Wednesday, March 13, 2013

March 13- Washington Nationals

For several years I shared the same plight as my friend Dave Kaufman, and quite possibly the majority of Montreal, in being overtly depressed over the Montreal Expos relocating to Washington, D.C. We were, and are still extremely saddened by the move at the end of the 2004 season; however, different motives fueled our emotions. For Dave, he had lost the one team he grew up with. For me, I lost the team I grew to love, and even more so, lost the team that quite possibly could have ended up in my backyard in Portland. Regardless of our feelings, the overall feeling of a team moving back to a city which lost two teams previous never made much sense, even if the money was right.

For starters the Washington Nationals played all of their home games at the old Robert F. Kennedy Stadium, the same stadium that was built for the second incarnation of the Washington Senators back in 1961. A stadium, mind you, that they shared with a professional soccer team, DC United of Major League Soccer. From 2005-2007 the Nationals played all of their home games at RFK while a new stadium, Nationals Park was being constructed. Despite the new ownership, the team still performed as mediocre as the Expos had before their move. I’m not trying to dog on the team, but it’s unfortunately the reality of things. The team went 225-261 under then managers Frank Robinson and Manny Acta. In 2008, the team’s first year in nationals Park, the Nats went 59-102, and to cap things off they posted the exact record the following season which prompted Acta’s firing, only to be replaced by Jim Riggleman midway through. Despite their poor finishes, the team was starting to spend money on trying to keep and attract talent like Josh Willingham, Adam Dunn and Ryan Zimmerman.

From 2010-2011 the Nats starting spending a significant amount more, especially after the acquisition of Jayson Werth (WOOF WOOF WOOF WOOF!!!) and utilized their draft picks to their utmost potential. By the time 2012 rolled around the Nats were stacked. Analysts saw the heavy-hitting and stellar-pitching lineup as more of a fluke and didn’t expect them to do much. Ha! Try 98-64, the best record in Major League Baseball. On top of which the Nats made the playoffs for the first time in their history, and the second time in the franchise’s history.

The team I saw on the field this last season certainly shook off any bit of the lingering cloud left over from the old Montreal days; a mixed sentiment felt back in the old country. When I visited Montreal over the summer I overheard a few people talking about the Nats every now-and-then. Some was good, a lot was negative; and while I don’t feel that people should let go, the fact of the matter is that the Expos faded out in D.C. at the tail end of the 2010 season, the same time this hat became defunct. From 2009-2010 this cap served as the alternate cap, something I felt was way too short of a time frame. The Nats certainly went through a dark period under this cap; however, it was because of those gloomy times that the team was able to pull some solid draft picks and make some phenomenal trades for the 2012 season. Moves which totally justify the numbers I dropped on this beast.

#47- It was an extremely sad day in Oakland Athletics nation when Gio Gonzalez got traded to the Nats; however, in return the A’s got Derek Norris and Tommy Milone, a move which proved to be extremely beneficial for both sides. On April 16, 2012 Gio, Edwin Jackson and Ross Detwiler made their way to New York and in through the doors of the MLB Fan Cave. Since there wasn’t a Nationals rep in the Cave I had always taken it upon myself to rock the gear of any team whose players paid a visit, but only if none of the other eight were reps of their teams. My mother raised me right, in the sense that as a host I am always obligated to make the guests feel welcome. So sure enough the gang came strolling in, full of life. Detwiler was a bit standoffish on account that he was making his season debut against the New York Mets that night, but Gio and Edwin took to the Cave as if it were a funhouse. I was given the honor of leading the tour, something which felt really cheesy to me considering that these guys were grown men who just wanted to hang out, put their feet up and take a peek on their own time. As the tour came to a close Edwin and Gio were called over by the production crew to shoot their scenes for a video they were making on doing Detwiler’s chores for the day to keep his mind clear for his game. It was also during this time that the cat was let out of the bag on the Jayson Werth (WOOF WOOF WOOF WOOF!!!) rule.

A few days before they came in there was a rule established by Ricardo Marquez and Ricky Mast that anytime anyone said the name Jayson Werth (WOOF WOOF WOOF WOOF!!!) I had to bark like a dog. No exclusions applied. One of the two had tipped Gio off and in between takes he shouted Jayson Werth (WOOF WOOF WOOF WOOF!!!) from across the Cave. This happened somewhere between 15 and 20 times, including his ordering the cab driver to stop and wait for him so he could run back inside and yell it at me one more time. Prior to his visit Gio had gone two games without a decision on the season and with a 3.38 ERA. After he left he went on to win seven of his next eight, dropping his ERA down to 2.04 at the end of May. It was also around this time that I had picked up this cap from the New Era Flagship Store from across the street. As soon as I got it back to the Cave I felt compelled to drop his number on the front for being such a cool dude. Unfortunately for me, I got the axe from the Fan Cave the following day.

Gio and I had been talking sporadically throughout the season on Facebook; however, when I started my road trip we stopped talking for the sake that we were both clearly busy with real life. On August 17 I made my way to D.C. to catch two games versus the Mets. It was during this time I met a longtime Twitter buddy Rachel Wynn (@RachWynn), a die hard Mets fan. Rachel and I hung out during the first game where we proceeded to get “white girl wasted” throughout the night along with one of her friends who came down to the games with her. The one thing I remember most from the first night was ending up at The Bullpen, an outdoor bar across the street from Nationals Park. There, we proceeded to crush a heavy amount of Bud Light with Lime and walk around the joint making fun of all the frat guys we saw. At one point the conversation turned really weird and I started coming up with ways to make a train wreck of a scene. The best idea? Yelling, “Who wants to get fuuuuuuuuuuuucked!?!?” as loud as I could. The rest of the night is a blur, but I had to get back to the game the next day so I slept in the car as to not cause an accident.

Game two came around and I headed in earlier with the hopes that I might be able to go say hey to Gio. Apparently luck was on my side as I stumbled into this sign on my way through the gate…

I’ll admit, I was a bit hesitant to drop in to say hello. I’ve never been much of a “fanboy.” You know, those guys that hound for autographs and photos and such. I literally just wanted to say hello… and maybe get one photo. I got in line pretty early and had to wait about 35 minutes to get inside, which wasn’t a big deal as I had time to kill anyway. I finally got close to the table he was sitting at when I noticed a sign that said “no photographs.” As in no photographs with the player so that more people could file through during the designated time. So, I popped this photo as fast as I could before I got up to the table.

I had promised a friend, Toni Taylor (@condorsfan06) back in Bakersfield, California an autograph of Gio’s. Not having anything else on me I slid my ticket across the table while his head was still down. He signed it and handed it back. In the process of his arm reaching out to his head tilting up he went from chill mode to jumping over the table to give me a hug in less than a nanosecond. “Heeeeeyyyyyy!!!” he yelled as he put me in a bear hug. We chatted for a very quick second as to not hold up the line, at which it ended with his asking, “Are you coming to see me pitch tomorrow?” My original plan was to drive to my friend Tom’s house in South Jersey the next morning; however, when a ball player asks if you’re going to be at their game, you do it.

I met up with Rachel and her friend again after game two somewhere in DC, along with another group of people we had partied with after the previous night’s game. This time around; however, I kept a cool head and kept my drinking light so I could go back to my hotel to shower and sleep. Luckily for us there was a bar we stepped into that had a Nintendo 64 set up with Mario Kart 64 in the console. Needless to say, Rachel and I made it an all out war. Can’t remember who won though. So I’ll claim it.

The next day came and it was pouring rain. Somehow in the two and a half months I had been traveling I had yet to deal with a rain delay. With nothing else to do I decided to grab a few beers and a few smokes to kill time during the three-hour delay. During my tour of the stadium I was spotted by two hardcore Nats fans who had been following me on Twitter since my time in the Cave. What was funny is that when I passed by them I had an apparent scowl on my face, which is common for me whenever I’m in the zone and on a mission. I got back to my seat when Gary (@SperryGary) had hit me up asking if it was me. I immediately remembered who I had passed and went right back to make introductions. Gary, his friend Ryan (@MyGuyRyan) and I hit it off really well, crushed a few more beers before the rain finally let up and Gio got to his warm-up routine. I dropped down, snapped a few photos and sank into my seat. Gio pitched a solid 5 2/3 innings with three strikeouts and I met up with Gary and Ryan front row on the first base side for the last two innings of the game. The Nats won 5-2 and Gio’s record jumped to 16-6 with a 3.23 ERA.

Gio unfortunately finished in third place for the National League Cy Young award, which in all honesty could have gone to Clayton Kershaw easily as well, but it was RA Dickey who took home the treasure. Last night Gio was tapped to make his season debut for the USA Baseball team in the World Baseball Classic. And, in classic Gio form, he dealt five solid innings only giving up three hits, no runs and punching out five batters. Oh, and if I didn’t emphasize this earlier, Gio is clearly one of the Top 10 raddest dudes on the planet.

#34- If you haven’t been following me on Twitter for very long there’s a very specific thing I always refer Bryce Harper as: “some Mormon kid.” Being a fellow Mo-Mo myself I always find it incredibly awesome to see a strong kid of faith following his dreams in the same footsteps as such greats as Wally Joyner, Cory Snyder, Jeff Kent and Harmon Killebrew. Harper was taken with the first overall pick in the 2010 amateur draft; something that really didn’t shock anyone. I mean, the kid is the real deal. Despite being the #1 ranked prospect, Harper started the season in AAA Syracuse for the Chiefs… for 21 games. The Nats promoted him to the Show and he made his MLB debut in Dodger Stadium on April 28, 2012. In that same game he cracked his first Major League hit, a double over the head of Matt Kemp as which he jammed around the bases so fast his helmet flew off, exposing that sweet power Mohawk-rat tail combo he had going. It wasn’t too much later after a game in Toronto that we were given one of Harper’s quotable gems after a reporter asked him what his favorite beer has been since getting to Canada where he can legally drink on account of his age. His response, the priceless, “That’s a clown question bro” that we’ve all said to a friend and/or co-worker at some point in time since that night. While people want to clown the kid for saying that, I have to tip my cap to him for having the foresight to get that quote trademarked and copyrighted for licensing purposes.

Harper churned out a phenomenal season, which merely added to the magic that was the 2012 Nationals, with his NL Rookie of the Year award after posting .270/22/59 and 18 stolen bases. The one thing that I will forever appreciate about this kid; however, is his attitude. He doesn’t fake it, he owns it 100%. I recall an interview he did for a magazine round the time he was drafted at which he commented on why he’s so arrogant on the field. His response, "There are so many people out there who will tell you that you can't. What you've got to do is turn around and say 'Watch Me'That’s pretty insightful for a 19-year-old.

While I never had the chance to meet Harper when he stopped by the Fan Cave, I hope I get the opportunity to pick his brain sometime down the road. It’s very rare for me to admire someone so much younger than me, but if it was going to be anybody, who better than a person who puts his money where his mouth is?

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