’ teams.

30)   Atlanta Braves – If you thought anyone else would be last, then you obviously don’t know me very well.

His Name is Dan Uggla!

Last Friday, the Nationals signed Dan Uggla to a minor league contract. Uggla, a now-journeyman player who hasn’t found a solid home since he was released by the Atlanta Braves, looks to earn some playing time at second base. However, with Danny Espinosa looking to be the one who will receive the majority of playing time there, this may just be a safety deal. Many Nats fans were more excited that the Twitter account, @FakeDanUggla, is now a Nat more than the real Uggla himself.
The following post was written by my good friend, Steve Miller, when Uggla was a member of the Miami Marlins. Steve said he would write about whoever hit that eyesore of a statue first in the new Marlins Park, and wouldn’t ya know, it was Uggla.
I hope you all have a Happy New Year, and thank you for reading this year! Good things are hopefully on the horizon in 2015!

The Top Step

I thought for sure that Giancarlo Stanton would be the first to drill the centerfield sculpture at Marlins Park, and had he not overshot the behemoth with a home run three weeks ago, he would have won my contest. But Dan Uggla beat Stanton to it by drilling the feature straight up on June 5th for his 200th career home run. And I am ecstatic that I get to write this blog post (over 1300 words) analyzing the strange stance and swing, among other things, of Dan Uggla.

Uggla was drafted by the Arizona Diamondbacks in the 11th round of the 2001 draft, but never progressed in the Arizona organization and was never regarded as a high prospect. In 2005, he qualified for the rule 5 draft after not making Arizona’s 40-man roster, and was picked up by the Flordia Marlins. And the rest, as they say, is history.

In 2006, Uggla…

View original post 1,168 more words

Hot Stove Eases the Pain of the Biting Cold

I have finally gathered myself in the wake of the abrupt, disappointing finish to the Washington Nationals’ 2014 season. After the Nats were eliminated by the San Francisco Giants, I found myself in the same quandry I often find myself after the team I root for is no longer in contention: do I cheer for the team who beat us, so that we know our loss was not in vain? Or do we cheer against the team who ousted us; wishing that the next team will avenge our suffering?

I could not bring myself to root for those Giants, the now dynastic franchise which has won the Commissioner’s Trophy three of the last five seasons. Along with so many others, I hopped on the Royals’ bandwagon, hoping for a glistening end to their Cinderella story. Alas, it was not to be, and the Giants were victorious yet again.

Every time I attempted to voice my frustration through this medium on the internet, I found myself at a loss for words. It’s hard to describe the feeling of loss after being so attached to a team day after day for months on end, especially after the regular season had ended on such a tremendous note. With so many lofty expectations, and so many others who provided more in-depth analysis, I was simply left dumbfounded in the wake of the events.

Much has changed since the final out was recorded in the 2014 Major League Baseball season. Beloved first baseman Adam LaRoche parted ways with the Nationals and found a home with the Chicago White Sox. Slugger Giancarlo Stanton of the Miami Marlins signed the richest contract in American sports history at over $320 million. The Athletics parted ways with one of their cornerstones, Josh Donaldson, and it seems their franchise has entered rebuilding mode.

The proverbial Hot Stove season of free agent deals and blockbuster trades is just heating up as the cold, brisk air envelops the country. It will be interesting to see how the rest of the off-season plays out, especially for the Nationals. They are looking to re-sign pitcher Jordan Zimmermann and shortstop Ian Desmond, along with solidifying pitcher Doug Fister, but all three might be too steep of a price to pay. I’m sure Mike Rizzo has a plan in place, it’s just time for us to sit back and watch it all unfold.

The annual NatsFest is much earlier this year, happening on December 13th. I don’t think I’ll be able to make it, so I’ll be anxious to hear how it goes from all those in attendance.

Check back in for more updates as the winter progresses. I’ve been busy writing numerous articles for my school’s sports website, so when I’m not busy, I’ll enjoy writing more about both the Nationals and the rest of Major League Baseball.

Meet and Greet: The Experience after Jordan Zimmermann’s No-Hitter

After Jordan Zimmermann threw a no-hitter in one of, if not, the fastest Major League Baseball games I have ever attended (just over two hours), I decided I wanted to stick around Nationals Park a little longer. Since playoff tickets were so expensive, I knew this was most likely the last time I would be at the Park for the 2014 season. Therefore, I wanted to make the most of the opportunity.

Upon exiting the stadium I made my way over behind the first base gate to the players’ lot. I knew I’d have to wait a little while before anyone started emerging, but I definitely didn’t plan on being there as long as I was. However, just like the game which had taken place, this would turn into another unforgettable experience.

I leaned against the gate which provided space for the cars to exit the stadium and which kept fans contained. There was a solid number of us there when the first significant member of the Nationals organization stopped the car he was driving to greet fans. Significant, though, may be an understatement; it was General Manager Mike Rizzo. A line for autographs quickly formed and I was sure to get my place. Before long I was at his window, and after he signed my Inside-Pitch program, I made sure to get a picture.

A selfie with Mike Rizzo (Photo by: Paul Fritschner)

A selfie with Mike Rizzo (Photo by: Paul Fritschner)

Rizzo departed and it was time for the next National to stop for the crowd. This time it was Drew Storen, the pitcher whose career has come under-fire since his inability to close Game 5 of the 2012 NLDS. However, I was happy to get in line and get another autograph and picture.

Selfie with Drew Storen after signing a baseball (Photo by: Paul Fritschner)

Selfie with Drew Storen after signing a baseball (Photo by: Paul Fritschner)

Next to leave was utilityman Scott Hairston. Once again, a line quickly formed, but this time I would not be in luck. The person in front of me was the last autograph he signed before cutting off the line, and he didn’t even look for a good picture. Still, I gave it a good attempt.

Selfie with Scott Hairston before he drove away (Photo by: Paul Fritschner)

Selfie with Scott Hairston before he drove away (Photo by: Paul Fritschner)

After Hairston came my favorite National. Ian Desmond’s work on and off the field has put him in a special place in the hearts of many Nats fans. He’s the reason I wear number 20, and I was especially excited when he also stopped to sign autographs. While he preferred I not take a selfie with him, my mom, standing a few feet away, got an awesome picture of our exchange.

A photo my mom took of Ian Desmond signing my baseball

A photo my mom took of Ian Desmond signing my baseball

Desmond drove away, and it was time for one of the most important members of the Nats to make an appearance. It was not a player, it was manager Matt Williams. He stepped to the side and signed autographs for the long line of fans. I did not hesitate, and took my place to acquire yet another picture and autograph. My mom snapped a picture while I was taking the selfie of my own…a little pic-ception (click the pictures to view as a gallery).

After Williams, I encountered two more people of note. The first was play-by-play man Dave Jageler, the broadcaster Steve and I interviewed on our podcast back in May. I did not take a picture with him, I just wanted to make my way over and say hi. There were others in front of me talking to him, and I lingered in the back waiting my turn. Then he saw me peeking over the small crowd and said, “Hey Paul,” which was significant to me. Over the course of the season you run into a lot of people and talk such a large number of fans, so for him to remember my name and pick me out was special. Granted I did tweet him several times since our interview, and my profile picture has remained that of me and him, so it may not have been all that difficult. However, still cool nonetheless. When I got my chance to talk to him, he asked me if I was at the stadium to receive a bobblehead the night before, a reference to my waiting in line for the Jayson Werth Garden Gnome in August. I told him we chose to go to this game instead of last night, and he remarked that you can buy a bobblehead on eBay but you can’t exactly do the same for a no-hitter. After the exchange, Jageler departed, and it was time to see one more National before heading out myself.

The man who caught the first no-hitter in Nationals history, Wilson Ramos, made conversation with the crowd. By this time, it was over an hour and a half since the last out of the game had been recorded, so there weren’t all that many people left. When I saw Ramos, I made sure to get a picture. Last season, he played in a rehab game at Potomac, but the picture I got with him after that game was fuzzy. I needed a better one, and a better one I took.

All in all, it was such a memorable day. From seeing the first no-hitter in Nationals history, to interacting with the players after the game; it was an experience I will take with me for as long as I can remember. To conclude, here is another gallery containing the pictures. As always, click on one to be able to go through them more easily.

Jordan Zimmermann Throws First No-Hitter in Nationals History

On Sunday, September 28, 2014, Jordan Zimmermann threw the first no-hitter in Washington Nationals history. I was fortunate enough to be in attendance for the historic event, and I am excited to share my perspective of everything that happened. So much happened in fact, that I decided to split it up into two posts: one about the actual game and one about after the game.

Unlike Opening Day, Sunday consisted of perfect weather. We got to Nationals Park early in order to meet up with some family friends. As I was standing around checking Twitter, I saw a tweet that not too far from where I was standing, MASN Dan (Dan Kolko) was taking pictures with fans. I hurried over to the MASN area in left field and got a picture with him myself:

Dan Kolko and I on the day Jordan Zimmermann threw a no-hitter

Dan Kolko and I on the day Jordan Zimmermann threw a no-hitter

From there it was time to make our way to our seats. We walked around the stadium to Section 319 and took in the sights on what I mentioned was such a fantastic day; maybe an omen for the events which were about to transpire.

The Nationals were playing the Miami Marlins, and Jordan Zimmermann was being opposed by Henderson Alverez. As you may remember, Alverez tossed a no-hitter in last season’s concluding game. He took a no-hitter into the ninth inning, but the game was still scoreless. Then in the bottom of the ninth, the Marlins walked-off in what was one of the craziest endings to a no-hitter in the history of baseball.

All my life, whenever I attend a baseball game, I go hoping to see a no-hitter. I constantly check the scoreboard until I see both teams have recorded a hit; it’s just one of my baseball-watching obsessions. So on Sunday, unlike Tyler Moore, who didn’t know a no-hitter was being thrown until the ninth inning, I was attentive to the fact of what was occurring before my eyes the entire game.

Jordan Zimmermann throws a pitch

Jordan Zimmermann throws a pitch

The game started off quickly. Zimmermann recorded a 1-2-3 first inning and the Nats were also set down in order. However, when Ryan Zimmerman came to the plate in the first inning, the crowd sang Happy Birthday to him, as he had just reached 30 years old.

In the second, it was six up six down for JZ, who just kept on rolling. Then in the bottom half of the inning, Nationals shortstop Ian Desmond launched his 24th home run of the year and that gave the Nats a 1-0 lead.

The Marlins could not muster a baserunner in the third inning either. When the Nationals got up, it was time for the crowd to begin acknowledging the hard work the starters had put in all season long. After Denard Span doubled, he was replaced by Nate Schierholtz, and he received a standing ovation as he walked into the dugout. The same happened in the bottom of the 4th, when Adam LaRoche and Bryce Harper were replaced by Tyler Moore and Scott Hairston, respectively.

Zimmermann’s perfect game was intact until the fifth inning. Chantilly High School’s own Justin Bour drew a two-out walk to give the Marlins their first man on base of the day. I was slightly disappointed the perfect game was gone, but I could tell how well JZ was pitching and I knew there was a strong possibility I could still witness history.

The game continued on and the tension continued to build. While no more runs were scored, the excitement grew as each out was recorded. I have never been to a baseball game before where the whole stadium was so into every pitch; it was an atmosphere I will not forget for a long time.

In the top of the seventh, Miami was able to put a second person on base. Garrett Jones struck out, but the ball bounced away from Wilson Ramos, and Jones was able to make it to first on the dropped third strike. I was glad he was not the only baserunner for the Marlins. If their only runner had been on a dropped third strike, that would have been quite disappointing. Ramos made up for not blocking the pitch though, by picking Jones off of first base. The crowd erupted as the umpire signaled him out, and just like that, Zimmerman was six outs away.

The Nationals did not score in the bottom of the seventh or the bottom of the eighth, so the game went into the top of the ninth with the Nats still ahead 1-0. Stephen Souza Jr. was inserted into left field as a defensive replacement. Jordan Zimmermann needed only three outs to secure his place in Nationals lore. The crowd was on their feet, cameras were recording, and I stayed nervous.

The first two outs were recorded quickly. Then the magic happened. Christian Yelich stepped to the plate as the last chance for the Marlins to avoid being no-hit. On a 2-1 count, he drove a ball to deep left field. The crowd held its breath and Zimmermann threw his head back as he was sure the ball would drop for a double. All of a sudden, out of nowhere, the aforementioned Souza came flying in and made a spectacular diving catch to save the day. Bedlum ensued as the players stormed the field.

After the celebration, it was time for Zimmermann to be interviewed by none other than MASN Dan. Zimmermann was showered in Gatorade, bubble gum, and even an equipment bag as well as a rosin bag. Jayson Werth did the honors of throwing the pie in Zimmermann’s face and Werth took no mercy on Kolko either, pieing him as well.

You can see my first hand account of all these events in the YouTube video below. It covers the entire ninth inning as well as the on-field post-game events.

It was a spectacular day. However, the final out did not spell the end of interesting things for me. Be sure to read the next post containing what happened after we left our seats. You definitely won’t want to miss it…

Photo Gallery from Jordan Zimmermann’s No-Hitter

I was fortunate enough to be in attendance on Sunday afternoon when Jordan Zimmermann became the first pitcher in Washington Nationals history to throw a no-hitter. Here are some pictures from the day. A complete write-up, including more pictures you won’t want to miss and my story about the whole experience, will be published in the coming days. For now, I leave you with this (click one and you will be able to go through them all more conveniently):

Nationals 10th Win in a Row has Fans Bobbing Heads in Approval

Last night was Ian Desmond bobblehead night at Nationals Park.  As I stated in my post about the Jayson Werth Garden Gnome, I’m not one of those crazy, die-hard bobblehead fans.  However, that Garden Gnome may have converted me.  I found myself desiring a bobblehead of my favorite baseball player, which lead me to 1500 South Capitol Street on Thursday afternoon.  While I was not first in line for this one, I did receive one nonetheless.

The Ian Desmond Bobblehead alongside the Jayson Werth Garden Gnome (Photo by Paul Fritschner)

The Ian Desmond Bobblehead alongside the Jayson Werth Garden Gnome (Photo by Paul Fritschner)

In deciding whether to attend the game or not, I was slightly hesitant.  I had not seen a win at Nationals Park since Jordan Zimmermann’s complete game two hitter against the Marlins last season, and the Nationals were in the midst of an outstanding nine game winning streak.  I figured my presence at the game obviously wasn’t going to affect on-field performance and I thought it would be pretty neat to say I was at the Nats’ 10th win in a row.

Washington Nationals vs. Arizona Diamondbacks 9-21-14 (Photo by Paul Fritschner)

Washington Nationals vs. Arizona Diamondbacks 9-21-14 (Photo by Paul Fritschner)

Washington Nationals vs. Arizona Diamondbacks 9-21-14 (Photo by Paul Fritschner)

Washington Nationals vs. Arizona Diamondbacks 9-21-14 (Photo by Paul Fritschner)

Gio Gonzalez pitched the last game I attended but had a much more solid outing this time around.  He threw 7 full innings while not allowing a run and striking out six along the way.  He only yielded four hits and three walks, an encouraging sign of hopefully similar outings to come in the near future.

The story of the game early and throughout the entire contest for the Nationals was runners left on base.  It seemed that everytime the Nats would find themselves with an opportunity to score, they would also find a way not to score.  In fact, as Adam Kilgore tweeted, through 7 innings the Nats had eight hits and six walks (i.e. lots of baserunners).  However, at that same point in time they were 0 for 11 with Runners in Scoring Position, and had left eight runners stranded.  Had the Nats gone on to lose the game, I’m sure that would have been a more prevalent topic in Matt Williams’ post-game press conference.

The Nationals’ defense though backed up their pitching.  Behind multiple double plays, the game was scoreless entering the 9th inning.  If the Nationals were to extend their winning streak it would come via the walk off.  But what’s new?  The Nats had walked off four of the last five days, so why not make it five of the past six?

A side-note, I had never seen a Major League walk-off in person before even after all my years of attending games.  I guess it was the magic in the air, but I could sense something was brewing in the bottom of the ninth that might put that streak to an end.

With one out in the bottom of the ninth inning, Denard Span notched his second hit of the ballgame.  Upon reaching first base, Mark Trumbo, the Diamondbacks’ first baseman, said to Span, “Just how you guys like it (referring to now possibly winning on a walk-off).”  After waiting patiently and analyzing the quick-delivery of Arizona’s pitcher, Evan Marshall, Span stole second base.  He picked a perfect pitch to steal too; a slider, giving him that extra time to slide in and beat the tag.

Span was now in scoring position and it was a question of whether Rendon would come through.  I had my camera recording for what I hoped would be that elusive walk-off I had yet to see in person.  Rendon connected and hit a ground ball to the third basemen, and it’s Arizona’s third basemen Jordan Pacheco whom Nats fans should thank.  He made an errant throw to first, and when Trumbo failed to scoop it, the ball bounced into the Nationals dugout.  The ball was out of play and by rule Denard Span was allowed to score.  The Nationals were now the owners of a 10 game winning streak; only the second time they have accomplished this since returning to the District in 2005.

The National League East Standings (notice the 10-0 in the Last 10 column for the Nats)

The National League East Standings (notice the 10-0 in the Last 10 column for the Nats)

The Nationals had walked off for the fifth time in six days.  I had witnessed my first Major League walk-off.  My losing streak at Nationals Park was over.  I got my favorite player’s bobblehead.  I captured the walk-off on video, which you can see below.  Needless to say, it was a good day.

The Top Step with Rich Waltz

Back in May, Steve Miller and I interviewed Dave Jageler, the radio voice of the Washington Nationals.  If you would like to listen to our interview with him, you can listen by clicking here. When we finished our interview with Dave, Steve had arranged an interview with Rich Waltz, one of the two TV commentators for the Miami Marlins.  As I was reviewing my past posts, I realized that I had neglected to make a post of my own including the interview.  Steve posted it on his site and as a matter of convenience I thought it would be a good idea to finally post it on mine. So please enjoy listening to our interview with Rich Waltz. Also, be sure to watch the exclusive additional footage of a discussion from the Red Porch, which can also be found below. We are doing our best to feature more guests and post new podcasts in the near future!

Once again, thank you to Rich for joining us on the show!

Gnome Sweet Gnome: The Jayson Werth Garden Gnome Experience

Almost two years ago, I created my Twitter account (@PaulFritschner) and began to follow an account called Jayson Werth’s Beard (@JWerthsBeard).  The real-life owner of this account remains anonymous, so we simply refer to it as the Beard.  It posts creative photoshops relating to the Washington Nationals, possibly it’s most famous of which is a picture of Jayson Werth’s face photoshopped onto the face of a garden gnome.

An original photoshop of a Jayson Werth Garden Gnome (Courtesy of @Jwerthsbeard)

An original Jayson Werth Garden Gnome photoshop (Courtesy of @Jwerthsbeard)

Back in February, the Nationals announced the promotional schedule, and wouldn’t ya know: August 5th was the Jayson Werth Garden Gnome. Bobbleheads do not usually matter much to me as far as a must-have giveaway, but after seeing all those crazy photoshops, I knew I had to get myself a gnome. You may ask, what’s the craze? It’s just a plastic garden gnome of a player. Maybe to you it’s a plastic garden gnome, but to the Nationals community it is a fantastic piece of baseball memorabilia.

The day was getting closer and after seeing the lines for the Bryce Harper Bobblehead, along with all the promotion the Nationals were doing on social media for this gnome (also here), I knew the lines were going to be incredible. I thought to myself, well, if I’m going to get there so early to be able to get one, I might as well be first, right? In order to be first would mean a long wait. To aid in my relief from boredom, I asked my friend from school, Francis Bright, if he would attend the game with me and wait in line. He was all for it, and Gnome Gnight was set.

We arrived downtown around 1:15 and when we couldn’t see a line at the gates forming yet, so we walked down the street to grab some lunch at Potbelly. We figured it would be a long, hot couple of hours, so we made sure we were adequately prepared.

To my surprise, nobody was in line yet, and we walked up simultaneously with one other man to take our spot in a line.  This was right around 2:10, and the gates opened at 4:30, so we now had about 2 hours and 20 minutes before we could receive our gnome.

The Gnomes in boxes

The Gnomes in boxes

First in line for the Jayson Werth Garden Gnome around 2:10 (Paul Fritschner)

First in line for the Jayson Werth Garden Gnome around 2:10 (Paul Fritschner)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We brought our gloves for batting practice, and I had brought a ball, so we played catch for about a half hour until we decided we should sit at the gate so as to secure our place in line. This meant that we were relegated to finding a way to pass about two more hours.

At 3:30, with exactly one hour left to go, I got a Direct Message on Twitter from Scott Allen, a sports writer for the Washington Post. He asked if he could interview me about waiting in the line. I was ecstatic, and did the interview over the phone a few minutes later.

Around that same time was when the line began to take shape. I took this picture right before the interview:

I relayed the message to many people I knew about what had just happened, including podcast co-host Steve Miller. he was the first one to send me the link to the article after it was posted within minutes. I will include all the links to the article later in this post.

The interview excitement helped the next few minutes go very quickly. All of a sudden there was less than a half hour to go, and the excitement was building. Throngs of people made their way down Half-Street from the Metro, anxious to take their place in line.

27 minutes to go

27 minutes to go

The ushers began to prepare for the onslaught of gnome-hungry fans. After all the time waiting, I was beginning to get somewhat anxious for the gates to finally open. With seven minutes to go, it was now a sea of red down Half-Street and around the gates.

Then at 4:30, after nearly two years of photoshops, six months of waiting for this game, and almost two and a half hours at the gate, I had my hands on a Jayson Werth Garden Gnome.

As an added benefit to being in the front of the line, this meant prime position in the Red Porch to take in batting practice. Francis got a ball right after we had gotten ourselves situated when, who I believe was, Tanner Roark launched a ball that bounced off the field and up into the seats. It was now my turn for a ball of my own.

Since I was little, I have attended Potomac Nationals games, as I wrote about in my very first post. I have collected dozens of baseballs from those games and many baseballs from Major League games, but even after all these years, I have never caught a ball on the fly. As in, catch a foul ball or a home run before it hits the ground. I’m always having to chase after them. I made it my goal to catch at least one before I go off to college next year, and I thought that maybe after all the good things that happened, today would be the day.

Sure enough, Danny Espinosa (99% positive it was him) launched a home run right to where I was standing. It was only a matter of whether I or the few other people standing around me would get it. I stuck my glove way up (shades of The Sandlot), and the ball smacked right into my glove. I had finally been in the right place at the right time.

Danny Espinosa BP Home Run ball

Danny Espinosa BP Home Run ball

The day was now on another level.  Francis and I watched the Nationals finish up batting practice and proceeded to watch the Mets. We didn’t catch any more baseballs, but I was plenty satisfied. I had my gnome, a baseball, and an interview. Now all we needed was a Curly W.

Francis and I made our way to the other side of the stadium to begin our ascent to our seats in Section 226. My dad was already sitting up there, and when we arrived he had just had a conversation with the couple behind him. Apparently they were already aware of the interview article and confirmed I was the one who was in it. It’s amazing how quickly information spreads

Lefty Gio Gonzalez started for the Nats, opposed by Zach Wheeler for the Mets. Gio gave up a triple in the first inning to Daniel Murphy, who later came in to score to make it 1-0. The Mets added another run in the top of the second before the Nats answered with a run of their own in the bottom of the second on a wild pitch to make it 2-1.

Both pitchers began to settle into a groove, but the groove for Gio would only last so long. The Nats could not provide him with much run support, even squandering a scoring opportunity when a groundball hit Asdrubal Cabrera. Ian Desmond had to return to third base and did not end up scoring, thus leaving the Nationals still at a deficit.

Gio began to struggle in the 7th inning with the Nats still trailing 2-1. Drew Storen replaced him with men on first and second, both of whom came in to score after a sacrifice bunt by Wheeler and a single by Daniel Murphy.

The Nats gave up one more run in the 8th inning to make it 6-1, the eventual final score. They could not muster much of a rally in the game’s final two innings, leading to a defeat on Gnome Gnight. A Curly W was not in the books after all. Jayson Werth himself did not get a gnome, and said post-game of the 15,000+ who didn’t receive one, “I know how they feel.” Also an interesting statistic I read from Scott Allen today. This season, the Nats are 1-6 when playing in front of 40,000+ people and 2-10 when playing in front of that many since 2013.

However, while the actual game may not have been fantastic, basically everything else about the day was.

The interview took off and was posted in various articles across many different websites.

The original article, written by Scott Allen of the Washington Post, can be found by clicking here.

A section of USA Today called For the Win picked it up, the article for which can be found here.

The website Deadspin also did a piece of their own on the line for the Gnomes and their article can be found here.

We were hyperlinked in an article on the NBC Washington website and that can be found here.

Finally, for those curious, the gnome is being sold on eBay for over 150$. So if you think its just a cheap giveaway, it’s a giveaway that could earn you some money if you wanted to sell it. Check out the bids here. I for one will be keeping my gnome.

Please be sure to subscribe to my blog via email on the right side of this page. You will not receive any junk mail, just an email whenever I post.

Here are some more pictures from the rest of Gnome Gnight. It was really a fun day; a day I will not forget for a long time.

Line for Jayson Werth Garden Gnome (Paul Fritschner)

Line for Jayson Werth Garden Gnome (Paul Fritschner)

Line for Jayson Werth Garden Gnome (Picture by Paul Fritschner)

Line for Jayson Werth Garden Gnome (Picture by Paul Fritschner)

Line for Jayson Werth Garden Gnome (Picture by Paul Fritschner)

Line for Jayson Werth Garden Gnome (Picture by Paul Fritschner)

The Jayson Werth Garden Gnome

The Jayson Werth Garden Gnome

The Washington Nationals take batting practice

The Washington Nationals take batting practice

Nationals Park (Picture by Paul Fritschner)

Nationals Park (Picture by Paul Fritschner)

Line for Jayson Werth Garden Gnome (Paul Fritschner)

Line for Jayson Werth Garden Gnome (Paul Fritschner)

Panorama picture of Nationals Park (Picture by Paul Fritschner)

Panorama picture of Nationals Park (Picture by Paul Fritschner)

Jayson Werth Garden Gnome (Picture by Paul Fritschner)

Jayson Werth Garden Gnome (Picture by Paul Fritschner)

Nationals Park (Picture by Paul Fritschner)

Nationals Park (Picture by Paul Fritschner)

The Gnomes in boxes

The Gnomes in boxes

Waiting in line for the gnome

Waiting in line for the gnome

Nationals Park employees unpack the Garden Gnomes

Nationals Park employees unpack the Garden Gnomes

Paul Fritschner and Francis Bright

Paul Fritschner and Francis Bright

Waiting in line for the gnome

Waiting in line for the gnome

Post-Interview (...get it...)

Post-Interview (…get it…)

27 minutes to go (Picture by Paul Fritschner)

27 minutes to go (Picture by Paul Fritschner)

Nationals Park (Picture by Paul Fritschner)

Nationals Park (Picture by Paul Fritschner)

Line for Jayson Werth Garden Gnome (Paul Fritschner)

Line for Jayson Werth Garden Gnome (Paul Fritschner)

A fan dressed as a gnome (Picture by Paul Fritschner)

A fan dressed as a gnome (Picture by Paul Fritschner)