MIAMI - OK, so last night’s 11-2 loss wasn’t exactly the most enjoyable three hours for Nationals fans, players or coaches, but there were two moments last night that brought a smile to my face sitting next to the Nats’ dugout.
In the sixth inning, with the Nats down 11 runs, Steven Souza Jr. came into the ballgame, replacing Jayson Werth in right. Two innings later, Souza stepped into the batter’s box at Marlins Park, took a first-pitch slider for ball one, and then scorched a 92 mph fastball from reliever Dan Jennings up the middle for his first major league hit.
To most of the baseball world, it was just a fairly meaningless single in a lopsided game. To Souza, who was a third-round pick of the Nationals all the way back in 2007, briefly quit the game three years ago and finally worked his way up to the big leagues over the weekend, it marked the culmination of a long journey.
He stood on first base on a big league field, and was in the books with a base hit.
“Everything that came together at this point,” Souza said, when asked what he was thinking about after the single. “It’s one of those things you’ve come so far and the hard work and the people that helped me along this way. It’s a moment to share kinda with everyone.”
The Nats stranded Souza Jr. on the basepaths at the end of the top of the eighth, so he didn’t get a chance to get personal congratulations from his teammates before needing to go play defense. But after the bottom of the eighth ended and Souza trotted in from right field, he got hugs from nearly every single teammate and coach in the dugout, a very cool moment to see.
“It’s so cool, man,” Souza said afterwards, with tears welling in his eyes. “The love you get around here. The camaraderie. I’m just a new guy up here. Everybody is making me feel so welcome. To get hugs from Desi (Ian Desmond), who I started with, to Tyler (Moore), one of my best friends. It’s just a moment I’ll never forget.”
Mere moments after the hugs for Souza stopped, Zach Walters smoked a first-pitch fastball over the right field wall, giving the 24-year-old infielder his first big league home run.
Walters made his major league debut with the Nats last September, and notched his first big league hit in Miami. He got on the board with his first longball at Marlins Park, as well.
“It was great,” Walters said. “I asked Matt (Williams) if I could swing. I didn’t know if I was taking a strike. But got a fastball, was looking for it and just made good contact.”
Don’t try asking Walters about what was said to him in the dugout after he made his way around the bases. He doesn’t remember.
“I blacked out,” he said. “They were all hitting me on top of the head, slapping hands. Before I know it, I was sitting at the end of the bench.”
Walters said he’ll probably end up keeping the ball from his first major league homer. Souza said his ball will go to his parents. And even though the Nats lost by nine last night, two young players gained special memories.
“The whole thing is a dream,” Walters said, comments that probably apply to Souza, as well. “Just being here, this experience.”
On a different note, center fielder Denard Span said after the game last night that he was going to head back to D.C. ahead of the Nats and get examined by doctors. Span has been on the seven-day concussion disabled list since Saturday, but he has been making progress recently and hopes to play in rehab games Thursday and Friday, if he’s cleared to do so.