Nationals fans will have to wait at least a few innings to give Adam Dunn a true welcome back to D.C.
After all, this is interleague play, and Dunn isn’t the most skilled defensive player out there. With no designated hitter in the lineup and the visiting White Sox having Paul Konerko already locked in as their first baseman, Dunn won’t be starting in his return to Nationals Park.
Still, Dunn, who played in D.C. from 2009-2010, is happy to be back in the district, getting a chance to see old teammates and club staffers that he bonded with during his tenure here.
“It’s great to be back,” Dunn said while seated in the visitor’s clubhouse this afternoon. “I’ve got a lot of good buddies on the team, obviously, but it’s good to see the guys that you spend a lot of time with. The clubhouse guys, you form a really good relationship with those guys. Good to see them. It’ll be good to see Rizz (general manager Mike Rizzo) and all the coaches over there. It’s just going to be fun to see everybody.”
Dunn put up some monster power numbers during his two seasons with the Nats, slugging 38 homers in both 2009 and 2010 and averaging 104 RBIs and a .910 OPS. Still, the Nats won just 128 games in those two seasons. He played in front of some miniscule crowds, one of which was officially announced as 10,999 late in the 2010 season, but still gained an appreciation for the fans in the area.
“No matter what - good, bad - the fans were fans and they really enjoyed having a big league baseball team in Washington,” Dunn said. “They came to the park every day, whether it was 10,000, whether it was 30,000, they came to root and cheer for the Nationals.”
A large portion of the Nats fan base was vocal about their desire for the organization to re-sign the then 31-year-old after he became a free agent during the winter of 2010. Dunn eventually ended up landing with the White Sox, who gave him a four-year, $56 million deal.
Dunn holds no hard feelings against the Nats for not making a stronger push to bring him back, saying that it was made clear that the two sides were just better going their separate ways.
“To be honest with you, we had such good communication,” Dunn said. “I did, at least, with Stan (Kasten, former Nats president) and Mike and those guys. I knew that they were going to do what was best for the team, and I was fine with that. Sometimes things just don’t work out. There was no other reason than things just didn’t work out.
“You’ll never hear me say anything bad about anyone in this organization, top to bottom. Everything they’ve done has been great, first-class, and I really enjoyed it over here.”
Dunn struggled mightily in his first season in Chicago. He underwent an appendectomy early in the season and batted just .159 with a .569 OPS, which was more than 250 points below his previous career low. Dunn always has been a big strikeout guy, but when you strike out 177 times and fail to provide extra-base hits along with the Ks (Dunn had just 11 homers), fans will grow frustrated.
They did, and it was undoubtedly a tough year for Dunn, especially given it was his first impression on White Sox fans. But he bounced back last season, hitting 41 homers and posting an OPS of .800.
“The way that he handled himself, going through those struggles, I thought was unbelievable,” said Nats shortstop Ian Desmond, a friend of Dunn’s. “You can learn something from a guy like that. He had a terrible time, his fans were booing him, he obviously wasn’t playing to his potential. He was going through some things. But he kept his head up and he kept on running out there and playing, and that’s what being a professional is all about. That’s one of the things I took from him when he was here. He was a pro.”
Dunn watched the Nats make the postseason last season with a young, talented roster, and couldn’t help but enjoy what he saw.
“Again, they’ve got some of my good buddies on that team, and I want the best for them,” Dunn said. “Not these three days. I hope for the best (for them) on Friday. But yeah, I’m definitely happy to see what they’ve done. Everybody’s done a great job, and it’s good to see. It’s good for guys like Zim (Ryan Zimmerman), who’s been here through the worst times and now he’s getting rewarded for it.
“I think everyone saw it coming. You probably didn’t see it coming as quickly as it did, but it was definitely just a matter of time. They’ve got the right people in the right places, got people making good decisions that should be making the decisions. They’ve got a good thing going over here.”
Dunn admits that when he walked into Nats Park today for the first time since the end of the 2010 season, it felt a little weird. He took a longer stroll through the tunnel, past the home clubhouse and into the smaller space for the visiting team. It still felt good for him to be back.
“On the field, baseball is baseball. I don’t care where you’re at,” Dunn said. “What separates this team, this place from a lot of places, is from top to bottom, is just great people (are) in place. Obviously the fans are great, and again, the people that are in place really make it here. ...
“When you sit there and you pull in in a cab and you see the security guard that you remember from a couple years ago, and you sit there and talk to him, it was like you never left. It’s just cool to me. It just doesn’t happen a lot of places.”