Last night was the first Nationals game I watched since Thursday, and that isn't because I have been so frustrated by the season I've given up on baseball. It is because I spent the last five days on a whirlwind tour of minor league ballparks. This trip was to include two of the Nationals affiliates, but short-season Single-A Auburn was rained out. Luckily for us, it was called early enough that it gave us time to make it to Triple-A Lehigh Valley in time for the second inning of the second game of their double header.
The trip ended up being four TRiple-A teams, and on the morning we were to see Auburn, I realized what was missing from this trip: prospects. For the three previous days, I had watched the likes of Robert Andino, Kelly Shoppach, Ryan Langerhans, Pete Orr, and Andy LaRoche. All players that had made it to, and at times performed well in, the major leagues, but we don't watch minor league baseball to see a watered down version of Major League Baseball.
Without having seen Auburn play, I am left to tell you my impression of that town, and it is that it was more interesting than Syracuse. There was a sign outside a restaurant I saw once, shaped to look like a historical marker, and it simply said, "Nothing of importance happened here." That is Syracuse. They had one restaurant that was opened late enough for us to eat at after the game. It was the highest-rated restaurant in the city, but still everything else was closed Sunday, and that that wasn't closed early or was closed on Monday. I will say that Dinosaur BBQ had the fourth-best ribs I've had and the third-best barbecued chicken. Good BBQ and baseball aren't enough to fill a day, but if you want to see what Triple-A is, Syracuse may be the place.
My lasting image of my trip to Syracuse won't be a ballpark meant to hold more than 10,000 people with only a Pfitz's worth of people there, or Danny Espinosa going 0-3 with two strikeouts, or how the Chiefs lost in a very Nationals manner when the pitcher forgot to cover first base. My lasting image will be of Espinosa sitting at the end of a table on picture day. All the other players are behind the table in team uniform or warmup gear happily signing for families and Espinosa is on the end, scowling, and dressed in workout gear. He looked defeated, beaten down, and he is physically withered. His calves are the size of a gym bro too concerned with his biceps, and his forearms look like they've melted away. Espinosa is the picture of Triple-A, and it is a sad one.
Espinosa had back-to-back productive seasons for the Nationals, hitting like an average second baseman and playing defense at an elite level, but he got too caught up in the negatives. He didn't get surgery when he needed it out of fear of losing his job, and then he lost his job and responded by continuing to not get surgery and, from what I saw in the game I was at, he never has learned to lay off the breaking ball in the dirt. Espinosa, as of this moment, is two years from playing for the York Revolution or Long Island Ducks, and it is a shame.
Mark Reynolds strikes out too much, but teams always need a Mark Reynolds. He never got caught up in the negative. He started as a third baseman, became a first baseman and then a DH. He has done what the game has asked of him. Espinosa may not be a major league starter, but there are plenty of players who have had long careers without being major league starters. No one will look back at the career of Omar Infante and think he was great, but he lasted in the major leagues. He did what was asked of him, and baseball teams will always need Omar Infantes.
Espinosa is at a point now where he can either continue to fight the system and wash out or let baseball make of him what it will, but the angry and shrunken Espinosa I saw sitting at the end of a table in Syracuse isn't on the right path to being a major leaguer.
David Huzzard blogs about the Nationals for Citizens of Natstown, and offers his viewpoints 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.