August 2014

The Nationals Overthrow King Felix

felixindistress The hype going into Felix Hernandez’s start against the Nationals in the DC twitterverse on Friday was unreal.  It was the first time the Nationals were facing King Felix, who is the best right handed pitcher in all of baseball.  The stats were scary.

Like Dave Jageler said:

 

Many fans were hoping for the best and wishing the Nats good luck.

Coming off the 3-game sweep by the Phillies in Philadelphia, there was one thing no one was seriously confident would happen: winning.

Even after Anthony Rendon launched the first pitch he ever saw from Hernandez over the wall in the top of the first, when Seattle scored two runs in the bottom of the inning and Jordan Zimmermann had some control problems, the game may have seemed to be over. But it wasn’t. Jayson Werth, Ian Desmond, and Wilson Ramos all connected on home runs off Felix.  The Nats hit 4 home runs off Hernandez, the most he has ever given up in his career.  In fact, he hadn’t given up more than 1 home run this whole season.

That was not it for the Nationals.  Bryce Harper and Ramos joined the party too (off former Nats reliever Joe Beimel) to guide the Nats to a surprise 8-3 victory over the Mighty Mariners.

This was a shocker around the country. I was sure I would wake up to see that the Nationals lost this game. It’s a good thing they won, since Atlanta beat the Mets.  The Nats victory keeps them 6 games ahead in the NL East and lowers the magic number to 23.

We’ve faced the biggest challenge in Seattle, now let me tell you an amazing fact:

Since moving to Washington in 2005, the Nationals have played the Mariners 10 times and have won all 10 games.

Tonight, the Nats try to clinch the series by beating Rookie Roenis Elias, and then play Hisashi Iwakuma on Sunday.

#SinkTheMariners

Back To School: 10 Lessons from the Nationals 10 Game Homestand

spanwalkoff The Nationals have been on an epic tear. Even after dropping the past two games to the Phillies, the Nats have won 12 of their last 15 contests, with 5 of them being decided by a walk off. The Nats, have now surpassed the O’s , who got swept by the Cubs this weekend for the largest division lead in baseball. As I am writing this, they are 7.5 games up on the Braves in the NL East, so there is comfort going into September and (hopefully) the postseason.

The Nats are on the road now for 9 games, after finishing a 10-game homestand.  We learned a lot of things over that time, as they played 7 games against the struggling Pittsburgh Pirates and Arizona D-Backs, and 3 pivotal games against the Giants.   Here is a recap of some of the lessons the Nats taught us fans over the past couple of weeks and a way to remember these great games.

AUG 15- Nationals 5, Pirates 4 Don’t be so confident with your lead. The Nats jumped out to a 5-0 lead in the 5th inning, but the Pirates made a comeback making it look like Pittsburgh would break the Nats 3 game winning streak.  The Pirates comeback was highlighted by a 2 run home run by Starling Marte off Tanner Roark in the 4th inning and a RBI single by Pedro Alvarez in the 9th with two down to make it a 5-4 game – it looked like the Pirates would make the Nats walk the plank. Luckily, Rafael Soriano got Josh Harrison to pop out to end the game. You can not be comfortable even with a lead playing against a team like the Pirates.

AUG 16- Nationals 4, Pirates 3 Believe in the bottom of the order. Oh sure, he regularly bats 7th or 8th on a daily basis, but never count out the lively bat of Wilson Ramos! The Nats fell behind 3-0 in the 3rd inning, and it stayed that way until the eighth inning, when a Kevin Frandsen RBI single and an Anthony Rendon double play set up a game tying two run home run by Adam LaRoche, and in the 9th, Wilson Ramos laced a RBI double into the bullpen in right field on a bounce to end the game.

AUG 17- Nationals 6, Pirates 5  It’s OK to make mistakes, as long as you learn from them.  When the Nats were down 2-0 on errors by Ian Desmond and Anthony Rendon, Ian Desmond hit an RBI single that closed the gap and made it a 2-1 game. It seems like the Nationals learned from the errors but the Pirates didn’t, because Ike Davis and Pedro Alvarez made back-to-back blunders to give the Nats 3 runs and a 4-2 lead. In the 9th, Rafael Soriano threw a wild pitch to make it a 4-3 game, and then Gregory Polanco hit a RBI double off the wall to score two and to give Pittsburgh a 5-4 lead. The Nats didn’t give up, though.  Luckily, Asdrubal Cabrera came through big time with a RBI single and in the 11th, Scott Hairston walked the Nats off with a sac fly. Sweep!

AUG 18- Nationals 5, D-Backs 4 Don’t get discouraged. Rookie outfielder Jake Lamb started the scoring for the Diamondbacks with a sacrifice fly in the 5th, but Wilson Ramos answered with a two run liner off Vidal Nuno over the 402 sign in centerfield. Didi Gregorius put Arizona on top with a two run home run in the 8th, but the Nats’ Bats answered in the bottom of the inning with a RBI triple by Rendon and a sacrifice fly by Werth to put the Nats ahead 4-3. That lead didn’t last long. David Peralta hit a home run to tie the game, and no one scored until Adam LaRoche unloaded for a walk-off home run on a big, fat curveball by Will Harris.  The Nationals didn’t get discouraged and give up.  Instead, they stayed in it the whole game and walked off the winners.

AUG 19- Nationals 8, D-Backs 1 Extra-innings “free baseball” and walkoffs are fun, but sometimes easy games are more fun.  After Stephen Strasburg battled with David Peralta in the 1st and eventually gave up a solo shot to him, Stras settled down. However, the Nats’ bats didn’t. They scored six in the 3rd, highlighted by a bases clearing double by Asdrubal Cabrera. Ian Desmond added with a 2 run single, and Jerry Blevins K’d Aaron Hill to end the contest.  It was a nice, normal and high scoring game, and it didn’t take 4 hours like the last 2 games.

AUG 20- Nationals 3, D-Backs 2 But walkoffs are fun and exciting too! Wilson Ramos opened up the scoring in the 2nd, beating out a potential double play by Bryce Harper’s takeout slide. In the 6th, Jayson Werth doubled in Asdrubal Cabrera to make it a 2-0 game. However, Ender Inciarte hit a home run to right field to tie the game in the 8th inning off Tyler Clippard. Anthony Rendon singled near the chalk past the diving Cliff Pennington to end the game with a series-clinching walkoff.  Three of the last four games ended with this kind of excitement.

AUG 21- Nationals 1, D-Backs 0  Sometimes you just get lucky.  With all the goose eggs on the board through 9 innings, this game didn’t look like it was going to be as exciting as the last few games. Wade Miley and Gio Gonzalez were locked in an epic pitchers’ duel. There was a lot of loading the bases then striking out to leave the runners stranded. In the 9th, Denard Span singled and stole second, then Anthony Rendon grounded a ball to the third baseman Jordan Pacheco, but he threw it away.  Because Span was running on contact, he was in between 2nd and 3rd already. The ball bounced into the camerawell and Span was awarded home.  This proves that there are lots of different ways to walk off, and sometimes you get lucky breaks.

AUG 22- Nationals 3, Giants 10 Sometimes you win, sometimes you lose. The Nationals jumped out to a 1-0 lead on a missed catch on a stolen base attempt by 2B Joe Panik, but he would make up for that. In the 4th inning, Panik lifted one over the centerfield fence for his first MLB home run, scoring three and giving San Francisco the lead. Jayson Werth productively homered on a laser to left field, but the Giants answered with Buster Posey’s 15th homer of the season in the 6th. Travis Ishikawa made it a 6-2 game with a two run double, and Ross Detwiler struggled in the 9th, to give San Francisco a commanding 10-2 lead. Wilson Ramos hit an RBI double in the bottom of the 9th, but pitcher Juan Gutierrez shut the door in the 9th for the Giants, ending the Nats’ ten game winning streak.  This just shows that sometimes you win big, and sometimes you lose big.  Hang in there!

AUG 23- Nationals 6, Giants 2 Never give up on your team. After Hunter Pence tomahawked a 0-2 pitch over the out of town scoreboard in right-center field, the Nats may have seemed to lose confidence. But they tied the game on a double play in the bottom of the first, and tacked on three more runs to make it a 5-2 Nats lead. Asdrubal Cabrera then hit home run number 11 for the season (CLE/WSH). The game remained 6-2, and after Tim Lincecum was pulled, Yusmeiro Petit pitched 5 1/3 innings of perfect ball. He has been shutting down, but Jordan Zimmerman was a tad better, only giving up the Pence home run. In the 9th, Pablo Sandoval and Michael Morse singled off Matt Thornton, but he grounded Joe Panik into a double play and got Andrew Susac to fly out with a runner at third to end the game.  It was a nice way to make up for the big loss the day before.

AUG 24- Nationals 14, Giants 6 Did you hear me?  Never give up on your team!  I was at the Sunday matinee game, and it was a great one!  Gregor Blanco led off the game with a home run into section 141, where my family was actually sitting at the time. The Giants added another run on a Travis Ishikawa dinger, and the Giants tacked on three in the 3rd to make it a 5-0 game. That’s about when we decided to get up from our seats and move somewhere else in the stadium for a change of view.  Adam LaRoche and Asdrubal Cabrera doubled in runs in the 4th to make it a 5-2 game, but Hunter Pence hit a sacrifice fly to make it 6-2 in the 6th. It seemed like the game was slipping away, but here is where the excitement started. Ian Desmond crushed a solo shot over the bullpen off Ryan Vogelsong, and Bruce Bochy quickly changed Vogelsong to usually good lefty Jeremy Affeldt. Against Jose Lobaton, Affeldt threw a wild pitch to him AND gave up a RBI single. Scott Hairston doubled to tie the game at 6, and Jayson Werth and Adam LaRoche had back-to-back RBI singles to make it a 8-6 game. The Nats actually batted around the order.  Denard Span added on with a RBI single in the 7th. Ian Desmond hit a RBI single in the 8th, followed by home runs from Bryce Harper and Danny Espinosa. Rafael Soriano K’d Michael Morse to end the game.  Even when it looked like the Nats would lose the game and the series to the Giants down by 5 in the 3rd inning, they didn’t give up and battled back to a commanding win by over 8 runs in the end.

 Now that most kids are back at school, or will be going back next week, these are some great lessons to take into the last month of the season and the playoffs.  The Nationals lost Monday and Tuesday to the Phillies on the road and have a tough road trip against the Dodgers and Mariners ahead.  Even with a current 7.5 game lead going into the stretch, they play the Braves 6 more times and have a couple of series against other NL East rivals.  If they don’t do as well in the future, we need to keep these lessons in mind, because this may have been the greatest stretch of baseball in Nationals history and it was so much fun for the fans!

Matt’s Bats Chat with Nationals Catcher Wilson Ramos

DSC_0178aOn Saturday, August 16, I attended the Wilson Ramos Parent & Child Baseball Experience presented by Washington Celebrity Baseball, Celebrity Sports Camps, and D.C. Elite Baseball.  The Camp was at Shipley Field at the University of Maryland. The camp gave instruction to kids about different baseball skills, like hitting, fielding, and pitching.  After the kids had their turn, a bunch of dads also took BP in the cage.  “We had a lot of really good kids show up today who were eager to play baseball,” said Andrew Lang, who ran the camp.  “The pros that were out here, Wilson Ramos, Mike O’Connor [former Nationals pitcher], and Derek Hacopian [former University of Maryland star and Indians draftee], really put on a great clinic with us.  The weather and the field helped to make it a perfect day.”

The small group of about 30 campers were able to do drills right on the field that Maryland’s baseball team plays on.  Wilson Ramos even got down and coached kids at the catching station on how to play like a major leaguer.  My group started out at infield, and I won a contest for who could throw a baseball the farthest.

Wilson talked with everyone, took pictures, and signed autographs.  At the end, I was able to pull Wilson aside and ask him a few questions.  Here is my Matt’s Bats Chat with Wilson Ramos.

Matt’s Bats – What’s your favorite thing to do on an off-day?

Wilson Ramos – I like to enjoy it with my family.  I have a 10 day old daughter and I like to enjoy it with her and my wife, make a lunch and dinner.  I like to do that.

MB – What’s it like being a baseball player and a dad?

WR – It feels great.  Its an amazing experience.  The first time I saw her, I loved my daughter.  I love to play and everything I do now, I do it for her.  It makes me feel happy and ready to go play hard everyday.

MB – What tips do you have for kids who want to be catchers?

WR – First step is you need to be strong.  Catchers get a lot of hits behind the plate and not too many guys can play that position.  It’s hard.

MB – You have a six game lead over the Braves in the NL East.  What’s the mood in the clubhouse?

WR – Everybody is feeling great.  Everybody feels happy right now that we’re in first place in our Division.  Everybody is doing a great job.  Everybody feels happy with what we are doing.  We’re playing hard right now and trying to get into the playoffs.

I also challenged Wilson to the Ice Bucket Challenge to raise money for ALS, but he tuned it down.  I don’t blame him, because he didn’t have other clothes to change into.  However, he would later get doused with cold Gatorade in the game that night as he walked off against the Pirates by a score of 4-3!

A few days later, Wilson tweeted that he did the official Ice Bucket Challenge and also challenged Miguel Cabrera.

Wilson was great with his fans, and the camp was a lot of fun.  Follow @Allstars_S2 on Twitter to learn about other camps and sports-related events in the DC area.

Matt’s Bats Does The “Ice Bucket Challenge” and I Challenge…

icebucketFor a couple of weeks, people around the country have been taking the “ice bucket challenge” by dumping buckets of ice water on their heads to raise awareness for ALS (Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis) better known as “Lou Gehrig’s Disease.”

This past 4th of July was the 75th anniversary of Gehrig’s “Luckiest Man” retirement speech, and June 2 was the 73rd anniversary of his death. He died as a young man, not even in his forties yet. He was an amazing baseball player– Hall of Famer, 7 time All Star, 6 time World Series winner, and played most consecutive games until Cal Ripken Jr. broke the record in 1995– and I have heard that he was supposed to be very nice to fans. But how Gehrig died is the most important part of his story.

On July 4, 1939, Gehrig gave a speech to the fans at Yankee Stadium ending his career at the age 35.  Gehrig’s words became known as the Gettysburg Address of baseball, and is probably the most famous speech in sports history. His most famous line is: “Today, I consider myself the luckiest man on the face of this earth.” Earlier this year MLB first basemen from all around the league made a video to honor the 75th anniversary of Gehrig’s speech.

 

When Lou Gherig gave his famous farewell speech, he was recently diagnosed with Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis.  It later became better known from that time on as just ALS or Lou Gehrig’s Disease.  ALS is a neurodegenerative disease like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases. It causes things like trouble speaking, swallowing, and breathing.  After Gehrig died, people have been looking for cures for this deadly disease, but after 70+ years of research, no one has been able to find a cure.

To raise money and awareness for the ALS Association, people have been taking the Ice Bucket Challenge and have been tagging their videos with #IceBucketChallenge on Twitter and challenging their friends to do it too.  Famous Nats people to have done it include Bryce Harper and ScreechLots of other MLB’ers have done it too.

Last night, I did it too!  See my video below of me taking the Ice Bucket Challenge.

 

Now that I have done the Ice Bucket Challenge,

I CHALLENGE ALL THE NATIONALS ARCHIVE ARCHIVISTS to do it too!

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(Except for Brendan, who has already done it)

For those of you who don’t know, the Nats Archive is a group of die-hard Washington Nationals fans who make all sorts of funny photoshops and jokes.  Check out their website at www.thenationalsarchive.com and @NatsArchive on Twitter.

I can’t wait to see all your videos!  Let’s see if we can get all the Nats fan base and players in on it.  I challenge everyone who reads this to do the challenge or make a donation to the ALS Association!

Visit www.alsa.org to learn more about ALS and to donate money for a cure.

Visit http://www.alsa.org to learn more about ALS and to donate money for a cure.

Petco Park Is Perfect

DSC_0049This spring and summer, I have traveled to some of America’s newest and oldest baseball ballparks, and I just got back from San Diego’s Petco Park.  Let me tell you: I have a new favorite ballpark!

The stadium was family-friendly and had breathtaking views, like the panoramic view of the city’s skyline.  The concourses were open and pretty.  My mom said it felt like a hotel!  They had a lot of local food options, like the excellent Phil’s BBQ, Filippi’s pizza, and places to get tacos and tri-tip.

I visited Petco Park on July 31, which happened to be Trade Deadline Day.  We arrived at the stadium at around 11 am PST to claim the press passes from the media gate that the Padres left for us and to go into the press box before the game started at 12:40 pm.

The ballpark was filled with lots of other kids because it was camp day at the ballpark, and everyone seemed befuddled when I walked through the media gate. They must have been thinking, “why is this kid walking into the media gate?!?”

Unlike Nationals Park, which has the highest press box in the country, the press box at Petco Park is on level two.

Before the game started, we took a few pictures on the field and watched a little bit of MLB Network because they were talking about all the trades going on.

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While sitting in the press box, we learned that Padres outfielder Chris Denorfia was traded to the Mariners.  We also got a tour of the press box from Patrick, who works in Media Relations for the Padres.  First, he showed me where the print journalists sit, with the wide open view of the field.  All of the journalists were searching on their computers to confirm trade rumors.

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We then went to the broadcasting center. We first met the radio voice of the Padres, Ted Leitner of XPRS 1090 AM. After meeting Ted and talking about how Petco Park’s broadcast booth compared to the booth at Wrigley Field (where the Padres had just played and where I visited in June), Patrick took me to meet Fox TV broadcasters Mark Sweeney and Dick Enberg.  We talked with them for a while, and Dick quizzed me about the baseball player Mat Batts.  He was surprised that I knew he was a catcher for the Twins, and he said he remembered when Batts used to play.  I stayed around for a minute while to watch them do their intro for TV, but we didn’t want to disturb them too much.

Mark Sweeney and Dick Enberg of Fox TV

Mark Sweeney and Dick Enberg of Fox TV

Patrick then brought out a surprise for me and my brother: a swag bag made up of lots of the promo items that the Padres gave away this year.  The bag included t-shirts, sunglasses, a beach towel, a travel blanket, a gumball machine, a Petco Park 10 year anniversary photo, and my favorite-a fedora.

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We left the press box and then we watched the game. We sat right behind the plate in the upper deck, which, as you can see below, was a fabulous view.  Our section, Section 300, is actually right on top of the press box.  Sitting above the press box is not something you can do at Nationals Park or PNC Park, because the press boxes there at the very top of the stadium.

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The game was good, but not the most exciting.  In the 2nd inning, there were three home runs. Oscar “Minor League Guy” Taveras homered in the top of the inning, to put the Cards on top 2-0. Jedd Gyorko answered in the bottom of the 2nd with a home run to right that cut the Cardinal lead in half.  Will Venable added on with a solo shot of his own. However, the Cards proved victorious at the end of the day, winning 6-2.

After the 7th inning stretch, we went for a walk around the ballpark.  I discovered that Petco Park is a beautiful place with lots to do and many great places to sit, relax and watch the game.  If I go again, I would recommend spending a lot more time in the Park at the Park.

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The Park at the Park is open to the public when there is no game.  You have a view of the outfield and can visit the Tony Gwynn “Mr. Padres” statue.  During the game, you pay only $5 and can sit and watch the game from the grass on a picnic blanket behind center field.

Petco Park also has a little beach area with sand and beach toys for kids and bleachers which is right up against the centerfield wall.  If you go, I’d recommend sitting where we did (section 300), the Bleachers, or a picnic blanket at Park at The Park. I’d also recommend sitting in Section 134, which is literally right next to the stacked home and visitors bullpens.  You have a great view of the bullpens from an open stairway, but you can be even closer to the action all game from Section 134.  Most of the seats are in the sun, except for some of the 200 seats.  I think by the afternoon, the 3rd base side starts to get shady.  This is important because it is so sunny in San Diego.

I love Petco Park, and I hope to go  back.  Take a look at some of the photos we took and some other fun facts about the stadium and the game experience.

  • San Diego is a military town, and  they do a military appreciation between the 1st and 2nd innings, kind of like what the Nationals do to honor service members and their families. Instead of having them all sitting in one place, the Padres ask the military members stand up where they are sitting so that people all over the ballpark can recognize them and clap for them.
  • On the 300 level along the 1st base line, you can see the organist play music.

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  • The bullpens are stacked in left-center field.  You can get a great view of them from one of the stairways and sit right behind the visitors in Section 134.

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  • Park at the Park has a sandbox in centerfield so kids can play while the parents watch the game.  This is such a cool feature.

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  • After a home run, the Padres play a clip of the whistle from the USS Ronald Reagan. At night, they blow the whistle and put on fireworks in straightaway centerfield.
  • The left field foul pole is painted on the side of the Western Metal supply building, as you can see in this photo.

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  • In the outfield by The Park at the Park, there is a mini baseball field for kids to play on dubbed Bumble Bee Stadium.  Kids bring balls and gloves to the game and actually play on it during the Padres games.

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  • The  scoreboard not only tells you how fast a pitch was, it also says what pitch was thrown.
  • There are player facts shown on the scoreboard when a player–home or visitor–comes up to bat.
  • The concourse on the field level is wide open, with lots of flowers and plants, and you have a view of the field from the concourse area.  It’s really very pretty.  There are lots of different stands to buy souvenirs or food.  They also have games like a place where you can see how fast you can pitch.

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I have had lots of different baseball experiences this summer, including amazing trips to Nationals Park, Marlins Park, Wrigley Field, and PNC Park.   They were all great for different reasons.  In terms of which ballpark is the nicest, Petco Park is the winner.  It has to be one of the best places to watch a day game anywhere in the country, right up there with AT&T Park in San Francisco and Wrigley Field.