Carpenter safe and sound, optimistic baseball will return in 2020

MASN broadcaster Bob Carpenter is back in Oklahoma with his family and is safe and healthy as the coronavirus pandemic unfolds across the globe. Like everyone else, Carpenter is waiting for the baseball season to get started. This will be his 15th season behind the mic for MASN as the television play-by-play announcer for the Nationals.

Carpenter returned to Oklahoma on March 12 and has been able to enjoy time with his wife, Debbie, and their kids. I caught him running errands as they worked on their lawn and garden.

"It's the first time since 2005 that I've been home to see the Bermuda grass start to turn green here," Carpenter said. "I am always scrambling to get the yard ready and the house ready for my departure at the end of March. I had a lot of that stuff done by the time we did our third spring training game. It's been weird. It's been a lot of great family time with my wife and my daughter, Katie, just had a birthday (Sunday). I haven't been home for her birthday in several years. I think maybe once or twice along the line I took off so I could be home for her birthday.

"We have reconnected with people in town (via social distancing). I will look out my front door on a weekday evening and people will be walking the neighborhood, riding their bikes and doing things I'm just not used to seeing around here because I'm gone. People are taking advantage of outdoor activities as well as they can. I happen to be a member of a golf club that is outside the city limits so they have been open the whole time. I've gotten to play a little bit. They are practicing social distancing. Everybody has to be in their own cart and things like that. That gets me some outdoor activity, plus the yard work."

Carpenter listens to MLB Network Radio when he is in his car to keep up to date with the latest chatter. If everything was on schedule, he would be calling games about a month into the season right now and opening a series in Milwaukee tonight.

"It's kind of weird, trying to kind of mentally do your preparation for the season not knowing when that's going to start" Carpenter said. "We got started with spring training, you're doing your research on other teams, and I have had my Nats team notes done since the middle of February. And then, all of a sudden, everything comes to a halt. It's a different kind of existence for everybody and I'm sure my routine isn't a whole lot different than what a lot of other people are doing."

He said he has not watched much television, but has enjoyed watching the ESPN documentary on Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls called "Last Dance", a look back at their sixth and final NBA championship in a span of eight seasons.

Carpenter remembers calling a Jordan baseball game for the Double-A Birmingham Barons.

"In 1994, when Jordan played for Terry Francona in Double-A, the work stoppage in the major league level had taken place in the second week of August. ESPN sent some of us out for minor league games," Carpenter said. "Buck Martinez and I spent a weekend in Birmingham covering Jordan with the Barons and I think we did a Sunday night game down there. I got to meet Michael Jordan for the one and only time in my life. That was kind of cool to be a part of that."

Carpenter also was reminded he called an upset win for Tulsa over Jordan and the North Carolina Tar Heels back in 1982 in Oklahoma. (Tulsa, coached by Nolan Richardson, defeated the defending champion Tar Heels 84-74 despite 28 points from Jordan).

Carpenter did get about a month to see the Nationals at work in West Palm Beach and called a handful of spring training games. He was impressed with the way they looked in preparation for 2020.

"I saw a very professional, efficient, workmanlike camp," Carpenter said. "You are coming off of World Series championship, everybody's excited, everybody's happy, with the irony of having the Astros right next door. I was impressed. I thought everybody had a great attitude.

"I think what I was most interested in at that time was watching Eric Thames and Starlin Castro and some of the other new guys just to see how they carried themselves around the clubhouse and on the back fields. I think I found that in baseball, the comings and goings of players in the modern era is something that is a part of the game. It's accepted. I walked in and it looked like those guys had been on the team for longer than just a couple of weeks.

"I was keeping an eye on Carter Kieboom. I wanted to see how he was doing and how he looked, how he carried himself. Is he confident? I had a really good feeling about the team coming out of spring training. To me, it definitely (has the look) of a postseason caliber team building off what they had done. It was nice to be coming off of something big rather than trying to build on something that maybe wasn't so big the previous year."

As for the thrilling 2019 October run, Carpenter got to work as part of the pregame and postgame shows during the postseason run, and was either at the games working or in the stands with family watching every riveting moment in the Nats' quest for the world championship.

Martinez-Hugs-Lerner-NLCS-Clinch-Sidebar.jpg"My memories are being on the field, especially after the Nationals beat the Cardinals to win the pennant, which was a big deal for me," Carpenter said. "Because down through the history of baseball, the World Series was always the icing on the cake. In kind of the older, traditional days of baseball, before so many teams made the playoffs, the big thing was winning your pennant. That was the long haul. That was six months of hard work.

"That was a real thrill because it happened at our ballpark. And to be down on the field and feel the energy of the crowd and to be up close and personal, (doing) interviews with Ryan Zimmerman and Max Scherzer right after the game was over, that was pretty exciting. That's a memory that I will take with me for a long time.

"Once the Nats beat the Dodgers, that door swung wide open and all of us knew anything could happen. My memories of the World Series were the way the Nats absolutely took it to the Astros in Houston. Interviewing Juan Soto after the game he hit the home run and carried his bat down to first base. I was first one to ask him, 'Why did you do that?' "

One of Carpenter's special memories was being on the field at Minute Maid Park after the final out in Game 7. He got to interview the players after the Game 7 win before they even got up on the podium.

"Watching them time after time after time come up with the big hit or get the double play ball or get the strikeout with a runner in scoring position and fewer than two outs .... The heroic things the Nats did game after game in that postseason," Carpenter said. "That's what will stick with me: probably the dominance of Stephen Strasburg, the shear guts of Max, the amazing game Aníbal Sánchez threw in St. Louis, Patrick Corbin being a hero out of the bullpen, along with Sean Doolittle and Daniel Hudson, and then, of course, all the offensive things that happened, too.

"You win playoff series and World Series with pitching. And to me, the way the Nats shut down really good teams in that postseason, that's my real takeaway from what that team was able to do."

So will there be baseball in 2020? Carpenter believes the Nationals will be able to play at some point.

"I am optimistic that we are going to play," Carpenter said. "I am a one-sport guy now. I gave up basketball about four years ago. I always wanted to end my career as a baseball-only guy. All of us that are connected to the game as intimately as we are, we want to play and we want to bring the fans the gams that they want to see. Unfortunately, it looks like the fans will not be able to be in the ballpark, but I look forward to the day when I see our guys take the field. It's really tough to envision want it will be like without fans."

He also appreciates manager Davey Martinez saying recently that the Nationals will delay the ring ceremony and banner-raising until the fans are allowed to return to Nats Park.

"It is a great thought by Davey and I know Mike Rizzo feels the same way," Carpenter said. "I think all of us feel the same way. They could have sent out 50 or 60 FedEx packages with rings in them to everybody and say, 'Hey, here's your World Series ring, thanks!' But I think it tells you what our fans mean to Davey, to Mike, to the players, to the organization, that we want them to be part of that. They deserve it. Thirty-three years without baseball and then the better part of a decade with a team that was young and struggling and finding its way, and then finally they win the big prize. I think it's a great thought (to wait). That will be a great day and great day when it happens."

Carpenter is also excited about another change in the décor at Nationals Park that he has been waiting to see unveiled for 2020 and beyond.

"I'm looking forward to seeing 2019 on that blank flag at the right end of the scoreboard up there in right field," Carpenter said. "I haven't heard a lot about that. I want to see that blank flag filled in and have those numbers. That's going to be a big part of it, too. It will remind us every day at the ballpark what that team did last year."

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