Drew Kinback: Nats’ Hairston delivers a blow to logic of putting trust in veterans

If you watch Nationals baseball long enough, you eventually find that over time nothing really surprises you anymore. Nationals baseball is full of every strange play and freak occurrence you can probably think up and wrap your mind around. At this point I would not be surprised to see Jayson Werth drop a routine fly ball because some crocodile had slunk up from the Anacostia and run onto the field after him. I really wouldn’t. I’ve seen it all.

Until Tuesday night.

In the ninth inning of the Nationals’ 6-4 loss to the New York Mets, a batted ball was teetering close to the foul line and I was shocked to see third baseman Jerry Hairston Jr. run over and nearly lay flat out next to the ball and try to blow it foul. No, he wasn’t waiting for it, he wasn’t looking to make the play or use a Jedi mind trick on it. He was blowing, actually blowing on the ball. I at first couldn’t believe it, but two images that have been circulating on the Internet all but confirm: Hairston was blowing. He looked like Wile E. Coyote trying to blow out the fuse on a stick of dynamite before it goes off in his face.

I confess: I found it hilarious. At the same time, I felt a little embarrassed and really sad that it had come down to this. The Nationals weren’t getting the game done on the mound and they weren’t getting it done at the plate. So they resorted to childish antics that would have made even Derek Jeter giggle like a school girl to try to turn the game in their favor.

Something tells me I wouldn’t be so in awe of the awesome immaturity of the play if this was Ian Desmond or Danny Espinosa, who thankfully have been class acts when pertaining to how they play the game so far, down on their stomachs bad breathing the ball. They are still young rookies and that is the sort of thing you can see a rookie doing. Hairston is not a rookie, though. He is a 13-year veteran brought in by general manager Mike Rizzo to teach the kids the ropes and how to win.

I wonder what part of veteran leadership/mentorship this falls into.

Having veteran players on a team is an essential ingredient in the recipe of a successful baseball team - as long as you mix them with the appropriate amount of young blood. But the Nationals have abused the “veteran leadership” angle habitually since 2006. They’ve had a stable of hard-nosed veterans and mentor-worthy players move in and out of their ranks that might have the experience, but their production hasn’t complemented it enough to make them truly valuable to the team. Instead of treating these types of players as building blocks, the Nationals have tried to make them the foundation.

I’d really like to know what exactly these veterans are teaching the younger guys. What did Dmitri Young really do for Elijah Dukes? What is Matt Stairs hitting .000 this far into the season really saying to the bench players? What is Alex Cora doing on this team? Jerry, what the heck where you thinking? Nothing turns me off faster than when the Nationals hide behind the he-is-a-veteran-guy mantra. Obviously, that doesn’t mean too much these days because all I see is a bunch of blowing.

Editor’s note: Sadly, Hairston isn’t the first to try this trick; in fact, he isn’t even the first player with ties to Washington, D.C., baseball. Back on May 27, 1981, Seattle Mariners third baseman Lenny Randle - who had been a first-round pick of the Washington Senators in the 1970 June draft - reached blooper reel immortality by trying to blow a slow roller by Kansas City’s Amos Otis foul at The Kingdome. In this fan-produced Mariners historical retrospective video, a photo of Randle’s ill-fated attempt appears at about the 40-second mark. Baseball rules at the time were hazy as to whether Randle had done something illegal, but they’ve since been rewritten to make any instance where a fielder alters the path of a ball - even by not touching it - a single.

Drew Kinback blogs about the Nats at Nationals Inquisition, and gives his take this week as part of MASNsports.com’s season-long initiative of welcoming guest bloggers to our little corner of cyberspace. All opinions expressed are those of the guest bloggers, who are not employed by MASNsports.com but are just as passionate about their baseball as our roster of writers.

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