Dave Nichols: Baseball driven by stats, stoked by hope

Hi, my name is Dave NIchols and I write about the Washington Nationals.

No, that’s not my introduction at some self-help meeting, but it may as well be. I started a general baseball blog several years ago that grew into what Nats News Network is today: one of the very few independent Web sites credentialed to cover Major League Baseball and the Washington Nationals. I am also credentialed to cover, and have a site dedicated to, the Washington Capitals. I consider it a great privilege and honor, and take my opportunity seriously.

You’ve no doubt heard (or heard about) the ads featuring Nats manager Jim Riggleman talking about the difference between “going with the stats” or “trusting his players.” It’s a fascinating debate, and baseball purists will try to tell you stats take the human element and joy out of the game.

Sabermetricians will counter by explaining that professional baseball has been played for more than 100 years, and more runs have scored with a man on first and nobody out than with a man on second and one out (tip of the cap to Joe Posnanski). Yet, managers call for the sacrifice bunt in almost every game, actually lowering their chances to score.

Baseball is a funny game. It’s the most statistically driven sport, yet with spring’s return it is the subject of romantic ideas of youth, promise, hope. It’s great to have hope, for fans to want their team and heroes to do well. It’s an extension of personal and civic pride. Without hope for success, there is no enthusiasm, no dedication, no joy.

But an educated fan knows not every rosy, best-case scenario is going to come to fruition. Injuries happen. Sometimes players don’t live up to lofty expectations, on - or off - the field. Managers and general managers make mistakes. Organizations make business decisions, sometimes not considering - or misunderstanding - the feelings of their fans.

In the first three games of the Nationals’ season, we’ve already seen how good - and how bad - they can be at times. General manager Mike Rizzo has put together an interesting team of youth, players in their prime, veterans and journeymen. Finding out which ones could be part of the first great Nats team will be the primary objective of the 2011 season.

It’s difficult sometimes, getting bogged down in all the wins and losses. It’s hard not to be disappointed when a player makes an error or strikes out with the bases loaded. But almost 100 percent of the time, there’s no one more disappointed than the player himself.

Things just happen - good and bad. And all those things are part of what makes this game great. Don’t let the bad things ruin all the good things about the game for you. Enjoy the baseball season for all the good things, like watching young players grow up right before your eyes or watching the craggy veteran, still clinging to his youthful dream, limp through one more season.

It’s easier that way when the team doesn’t live up to unrealistic expectations.

Dave Nichols covers the Washington Nationals for Nats News Network. Read Nichols’ Nationals observations this week, as MASNsports.com begins a season-long initiative of welcoming guest bloggers to our site.

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