How do you top a championship season in which your team set a record for the top rookie-level winning percentage in more than 30 years?
Take on the South Atlantic League, of course!
Patrick Anderson, who guided the Gulf Coast League Nationals to a 52-9 record and a league title, now will try is hand as the new manager of the low Single-A Hagerstown Suns.
"I am looking forward to it," Anderson said. "I just finished my first year with the organization and they have been unbelievable. Whatever type of year we had, just the people in general, up and down, there is quality people all over the Nationals. It is just awesome.
"We had great kids with great makeup who did an unbelievable job. Now I am looking forward to having a bunch of them around with me up at Hagerstown."
Anderson will also feel comfortable being back in his home state of Maryland. He is originally from Silver Spring, and grew up in Burtonsville.
So was the GCL Nats' season an amazing combination of talent and good baseball? What was the reason for such an amazing run?
"We got to know the kids and let them play," Anderson said. "The makeup of these kids was off the chart. Early on, we were just watching them and trying to get a feel for what we had and decide where we were going to put them in the lineup. Every one of these players went about their business really, really great.
"I was at the ballpark at 5 a.m. The players would get there at 6:30 or 7 a.m. They got into a good routine. They made it important to themselves. They ended up getting better everyday rather than it being Groundhog Day."
Anderson said the players excelled under some tough weather and travel conditions.
"Just imagine the heat in Florida," Anderson continued. "People don't realize our travel was very difficult in the Gulf Coast League. We travel twice a week an hour and 45 minutes down to play either the Marlins or the Cardinals. We played in Port St. Lucie, which was an hour and 15 minutes away, once a week. So three times a week we were going over an hour and 15 minute drive. And just going back and forth, kids were getting back at about 6 p.m. each night, dead tired.
"They just got used to winning. It was ridiculous."
Anderson said the players adapted to the Nats' way of playing baseball, and went after the opponent from the first pitch.
"They adapted and really embraced being aggressive, baserunning-wise and with our hitting," he said. "The coordinators did a really nice job of laying the foundation. They embraced it and they took it and they ran with it. We really didn't single out any individual because it was a team effort. It was amazing. One guy would step up and then the next guy would. It was everybody up and down that lineup.
"We had a kid hitting .235 and he did a great job of situational hitting. He gave up some at-bats for the team."
Several pitchers, including Wander Suero and Lucas Giolito, pitched well for the GCL Nats.
I will have more on Giolito, who Anderson managed at GCL Nats, coming up in a separate blog entry.
Anderson also was impressed by a lefty from the Dominican Republic.
"Left-hander Hector Silvestre, a Latin kid from our Dominican program, I wouldn't say our No. 1, but he was on the mound all the time and threw the ball over the plate," Anderson said.
Silvestre went 7-0 with a 1.82 ERA for the GCL club and started one game for the high Single-A Potomac Nationals.
"Every one of our pitchers, for the most part, threw strikes. In baseball, especially in the Gulf Coast League, if they can throw the ball over the plate, catch and throw the baseball, we got a chance," Anderson said.
A lot of the players that did so well with the GCL Nats could eventually play in Hagerstown this season. Anderson said a new challenge awaits them there.
"It is going to be a different challenge for a lot of these guys to play under the lights. It will be pretty interesting to see how these kids respond playing in front of people," he said.
Anderson said many former teammates, players, coaches and managers influenced him on his way to the Nationals. Prior to managing the GCL Nats, Anderson coached Hofstra University baseball.
"There is a guy named (former major league player, manager and hitting coach within Phillies organization) John Mizerock. I call him the rain man of baseball. How he prepares a kid and allows him to feel comfortable, he was amazing to me. I embraced everything that he gave me. I was around him a lot," Anderson said.
Anderson is also close with Yankees hitting coach Kevin Long, Nationals minor league field coordinator Jeff Garber, former Royals and Pirates coach Joe Jones, ex-big leaguer Ron Clark and former Rays pitching coordinator Jerry Nyman, who taught him "how to find a way to make it important to these kids to get them to want to listen and take your information."
He also singled out current Nationals third base coach Bobby Henley.
"He has been the biggest influence to me while with the Nats," Anderson said. "He might be the best man in baseball and is a hidden gem."
All this knowledge and success with the GCL Nats has given Anderson the tools he needs to now excel in Hagerstown. Feeling right at home, he is ready for the challenge.