Ian Desmond has never been one to try to hide from his emotions, so he wasn’t afraid to circle this weekend on his calendar and psyche himself up over the idea of returning to Nationals Park for the first time as a visiting player.
And when the 31-year-old former-National-now-Rockie arrived at the park this afternoon and walked through the hallways he called home for seven seasons, he couldn’t help but feel the emotions stir up inside of him.
The only thing missing: an opportunity to actually take the field this weekend and play in front of Washington fans and everyone else who comes to this ballpark on a nightly basis. And not strictly because tonight’s series opener was rained out.
No, Desmond won’t be playing in Saturday night’s game or either game of Sunday’s day-night doubleheader. A strained calf muscle that acted up on him Tuesday in St. Louis forced him to the 10-day disabled list today.
“It’s tough,” Desmond said. “This is one I had marked on my schedule. First time back. I wanted to get back out in front of the fans who rooted me on for so long. But with the position that our team is in, it’s probably better to have the fresh body than be limping around out there.”
Current injury aside, things are going well for Desmond in his first season in Colorado. After settling for a one-year, $8 million deal and re-establishing his worth with the Rangers last year, he earned a five-year, $70 million contract with the Rockies and now is enjoying life playing for an upstart team that has been in position for a playoff berth through the season.
Desmond’s 2017 debut did come a month after he took a pitch off his left hand in spring training and fractured a bone. But until this calf issue cropped up earlier this month, he was playing well, batting .285 with a .328 on-base percentage, five homers and 32 RBIs in 65 games. He’s also learning another new position, spending time not only in the outfield (where he played for Texas) but now at first base.
It’s been nearly two years now since Desmond last donned a curly W cap and took his position at shortstop in D.C., but the memories of his time with this franchise won’t soon be forgotten. He was the organization’s longest-tenured player, the last Expos draft pick (2004) to remain employed by the club.
A fan favorite whose own career trajectory mimicked the franchise’s ascension from the cellar to contender, Desmond never quite got the perfect farewell many would have liked. He was given a chance to come out of his final home game in 2015 and receive a standing ovation, but that moment came only a few minutes after Jonathan Papelbon choked Harper in the dugout, making for a bizarrely awkward scene.
Desmond prefers not to think about individual moments like that, but rather the entirety of his time in Washington. And more than that, the people he befriended here. He made a point today to mention specific ushers, security personnel and even regular fans he wants to see while at Nationals Park this weekend.
Desmond drove a rental car to the stadium this afternoon with his 6-year-old son, Grayson, parked in the Nationals players’ lot and walked through the same entrance he did for seven seasons, only to then turn left and walk past a hallway adorned with photos of dozens of players who have called D.C. home over the last 13 years.
Desmond delighted in his son’s reaction to the entire journey.
“As we were walking up, (Grayson said): ‘That’s the door we used to go in! We used to ride that elevator all the time! This is how you get to the field!’ He’s looking at all the pictures: ‘I know you! Who’s this guy? Who’s that? I don’t know you. Some guy. Some guy.’”
Desmond also made a point this morning to visit to the Nationals’ Youth Baseball Academy in Southeast Washington, a facility he saw built from the ground up and frequently visited during his time here. He still receives emails as a member of the academy’s board of directors, even as Anthony Rendon has taken over as the current player officially working with the group.
“That was great,” Desmond said of his morning trip. “Some of the kids that were there are now in the eighth grade, getting ready to venture on into bigger and better things. That was cool. It was really cool to see Rendon kind of take that and do great things with it. ... It’s great to see the building, even, coming from the ground up. It’s a really good thing in an area that really needs it. ... It still means a lot to me.”
The planned highlight of the weekend, of course, won’t happen. Desmond won’t get to step into the batter’s box and face Tanner Roark or any other member of the Nationals pitching staff, only to need to step out of the box to acknowledge a standing ovation from the crowd welcoming him back two seasons later. Perhaps there still will be an acknowledgement as he watches from the dugout.
But for Desmond, that’s OK. He has a lot of baseball left in him. And he fully intends to enjoy every moment he gets inside Nationals Park every time he returns.
“It would’ve been nice to get back out on the field here and go through some of the routine,” he said. “There’s so many things I did before a game here that kind of became ingrained into my life that I was looking forward to getting back to. I was looking forward to giving Susan a wave; she works outside the home dugout. There’s a fan down the first base line - I actually never got his name - but we always used to tip our cap to each other.
“All that kind of stuff, I was looking forward to getting back and doing some of that stuff and sharing that moment with them. But I’ve got five years in the National League, so I’ll be back next year. Or hopefully in October.”