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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
With only five (yes, 5!!!) days remaining until the Nationals’ pitchers and catchers report to Viera, Florida for Spring Training, I thought it would be beneficial to count down what I believe to be the five biggest things to look forward to in the upcoming season. Today, we start with number five:
5. Their start
There are many baseball fans who do not appreciate the first two months of the regular season. They seem to think a day game at the end of April is not nearly as significant as a night game against a division rival on the final day of the season. However, a win is a win, and the date/opponent does not appear in the standings; only wins and losses do. No team proved this better than the Atlanta Braves last season who started off on 12-1 run only to play a majority of the rest of the season at a near .500 pace. While they did finish with a 96-66 record, it was their fast start which propelled them through the summer.
The Nationals on the other hand got off to somewhat of a lackluster start compared to many people’s expectations. They swept their opening series against the Marlins before playing the rest of the season struggling to hold a winning record. It was not until late August when the Nationals started playing the type of baseball everyone had expected from Opening Day. By that point though, it was too little too late and they missed the playoffs after winning the NL East and finishing with the majors’ best record the previous season.
So the question remains, how will the Nationals start their season? Will they play lackluster baseball through April and kick it into gear as June rolls around? Or will new manager Matt Williams and a reminder of last season give them the needed motivation to produce a quick start?
Worst Case Scenario:
We don’t like to think about the worst case scenario, but as last season showed us, it’s always a possibility. Here’s how it could go wrong this year:
The Nats have a slow Spring Training and these effects carry over into the beginning of the season. Pitching is sub-par and the Fister deal doesn’t prove as effective as everyone believes. New manager Matt Williams isn’t flat on his feet and makes some risky in-game decisions which cost the team some valuable early-season wins. From there, the Nats spend the summer playing catch-up and have to make a late season run following the All-Star break.
Best Case Scenario:
I shouldn’t even call this the best case scenario. I should call this the realistic scenario; the one which, barring unforeseen injuries or other problems, is most likely to happen:
As has been apparent from his video interviews this winter, manager Matt Williams comes into Spring Training as a man with a plan. He burns a work ethic into the Nationals players and they have a hard working, productive spring. These successes roll over to Opening Day, where the Nationals rack up win after win as they march through April (see what I did there?). GM Mike Rizzo shows his executive prowess once again as the acquisition of Doug Fister proves to be the biggest steal of the winter. Batters see the ball like beach balls and knock it around the park, leading the team to win after win. They go into the All-Star break with a determined attitude and as a National League contender.
I do believe my best case scenario will be closest to the truth. While it may take some time to adjust to the new managing style of Williams, they are Major League Baseball players who are trained to adjust in between every pitch. I think they will realize the importance of a strong start and the importance of emerging from April as one of the strongest teams in the league.
So when you’re sitting there watching the game in late April or early May, and the Nationals make a bad mistake in the 6th inning of what seems to be an unimportant game, or they walk-off in an improbable fashion, who knows; maybe that mid-game decision can come back in October to mean all the difference.
For now, we just have to wait and see.
Countdown to #Natitude: 5 days