The media workroom at the Winter Meetings is an odd place. Put 200 writers, broadcasters, multimedia specialists, camera operators and TV reporters in one place for long stretches of time, and things are bound to get a little strange. There’s a lot of quiet work, spiced with some idle chatter to pass long stretches of time. One evening, a couple of writers were discussing franchise longevity when one of my Chicago-based brethren asked me when the Nationals were going to start having an old timers’ day.
“I’m not sure we’re allowed yet,” I responded. “I mean, has Livan Hernandez officially retired? Who else would start?”
But that half-joking answer got me to thinking. Do you know that the 2014 season will be the Nationals’ 10th in D.C.? It hardly seems that long ago that fans were packing RFK Stadium to welcome baseball back to the District after a 33-year absence that spanned a couple of generations.
The concept of an old timers’ day, however, is an interesting one. I mean, who wouldn’t want to see Hernandez winding up, as he did on April 4, 2005 in Philadelphia’s year-old Citizens Bank Park in the Nats’ first game since moving from Montreal? Or watch Vinny Castilla go deep as he did twice in the team’s first RFK Stadium game on April 14 of that year?
Castilla was 37 when he began his only season with a curly W cap and most record books tell us Hernandez was 36 when he last pitched for the Nats in 2011 (though I think the only way you’re going to get his real age is to cut him in half and count the rings, which would pretty much discount him from that old timers’ assignment).
But this trip down memory lane begs a couple of questions: Do the Nats really have enough guys who would qualify as old timers? Or should they wait another five or 10 years to start celebrating the history of their team, preferably after another postseason appearance or two, and hopefully a run deep into October baseball.
In the 2013 media guide, the Nats’ all-time roster (2005-2012) didn’t even take up a full page. OK, it’s only got eight years of names, from Winston Abreu to Jordan Zimmermann (and those perfectly illustrate the chasm between forgettable one-season Nats and guys who have actually made a name for themselves in D.C.). But consider these facts before you’re ready to invite Frank Robinson back to manage some of the Nationals of yesteryear (assuming you wouldn’t prefer Manny Acta, Jim Riggleman, John McLaren or Davey Johnson).
* Third baseman Ryan Zimmerman, who leads the Nationals’ all-time record book in a slew of offensive categories, and reliever Tyler Clippard, who has pitched in more games than any other Nat, are on the current roster. Ditto for career stolen base leader and present day shortstop Ian Desmond
* Some of the guys whose names dotother categories in the all-time register are also still active: John Lannan has made the most starts and is still trying to find an employer for 2014 after pitching last year in Philly; Adam Dunn, who drew a team-record 116 walks in 2009, is the Chicago White Sox’s designated hitter; Alfonso Soriano’s 46 home runs in 2006 still rank as a high-water mark, but he’s on the Yankees roster; ever-popular clubhouse deejay and outfielder/first baseman Michael Morse just signed a free agent deal with the Giants.
* Then there are the guys who you probably wouldn’t want back for a variety of reasons: Lastings Milledge, he of the spotty work habits, had a team-record 36 July hits in 2008; polarizing outfielder Nyjer Morgan is the record-holder with three stolen bases in a game (and he’s still Tony Plush-ing it in Japan for the Yokohama BayStars; Elijah Dukes just got arrested again for the umpteenth time in Tampa.
* Does anyone even remember Bernie Castro’s two triples in one game in 2006, or want to see Ramon Ortiz, who holds most of the non-positive (most earned runs and homers allowed in a single season) marks in the period beginning with 2005?
Who’s that leave you with? OK, Hernandez can pitch and guys like Dmitri Young, Nick Johnson and Cristian Guzman can join Castilla for a round of batting practice. Suddenly, old timers’ day at Nationals Park doesn’t sound all that exciting.
The point is that the past isn’t that recent and that the future is now, especially after general manager Mike Rizzo upgraded the few holes on the roster in an effort to reclaim the National League East title from the Braves, who sustained significant offseason losses. Zimmerman’s game-winning homers, Stephen Strasburg’s electrifying debut, Jayson Werth’s playoff walk-off, Bruce Harper’s home runs and wall-crashing plays - they’re all way too recent to be qualified as historical. OK, maybe they can be called recent history.
But as we head into the Nats’ 10th campaign in D.C., what’s your best memory? Who was your favorite player? When do you think there will be enough Nats history to warrant an old timers’ game? Leave your comments below - and let’s hope that the next few years are so rife with exciting play that by the time we’re talking about the Nationals’ first two decades in Washington, there are some easier choices for faux old timers’ celebration.
Update: Guess it would be fair to list my own favorite Nats memories. I have several that fall into different categories. Best sheer fun moment: the 10-game winning streak between June 2-12, 2005 left RFK Stadim rocking as a town fell in love with its new team. Off-the-wall memory: former GM Jim Bowden praying for Jesus Colome’s buttocks. Weirdest moment: stalking Dukes in the lobby of the Viera Hampton Inn, then briefly speaking with him on the day he was released while helping him move boxes of his belongings from the elevator to his car.