Happy holidays! This year has been quite a doozy. From the death of basketball superstar Kobe Bryant, to wildfires engulfing Australia and parts of California, to social unrest following senseless acts of police brutality, to a bitter and divisive election season, and of course, the worldwide coronavirus pandemic, we’ve been through a lot in 2020. To cap it all off, this holiday season is unlike any other most of us have ever experienced – the normal large family gatherings and celebrations will be replaced by family-wide video calls from our own homes.
I have made holiday gift guides in the past, where I have recommended some of my favorite products for the ultimate baseball fan. In such a strange and unusual year, however, I want to shake things up a little bit and share some of my favorite holiday gifts from local small businesses in the DMV. Today is Small Business Saturday – as a descendant of generations of small business owners and the son of one myself, I know the vital role small businesses play in our community. The economic effects of this pandemic have hurt small businesses significantly, and it is so important to support these backbones of our community this holiday season. Whether or not you buy something off of the 2020 Matt’s Bats Holiday Gift Guide, please consider shopping small and supporting members of your community this holiday season.
Without further ado, here is my 2020 Holiday Gift Guide, featuring local small businesses from the DMV!
Seventh and F: As one of my Twitter followers put it, Seventh and F is the quintessential stop for any DC fan to rep their favorite team. With their name inspired by the intersection right outside Capital One Arena, Seventh and F is a homegrown small business that makes t-shirts, hats, mugs, and stickers. Their selection ranges from memorable moments and quotes in DC sports history (like Howie Kendrick’s Game 7 home run or Dave Martinez’s speech after the Nats clinched the NL Pennant in 2019) to sleek designs to let everyone know where you’re from and who you root for (like this Nationals World Series Champions shirt or this DC local shirt). Seventh and F has something for the Nationals, Capitals, Wizards, or Washington FT fan in your life. Check out their selection at seventhandf.com and follow them on Twitter and Instagram @seventhandf!
Route One: This one is for all my fellow Marylanders! Our state has one of the most unique cultures in the United States, so Route One takes all things Maryland and puts them on masks! They sell a state flag mask (we have the best state flag by a long shot), a mask that looks like a can of Old Bay, a mask with crabs colored with our state flag (can you spot a common theme here?), and much, much more. After all, what’s better than showing off your state pride while also keeping your community safe by wearing a mask! And don’t worry, DC residents: Route One also makes a DC flag mask! Unfortunately, Virginia doesn’t have a very mask-able flag, but this would be a perfect stocking-stuffer for any Marylander or Washingtonian. Their entire collection is available at routeoneapparel.com, and on Twitter @routeoneapparel!
DC-Inspired Art – Looking for an art piece to finish off a room or for your work-from-home desk? Look no further than DC’s own Cris Logan Art and LifeOfTheArty, both on Etsy! Both artists have incredible Nationals prints available for sale: Logan made an awesome piece featuring the DC skyline with the World Series trophy, while LifeOfTheArty has a super cute piece with the Racing Presidents wearing masks. Both also have tons of other DC-inspired art, including Logan’s DC skyline from Georgetown work and LifeOfTheArty’s piece with the Capitol building and cherry blossoms. Both of their portfolios are super impressive, and a print would be the perfect gift for any Washingtonian!
Due South – You can never go wrong with a meal from Due South, on the Capitol Riverfront near Nationals Park, before a game! If you have never had Due South before, they make some of the best Southern food in the area. What’s best about Due South is that they have available delicious family meals, which they will deliver to all of DC and some parts of Maryland and Virginia. A fried chicken dinner from Due South is always a favorite among my family, and there’s always leftovers for the next day! You can buy a gift card for Due South here – don’t forget to try their sister restaurants, like Millie’s in Spring Valley and Surfside in Tenleytown, which also offer family meals!
Ice Cream Jubilee – This is definitely the sweetest item on the list, and it’s for good reason – you would be hard pressed to find a better ice cream cone in the DC area than at Ice Cream Jubilee. Sure, maybe the weather is getting colder, but it’s never too cold for ice cream! My favorite flavors of ice cream from Ice Cream Jubilee are mint chip and passionfruit guava sorbet. Ice Cream Jubilee has locations in Logan Circle, Ballston, and near Nationals Park at Navy Yard. In addition to visiting them the next time you have a sweet tooth, consider supporting them by buying a pint of ice cream or a gift card. If you are in the DC area, Ice Cream Jubilee sells pints at most Whole Foods locations, and if you live somewhere else, you can order six pints directly shipped to your door here. Seriously, don’t miss out on this one!
If you are looking for a different type of gift, consider looking through this catalog of DC small businesses and support local entrepreneurs and artists! You can also check out the DC Holiday Market online. Thank you for shopping small this holiday season!
Brooks Robinson, Craig Stammen to be Honored at Bob Feller Act of Valor Award Ceremony – Register Today!
Orioles legend Brooks Robinson and former Nationals pitcher Craig Stammen are the recipients of the 2020 Bob Feller Act of Valor Award, and you can watch the virtual ceremony for free! The ceremony will be held on Thursday, November 19, at 6:30 pm.
In a time of such deep division following a major election, it can seem challenging to find something that brings all Americans, from all walks of life, together. The Bob Feller Act of Valor Award combines two of the things that do bring us together – baseball, our national pastime, and our respect and reverence of our active-duty and retired members of the military. The event honors and pays tribute to Bob Feller, a Hall of Fame pitcher for the Cleveland Indians, who enlisted in the U.S. Navy the day after the attack on Pearl Harbor. Feller was the first American professional athlete to join the military during World War II, and gave up three of his “prime” years as a pitcher to serve our country.
There are six winners of the Bob Feller Act of Valor Award every year, each representing a different category. Winners of each award “possess the values, integrity, and dedication to serving our country that Bob Feller himself possessed.” This year, the recipients are:
Brooks Robinson – MLB Hall of Fame Award
Former Nationals player Craig Stammen – Active MLB Player Award
Aviation Ordnanceman Chief Lacresha Dowdell – Navy Chief Petty Officer Award
Master Sergeant Hermann Kruppa – Marine Corps Jerry Coleman Award
Training Support Center, Great Lakes CSADD – Peer-to-Peer Award (Ashore)
USS America Junior Enlisted Association – Peer-to-Peer Award (Afloat)
I have had the honor of attending the Bob Feller Act of Valor Award ceremony each year since the first ceremony in 2013. Last year, I interviewed the two baseball recipients, Hall of Fame pitcher Randy Johnson and Kansas City Royals pitcher Ian Kennedy. And earlier this year, I was featured on the Act of Valor Award’s American Valor podcast, which you can listen to below – pardon my outdated and incorrect takes on the season from way before it started!
You can register for the 2020 Bob Feller Act of Valor Award ceremony for free by following this link. Alongside the ceremony, there will be a virtual auction where you can bid on autographed items from this year’s winners and prior recipients. The Act of Valor Award ceremony is a great way to support our troops and remember the service of a great American, Bob Feller.
I’m going to preface this piece by saying that there are very few things I want more than for sports to come back. As it is the middle of July, it is frankly eerie to be living in a world where I can’t sit down on the couch every evening and watch the Nats play, or better yet, take the trip down to Nats Park and enjoy the game from the stands.
And here we are today – July 22nd, 2020 – the random July Thursday we all totally expected Opening Day to fall on. Barring the rain, Max Scherzer will take the mound at 7:00 pm and face a new-look Yankees team, headlined by their new star pitcher, Gerrit Cole. On paper, this is exciting. After all, it is opening day. And the game features the reigning world champions against a World Series favorite in the 60-game dash to the playoffs? Sign me up.
If life these past few years has taught us anything, it is that what looks promising on paper is not always reality. This is going to be a trainwreck.
I was speechless when I saw the news that Nationals outfielder Juan Soto had been diagnosed with COVID-19. Soto, one of the brightest young stars in baseball, has played with some sort of invincibility during his short career – he is not afraid to get under opposing pitchers’ skin, probably has the most fun out of any player in the whole league, and overall, is a damn good baseball player. But while the Soto news came out of nowhere, it is not entirely surprising that he contracted the virus. He had to self-isolate after his roommate, an unnamed Nationals player, tested positive. This story broke two days ago, which is the quickest time a test can come back with our current technological capabilities.
But this news sets up a testing nightmare for the Nationals, and frankly, for all of Major League Baseball. Soto was in the lineup in both exhibition games the Nats played against the Baltimore Orioles. Now, after testing positive, Soto could have potentially exposed the entire Nationals team and coaching staff to the virus, as he refrained from wearing a facial covering in the dugout and made physical contact with other players. Soto also could have transmitted the virus to Baltimore players, whether it be at the plate or on the bases, or through a middleman Nats player. If the game goes on as scheduled tonight, asymptomatic Nationals could give COVID-19 to Yankees players, as could asymptomatic Orioles to their opening opponent, the Boston Red Sox. Don’t forget the clubhouse attendants at Nationals Park, Camden Yards, and Fenway Park, the flight crew transporting the Orioles to Boston, and other essential staff working the games.
A baseball game is much more than the nine men on the field, the batter, and the umpires. Just one game is an intricate wheel that would fall apart without all the cogs in the correct place. It is tough to socially distance sports, and baseball is theoretically one of the easiest to limit contact in. Now we are in a situation where a high-profile player has tested positive. Given the high transmission rate with the coronavirus, it’s highly likely that Soto transmitted the disease to at least one other teammate or opponent. And with a disease that spreads like wildfire, you’ll start to see more cogs being turned loose.
I’m not an engineer, but wheels that aren’t structurally sound don’t tend to fare well.
The fact of the matter is that we just don’t have the necessary resources to successfully pull this off. My family has been watching a lot of German soccer recently to pass the time while American sports are on hold. Yesterday, less than 600 new cases of COVID-19 were found in Germany. Compare that to the United States, where yesterday alone over 71,000 new cases were reported – a number so high, if Wednesday were a country, it would have the 32nd most COVID-19 cases in the entire world. Due to the lower rate of cases, ability to conduct contact tracing, and widespread mask usage, Germans could allocate more testing resources and PPE to frequently test players and staff, allowing for a successful season largely mirroring baseball’s return plan.
We can’t make that promise to major sports – since this country has been uniquely unable to contain the virus, testing is needed all around the country. It’s not feasible to give each team multiple tests per week, because that testing capacity is needed in our communities more than ever.
Regarding testing, it is imperative that teams know who has COVID-19 as quickly as possible, to prevent it from spreading throughout the team. Currently, it takes two days at the minimum to receive a test result. News broke about Soto’s interaction with his teammate two days ago, after all. We won’t know whether or not any other Nationals players or staff tested positive until Saturday, when the Nats are scheduled to face the Yankees once again. If Soto did infect a good amount of Nationals, then they’ll also need to go into quarantine. And even though it’s exciting to see baseball back in 2020, nobody wants to watch the Harrisburg Senators face the daunting Mets, Phillies, or Braves.
Soto’s diagnosis with COVID-19 shows the flaws with the model that baseball is using. MLB was trying to create miniature bubbles around each stadium that the teams would travel to and from, not leaving until the season ended. When the bubble is burst, it becomes a petri dish for those inside of it, and potentially more of a public health crisis inside than out.
Don’t get me wrong – as I said at the beginning, I am genuinely excited to have baseball back. I think it will help our country heal, as baseball is our national pastime. I’m worried that now might not be the best time for the sport to come back. Especially as five teams are located in the biggest hotspots of Florida, Texas, and Arizona, it’s only a matter of time until more cases begin to pop up in baseball bubbles.
So to the 2020 season, one that will go down in history as one of the strangest years in sport – here goes nothing.
When Tyrone Terrill of Minneapolis heard that the Washington NFL football franchise was retiring its controversial team name and logo, he couldn’t contain his excitement.
Terrill, secretary of the National Council Against Racism in Sports and Media (NCARSM) and a prominent civil rights activist in Minneapolis, immediately reached out to his long-time friend, Clyde Bellecourt, known as the “Native American Martin Luther King,” to share the emotional moment.
“We cried. That’s what it meant to us. It was a day of tears of great joy,” Terrill said. “…This was the one we thought we would never get.”
For Native American groups, the July 13 announcement was the culmination of decades of work to pressure team owner Daniel Snyder into removing Native American iconography from the team name and logo. The old team moniker, “Redskins,” was widely considered a racial slur, defined by the Merriam-Webster dictionary as “dated” and “offensive” towards Native Americans. Still, Snyder refused to consider a name change until FedEx threatened to pull its sponsorship, a move that would have cost the team $45 million.
Native American groups have long advocated for the name change, protesting outside of Washington games and other sporting events. Sundance, a prominent indigenous activist, said the name change will help fans realize how demeaning language can hurt Native Americans.
“These images perpetuate marginalization and genocide through dehumanization,” said Sundance, executive director of the Cleveland American Indian Movement and a member of the Muscogee tribe. “They disregard tribes’ contemporary cultural experiences and put greater value on fictionalized, nostalgic images The Washington Football name change will shift the cultural consciousness of those in power eventually.”
Native American groups are still angry over other teams’ names and practice rituals, such as the tomahawk chop famous at Atlanta baseball and Kansas City football games. But, many worry that nothing will change without more corporate coercion.
“It will take the same pressure from sponsors and the community to require teams to . . . do the right thing,” said Gaylene Crouser, the executive director of the Kansas City Indian Center and a member of the Lakota tribe.
The discussion about Native American mascots has had ripple effects throughout the entire sports world, with the Cleveland Indians MLB team also exploring a name change. Sundance, who successfully lobbied the local high school in Oberlin, Ohio to change its mascot, thinks there can now be more progress in the state.
“The actions of Cleveland baseball will have a positive effect on the Ohio public school system, which has native mascots pervading its many school districts,” Sundance said. “Already this is encouraging dialogue throughout the state.”
While the Washington name change is a major victory for Native American interests, groups like NCARSM show no signs of slowing their activism any time soon.
“Once we did the press conference Monday, we were on to dealing with Kansas City, Cleveland, and Atlanta,” Terrill said. “But the one thing that the Washington situation has taught us is to go grab those big sponsors.”
Over the past few weeks, Americans have had a reckoning about race relations and racism in our country. We’ve been appalled to see videos and hear the accounts of the racist murders of unarmed African-Americans, and we’ve seen increasing pressure on lawmakers to change the laws to make this country a more just place for everyone, and to achieve equity in our institutions.
During this period of self-reflection about racism in America, as a DC sports fan, I became more outraged about the name of our football team. A team name that glorifies and celebrates a racial slur against a marginalized community in this country’s short yet complicated history, one that is listed in the dictionary as being “dated” and “offensive”.
It’s long past time to change the name of the Washington Redskins.
To understand the reasons why the name is so offensive, it’s worth taking a look at some of the earliest parts of team history. In 1932, George Preston Marshall moved to Boston and started a football team, known as the Boston Braves. The next year, Marshall moved his team into Fenway Park, and to avoid confusion with the baseball team by the same name, he changed the name from “Braves” to “Redskins”. Ironically, that same year, the team hired William Dietz as head coach, who identified himself as part Sioux. In 1937, Marshall relocated the team from Boston to DC, where they still play today. It was that year when the famous fight song, “Hail to the Redskins”, was written. The original lyrics to the song, written by Marshall’s wife, contained references to scalping, a deadly practice used commonly in the 19th century by American troops to brutally kill Native Americans. It took until 1972 and after Marshall’s death for the lyrics to the song to be changed.
However, this wasn’t Marshall’s only run-in with racism while being owner of the team. The Redskins were the last NFL team to integrate in 1961, and it took actions from the White House to require the team to sign a black player. Ernie Davis, the first black player to play on the team, was traded 10 days later because he did not want to play for Marshall, and signed another black player instead. Despite Marshall’s notorious record of racism, a statue of him outside RFK Stadium stood until Friday morning.
Once Marshall passed, the debate over the team name continued to rage on. 1972 saw a group of Native American leaders meeting with the team President, Edward Williams, urging the team name change. While that goal was unsuccessful, some of the aforementioned references to scalping were cut from the team fight song along with other minor changes. Protests for the name and against the name continued throughout the late 20th century and into the 2000s, where new team owner Dan Snyder made it adamantly clear that the team name was not going to be changed under his ownership.
And that brings us to today. In the year 2020, almost 90 years after Marshall first introduced the name “Redskins” to the NFL, the name sticks. American culture has changed during this time – back in the ‘30s when the team was founded, we were amidst the Great Depression and still hadn’t yet fought World War II or had a civil rights movement. It’s long overdue to change the name, and it glorifies a term that is modernly viewed by Native Americans as being derogatory and deeply hurtful. A study taken by the University of California, Berkeley this February found that 57% of those who strongly identified themselves with their Native American heritage were offended by the name and other representations of Native Americans in sports, including the Atlanta Braves’ tomahawk chop.
It’s also worth looking at the relationship between the U.S. government and Native Americans, and the systemic silencing of Native voices. Throughout history, Native Americans have been forced off of their historical tribal lands to live in infertile areas of Oklahoma and the American Southwest. Tragic incidents like the Sand Creek Massacre, where U.S. Army troops killed hundreds of Cheyenne and Arapaho Native Americans in southeastern Colorado, are barely covered in history classes. We celebrate “heroes” like Christopher Columbus, who murdered and enslaved the indigenous Taino population when he landed in the “New World” for the first time. These problems continue today – Native American reservations are largely neglected by the government in the present day. The Navajo Nation, a reservation in Arizona and New Mexico, has had more deaths from COVID-19 than seven states combined. One in every three residents of the Navajo Nation have developed prediabetes or type 2 diabetes due to the lack of healthy food choices on the reservation – there are just 13 grocery stores on the entire reservation, which is similar to the size of West Virginia.
To put it mildly, we have treated the native community as second-class citizens for the entirety of American history. Simply put, Native Americans are people, not mascots. To go a step further and use an outdated racial slur as your team mascot is simply reprehensible.
In the recent weeks, multiple leagues have announced ways to combat racism and inequality within their organizations. The NFL has redacted a policy frowning upon kneeling during the national anthem as a peaceful protest against police brutality. NASCAR banned the Confederate flag from their races, and when a noose was found in driver Bubba Wallace’s locker, the league stood with Wallace and condemned such an ignorant action. But what I find most interesting is the action taken by the SEC in the NCAA. They announced that no conference championship games would be held in the state of Mississippi until they changed their flag, which *still* has the Confederate symbol displayed proud and center. Obviously, in a state where college football is basically a religion, fans of the Ole Miss Rebels and Mississippi State Bulldogs are disappointed with the lack of high-profile events, and the state of Mississippi will be devastated with the lack of additional revenue at these two public universities.
I think that if the NFL wanted to solidify themselves as an inclusive and equitable league, they should follow the SEC’s lead. No Super Bowls, Pro Bowls, or primetime games at FedEx Field until the name gets changed. Like the Mississippi scenario, this would anger longtime fans who wouldn’t get to experience prominent events like other NFL cities, but also lead to a loss of revenue for the Snyders. More importantly, as Dan Snyder looks to build a new stadium for the team, the lack of these events could raise doubts with lawmakers about whether or not to allow the stadium’s building. D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser has already indicated that she is hesitant to let Snyder redevelop the RFK Stadium site unless he changes the team’s name – an embargo like the NCAA’s might sway Maryland Governor Larry Hogan or Virginia Governor Ralph Northam to Bowser’s side, and refuse to give public funding towards a new stadium unless the change is made.
The last question I’ll raise is what to change the team name to. In the late 1990s, the athletic teams at Miami University in Ohio changed their name from Redskins to Redhawks, serving as an example of how to subtly create a more inclusive environment for all fans. Other names that are already in use in sports that have been raised include the Warriors, Braves (Washington Braves is just too weird to say), and Tribe. However, I think that this could be an incredible opportunity to shed all of the reminders to the racist name and change the team identity. What about the Washington Commanders, honoring our deep military history? Continentals, after the Continental Army during the Revolutionary War? Potomacs, after the river but paying slight homage to the Stafford County tribe it’s named after? Federals, with the obvious connection to the federal government? There are many options to choose from that don’t keep the stereotypes against Native Americans, and I think it would be a better choice to just start over.
Because of the racist history of the team name, I’ve never considered myself a Redskins fan. Sure, I’ll root for them in the name of city pride in the playoffs, but for the most part, I don’t pay much attention to the team. Instead, I root for the Miami Dolphins, my dad’s childhood favorite team and somehow arguably even more pathetic than the Redskins on the gridiron. I know many people just like me who’d root for the team if they had a more inclusive name. This is the 21st century – not the 1950s. Creating an anti-racist society means eradicating all monuments and mementos to a racist society. In a way, the Redskins’ name serves as the Native Americans’ equivalent to Confederate statues – an outdated reminder of a past we must pledge not to return to.
Let’s take this moment and use it for good social change. For once and for all – let’s change the Redskins’ name.
Baseball has traditionally been one of the most synonymously American pastimes throughout this country’s history. Legends like Babe Ruth and Jackie Robinson were more than just athletes – they were integral parts of American popular culture. During times of peace and comfort, we had baseball to turn to. During times of unrest and fear, we had baseball to turn to. However, during a time when this country needs a uniting force more than ever, baseball won’t be there for us.
Barring a miracle, there won’t be baseball played in 2020.
While that sentence is devastating to read, some good will come out of this, and it’s important to realize that not everything about this doomsday scenario is bad. Firstly, the lack of a 2020 season means that there will be no World Series, making the Washington Nationals the longest world champions of the 21st century so far – they’ll hold the title throughout all of 2020 and a majority of the calendar year 2021, before a potential new champion is crowned.
But much more importantly, the cancellation of the season is bittersweet news for players, who would have gotten the short end of the stick in any compromise. MLB owners, foreseeing a draconian decrease in revenue for 2020 due to a lack of ticket and concession sales, called for revenue sharing with players. This would have funneled more money to the owners, who happen to be some of the wealthiest men in North America and include the heirs to TD Ameritrade and Little Caesars, multiple media company owners, hedge fund and oil executives, and the Canadian equivalent of AT&T. Lost in the balance would be the players, who’d be subject to an increased risk of COVID-19 yet having their normal salaries halved to help the owners turn something merely close to a profit this year. Plans to restart baseball also included isolating players away from their families at remote locations in Arizona and Florida, an idea which doesn’t bode well with less pay and a higher chance to contract the virus. It’s important to remember that baseball players are employees who sign contracts, are unionized, and have the right to collective bargaining. If your employer said that they were going to cut your pay amidst a global pandemic just so the CEO would be able to turn a profit and you’d be at a higher risk of contracting the disease, you wouldn’t find that to be very fair, and wouldn’t support efforts to go back to work.
However, while the players do benefit from the lack of revenue sharing, it is very evident that many are disappointed by the lack of a season. Max Scherzer, Patrick Corbin, and Sean Doolittle are just three Nationals who have been vocal about this, and all three are proponents of a fair deal for the players. It’s also important to recognize that Commissioner Rob Manfred is not the reason why the season won’t be played, and that calls for his resignation or firing are wrong. Manfred is in charge of negotiations between the players’ union and the owners, and it’s increasingly evident that the owners are the ones who are holding up the negotiations for their precious revenue sharing. The fault of this probable lost season lies with them, not with Manfred.
However, from a fan’s perspective, this news is truly devastating. I started this piece off by talking about two baseball legends – Babe Ruth and Jackie Robinson. Babe Ruth was a hero to many Americans during the Great Depression of the early 30s, and brought smiles and hope to many people during the tough economic times. Jackie Robinson’s entry into the league served as a model for non-violent integration during a contentious time in American history – the very beginning of the civil rights movement of the ‘50s and ‘60s. Like during their careers, we live in similar times. The fallout of the pandemic has led to economic hardships for millions of Americans, and the murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Rayshard Brooks, and too many other black and brown Americans by police has led to a reckoning about race relations in America. But unlike those times, we have no baseball to help us heal from those divisions and hardships we are all faced with at this time.
What’s even worse is that following the 2021 season, MLB’s collective bargaining agreement (CBA) expires. The 2021 offseason will very likely look a lot like the last few weeks of back-and-forth between the owners and the union, and if things go awry like they did in this instance, there’ll be another lockout that could cause the 2022 season to be lost, as well. These failed negotiations set a very bad precedent for the upcoming CBA negotiations, as it shows the inability of the owners and players to find a middle ground compromise.
But this also makes the grim reality of baseball’s waning popularity more pressing for the league to sort out. Basketball is returning in August, with the Wizards playing at Disney World for the duration of the season. Soccer, football, and hockey have started to develop feasible plans for restarting games, and the Caps are poised to have a first-round bye in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Heck, John Oliver’s segment on sports and COVID-19 made many of my friends legitimately excited about marble racing games on Youtube. But lost in all of this is baseball. Sports fans, including baseball fans, who are eager to watch real action instead of the fourth month of ESPN’s coverage of the Tom Brady contract, will turn to these other sports instead of baseball. And as baseball loses popularity with younger generations, expect this dynamic to be exacerbated by the lack of a season amidst the pandemic.
So, the reality is that baseball’s near and distant futures are grim. But this moment presents a defining moment of truth for the sport. Is it likely that an agreement will be reached before it’s too late? No. But this moment allows the relevant people to learn from this instance and make sure it doesn’t happen again come 2021. Now is also the perfect time to change how the league works. Maybe allow fun bats or cleats, in a way for players to express themselves on the field while also playing the game they love. I’m a baseball purist and a vehement opponent of enacting a universal DH, but I will admit that sweeping changes to the institution of baseball might peak the interest of non-traditional baseball fans and help make the sport more popular. There are reasons why this moment is sad and strange. But this isn’t the first time baseball’s been cut short by a labor dispute, and it sure won’t be the last. I think we ought to embrace the potential for change and look forward to baseball’s eventual return, whenever it is safe and fair for both owners and players.
The year was 1972. Even though the United States was fighting a multinational war in Asia and the President was embroiled in a major political scandal leading to his resignation, it still seems like a simpler time in history. In the baseball world, there were a few notable events. At the beginning of the year, there was a players’ strike, the first of which that cancelled regular season games. The conflict was resolved soon after, however. It was the first year that the Washington Senators had relocated to Dallas to become the Texas Rangers, leaving DC baseball-less until 2005. Generally, 1972 was a normal year in the baseball world.
All of that normalcy came to a screeching halt on New Year’s Eve.
In a tragedy that struck the sports world much like the death of basketball player Kobe Bryant earlier this year, Pittsburgh Pirates star outfielder Roberto Clemente was killed in a plane crash.
The purpose of this post today is not to talk about Clemente and his achievements on the diamond, but rather to honor him for his accomplishments off of the field.
Just seven days before Clemente died, a terrible earthquake struck Managua, the capital city of Nicaragua. The effects were disastrous – the
death count ranges anywhere from 4,000 to 11,000, and a shocking two-thirds of Managua’s 1,000,000 residents faced food shortages. To make matters worse, Nicaragua was being governed by a strongman dictator, Anastasia Somoza. When countries and individuals sent aid for the people affected by the earthquake, Somoza would keep the resources for himself and his inner circle, instead of delivering it to the people who needed it the most.
One person who was affected by this was Clemente. He arranged three relief flights sending aid to the victims of the Managua earthquake. Every aid package on each flight was intercepted by Somoza, making Clemente furious. He then chartered a fourth flight, which he flew on to make sure that the packages were delivered to those in need. And it was instantly after takeoff when Clemente’s plane fell. He and the other four passengers on the plane were killed.
After his death, the sports world was stunned. He didn’t die of a disease or an overdose on alcohol or drugs – he died trying to help other people. His spirit led to the creation of the Roberto Clemente Award, which is given to the player who “best exemplifies the game of baseball, sportsmanship, and community involvement.” The Nationals nominated Anthony Rendon last year for his work with the Nationals Youth Academy, and the winner of the 2019 award was Cleveland pitcher Carlos Carrasco.
It’s in the spirit of Clemente and his legacy of charity work that I ask you to help out local organizations on the frontlines of fighting the COVID-19 pandemic.
Now more than ever, we have to put all of our differences aside and instead focus on what connects us. COVID-19 doesn’t care what race you are, what gender you identify as, what political opinions you have, or even if you’re a Braves or Phillies fan. It’s affecting everybody in this country, and we must work together to support those who are so valiantly fighting this crisis head-on.
The undoubted heroes of the pandemic we currently face are our healthcare professionals. They are intentionally increasing the likelihood of their contracting of the virus to help save other people. Every state is facing a shortage of PPE equipment like surgical N95 masks, ventilators to help oxygenate patients, and tests for COVID-19. I’m asking, if you are able, to help support the people who are helping us by making a donation to Johns Hopkins medicine. Johns Hopkins runs many hospitals in the District and Maryland, including Sibley Hospital in Palisades, DC, Suburban Hospital in Bethesda, and their main facilities in Baltimore. Johns Hopkins is taking some of the swiftest actions to combat COVID-19, including developing and testing a therapeutic treatment for those who have recovered from the virus, and by developing a map of coronavirus cases worldwide. Yet, they still need PPE and other supplies to combat the virus. If you live outside of the DMV area, you can donate to your local hospital (Penn Medicine in Philadelphia and Columbia Medical Center in New York come to mind), but if you are local, I would strongly encourage (if you can) to support those working in the Johns Hopkins Medicine system.
Aside from the virus, two of the biggest and most pressing issues right now are the economic recession that stemmed from the virus, and the temporary closure of most small businesses, restaurants, and schools. This has led to unease in underserved communities across the country
– and has further exacerbated the socioeconomic divide in our nation’s largest cities. And just like he did after Hurricane Maria and during the government shutdown, celebrity chef Jose Andres is coming to the rescue. Andres, the brainchild behind some of DC’s best restaurants like Jaleo, America Eats Tavern, and Oyamel, has also launched a philanthropic endeavor called World Central Kitchen. You can read about all they’re doing to help combat and mitigate COVID-19 by clicking on the link, but in essence, Andres and his team are helping deliver fresh meals to underserved communities and helping small restaurants nationwide get back on their feet. I support World Central Kitchen and their message, and if you can, I encourage you to make a donation to them as well. Andres and his team have consistently helped communities in need for the last two years, and his mission is very inspiring. To add a local angle, Jose is moving his World Central Kitchen operations in Washington from his restaurants to Nationals Park, which will be used as a drive-thru free meal distribution center throughout the crisis. Once again, I encourage you to visit wck.org to make a donation to one of my favorite and most inspiring organizations.
I hope that all of my readers are doing well and listening to orders from the CDC to stay home and save lives. If you or someone you know is currently being affected by the virus, know that we are all collectively pulling for you in this fight against COVID-19. Because that’s what this challenge is – it’s a fight. No, it’s not a battle of traditional war. No, it’s not a benches-clearing brawl. No, it’s not winning the World Series after starting the year 19-31. But to get through this, we must do it together, we must support local foundations that support those who help us, but most importantly, we must listen to Davey Martinez. Stay in the fight. And if we stay home for however long is necessary, and treat this public health emergency for what it really is, then together, we will defeat COVID-19.
Stay in the fight,
There should be Nationals baseball being played today.
Opening Day represents a new beginning for all 30 MLB teams all vying to hoist the Commissioner’s Trophy at the end of the grueling season.
This Opening Day was supposed to be extra special for the Nats, as we were supposed to celebrate our team’s first championship in franchise history. I was extra excited to make the pilgrimage to New York for Sunday’s tilt against the Mets and get to rub our success in the faces of one of our biggest rivals. Today, we were supposed to watch Max Scherzer dominate the New York lineup and watch the new offense take on a difficult opponent in Jacob DeGrom. Instead, we’re stuck at home watching reruns of previous Opening Days and the magical playoff run of last season.
These unprecedented changes impact everyone involved in orchestrating the baseball season – from the players and high-ranking officials to the concession workers and security guards at Nationals Park. What should MLB do to ensure their safety while also allowing fans to enjoy one of the most special times of the baseball season?
As was announced a few weeks ago, Major League Baseball won’t start its season until at least mid-May. If the trajectory of cases of COVID-19 continues to increase at the rate which it has been recently, that mid-May date would likely be pushed back even further. In a best-case scenario where the season does start in May, a second “Spring Training” might be necessary for players to get back in the swing of things. That would even further delay the MLB season until early-to-mid June. Never in the history of Major League Baseball, a storied organization that can trace its roots back to the late 19th century and survived two World Wars, has Opening Day been pushed back more than one week. That was in 1981, when a players’ strike occurred.
There are a few proposals on how to play some sort of a full season once this pandemic ends. Commissioner Rob Manfred raised the idea of playing weekly doubleheaders of seven innings, which count as official games under the rulebook. Still, aside from the devoted fan base, having these weekly doubleheaders may worsen the attendance issue in MLB. Devoted baseball fans, or baseball purists like myself, might take issue with having seven-inning games instead of a traditional nine. Most importantly, the players may be opposed to playing eight or more games some weeks with the demanding travel schedule of an MLB team and with an inadequate amount of breaks in the schedule. Playoffs also might be pushed back as far as Christmas, which would not only provide for a weird phenomenon of having winter baseball but also cause the 2021 season to be delayed. This would also very likely mean that the World Series, or even the entirety of the playoffs, would be played at stadiums in the Sun Belt or in domed stadiums. I’ve never liked that the Super Bowl is played at a neutral site, and would be opposed to seeing a World Series between, say, the Yankees and Nationals, being played in Dallas or San Diego. Although having World Series games in domed stadiums would allow cities like Seattle to experience what it’s like to host a World Series, it takes away the special playoff atmosphere in a city. Additionally, it further constrains the amount and type of fans able to attend playoff/World Series games. Of course, if COVID-19 weakens by May, it is possible that games could be played without fans. This would admittedly create an eerie atmosphere (like the game played in Baltimore during the Freddie Gray riots in 2015) and would be financially devastating for owners, but the safety of fans and workers is paramount to financial security for the richest people in this country. Having these fanless games would require cases of COVID-19 to drop significantly before, but would be able to unite the country in a time of crisis and boost MLB’s popularity in the United States.
The issue of COVID-19’s impact on baseball goes far beyond the league’s money-makers in the Major Leagues. Minor leaguers are dealt with
extra financial insecurity in this time of crisis, a problem of income inequality that has existed in times of normalcy. For example, players on the Auburn Doubledays, the Nationals’ affiliate in the short-season New York-Penn League, can make as little as $20 per game in their seven-week season. MLB owners promised to pay minor leaguers’ salaries through April 8th, but as baseball will not be played until at least May, MLB needs to step up their game and promise to pay their minor leaguers their salaries, as they do for their major league players. Stories of minor leaguers like Randy Dobnak, who spent his 2019 season playing in the minor leagues while also driving for Uber and Lyft before starting game 2 of the ALDS for the Minnesota Twins, will only be exacerbated. Of course, demand for rideshare services and other “gig jobs” have plummeted during the crisis, as unemployment has skyrocketed. It’s up to MLB and owners to pay their minor leaguers a fair amount to make sure they’re able to get by during this time of crisis.
This also applies to stadium workers. Many athletes, specifically basketball players, have promised to donate some money to keep them afloat. For instance, Zion Williamson of the New Orleans Pelicans NBA team donated his money to cover the salaries of all arena employees for thirty days. While this selfless act helped employees of the Pelicans’ arena, it should not be up
to the players to donate millions of dollars to help employees. Gayle Benson, the owner of the Pelicans and New Orleans Saints NFL team, is worth $3.1 billion dollars. It’s safe to say that she has some spare change to help out her employees while New Orleans has been one of the epicenters of the COVID-19 outbreak in the United States. The Nationals have donated $1 million to support these workers, but MLB should encourage and require all owners to pay their employees even though games are not taking place. To make matters worse, many employees of the team are contracted through Levy Restaurants (concession stands) and CSC Security (security officers). Neither of these companies have publicly announced that their workers would be compensated, as they receive their pay on a game-by-game basis. Both companies, along with all companies that contract workers to MLB games, should make sure that all employees are paid even in this time of uncertainty.
While it sucks that we aren’t celebrating our Nationals’ return to the diamond today, we should all be glad that MLB is not putting lives at risk by holding games amidst this pandemic. However, Major League Baseball must make sure that every cog in the wheel which makes a season spin is properly compensated while many jobs are at risk. This pandemic is bigger than baseball and bigger than the economy. It’s about the lives of people, and if every MLB employee isn’t properly compensated, then there will be many more people who will be unable to afford many basic requirements in a time like this.
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One of the greatest joys of baseball is to see young fans meet their heroes. The anticipation for the players to come out of the dugout, all of the other kids holding out their pens and baseballs and hoping that by some mere chance you would come out with your favorite player’s signature on a baseball.
Not too long ago, I was that fan. At my first ever baseball game, I got a baseball thrown to me by Jose Reyes of the Mets. I stood in those scrums of other kids to try and get the autographs of Mike Trout, Giancarlo Stanton, Yadier Molina, and Josh Donaldson, to name a few. Once, I got former Nationals pitcher Jason Marquis to sign a bat that outfielder Willie Harris had given me – I just wanted the memory of the autograph and the interaction with my favorite players.
But this year, these encounters may not occur.
Over the last month, our lives have been consumed by the fear of a potential pandemic – the novel Wuhan coronavirus, or COVID-19. According to the Center for Disease Prevention and Control (CDC), the coronavirus is incredibly contagious. According to the CDC, the virus spreads if an infected person is within a six foot radius of another person, or through droplets created when an infected person coughs or sneezes. The most dangerous part of the coronavirus is that some people do not show symptoms even if they are infected.
This evidently causes a big problem for sports teams. Athletes aren’t just responsible for playing their sport – they are frequently in a locker room setting with many other people and are responsible for interacting with fans and creating special moments for children. If one player on the team is infected with coronavirus, the other members of the team are put at a very high risk of contracting the disease. In sports like basketball, hockey, and football, athletes are constantly making physical contact with each other at a higher rate than baseball. If a basketball player contracted the coronavirus, he wouldn’t just put his teammates at risk, but his opponents as well.
Dr. Fran Cogen of the Washington Nationals Diabetes Care Center at Children’s National Medical Center in Washington shares these concerns in the sports world. Cogen firmly believes that the public should not have “immense fear, but immense knowledge.” She is worried that contact between fans and players could put the players at risk. Her recommendation is that teams and players should be setting examples for the public, like by “washing hands for twenty seconds when appropriate, avoid touching their faces, and avoid using fans’ Sharpies [when signing autographs].”
Some sports leagues in high-risk areas have taken these precautions to the extreme. In Japan, the NPB baseball league is playing the remainder of their preseason games in front of an empty audience. The NPB features many future and former MLB players, including, yes, former Nationals outfielder Gerardo Parra. Similar measures were taken for the Italian Serie A soccer league. These precautionary procedures were reciprocated not far up the road in Baltimore, for the NCAA Division III basketball tournament at Johns Hopkins University. This came after a student and professor at one of the competing schools was diagnosed with coronavirus.
The Nationals have begun to take measures to try and prevent their players from contracting coronavirus. A statement made Saturday morning
read that the Nationals were no longer signing objects handed to them by fans – they would instead pass out autographed items before and during the game. Their signature Sunday program will have players autograph cards or programs, like at previous NatsFests and other team events.
Cogen doesn’t know whether or not the Nats and MLB should take precautions as serious as playing games in front of an empty audience. Although players themselves wouldn’t be at risk if that were the case, fans may. Cogen recommends that fans avoid “high fives, hugs and kisses” and “try to maintain appropriate space from one another,” which obviously can be difficult in a stadium for 40,000 people. She’s additionally concerned about food vendors, who if they are infected, could unknowingly transmit the virus to many people through their ballpark food.
As a fan, I would be devastated if this unfortunate series of events were to take place. The last time I visited Spring Training, it was an opportunity for me to get up close and personal with the players. I had a great conversation with former Nats relief pitcher Ryan Mattheus, way back when, one year at Spring Training. Taking away that experience for new baseball fans may make it harder for kids to grow to love the game of baseball. And if this policy were to be enacted for the first few weeks of the regular season, the Nationals would miss out on some of the most exciting events to experience as World Series champions – a ring ceremony and a banner unveiling. I know that each and every single National wants to celebrate that special moment with the fans that stood by them through the ups and downs. While MLB should make sure that all fans and players are safe and healthy, it would be devastating if such were to happen this year because of coronavirus.
Remember to wash your hands and please, stay healthy.
Thank you to Dr. Fran Cogen for helping me with this post!
Exciting news! MattsBats.com is coming to your favorite podcast provider! Hear an audio version of this post, perfect for your morning commute, at anchor.fm/matts-bats.
The champs are back.
After the shortest offseason in franchise history and the first where jubilation trumped the normal wintertime heartbreak, the Washington Nationals are getting ready to defend their title as World Series champions.
That sentence is as fun to write as it is to say.
It’s worth taking a look at how the Nationals won their first World Series before dissecting the team they bring into the 2020 season. Arguably the biggest storyline of the Nats’ World Series run was the way in which they actually did it. The Nationals went from an injury-struck team with high expectations yet poor performance through mid-May to the dominant World Series Champions spiritually led by a journeyman reserve outfielder, Baby Shark, and rose-colored promotional sunglasses. The 2019 Nationals sported a historically bad bullpen; only the lowly Orioles had a worse bullpen ERA than the World Series champion Nationals. Remember Trevor Rosenthal, Kyle Barraclough, and Matt Grace? They won it all with only four “real” starting pitchers; the fifth spot became a revolving door of rookies and journeymen. They did it with an unproven outfield, starting Victor Robles in center field on Opening Day although he hadn’t played a full season in the majors yet. Why did they have to start Robles? The man who made the Nationals a formidable World Series threat, Bryce Harper, left the team for the archrival Phillies, who offered Harper a 13 year contract worth an eye-popping $330 million. How ironic was it that the Nationals finally made it over the hump in Harper’s first pro season away from the team.
For all the flaws that the 2019 Nationals had, they were still a really good team. The left side of the infield was undoubtedly baseball’s best, with young shortstop Trea Turner and hitting machine Anthony Rendon leading the offensive charge. Juan Soto, the 20-year old phenom outfielder, played his first full season as a National. Ample production came out of second base, where Brian Dozier, Asdrubal Cabrera, and Howie Kendrick platooned for nearly the entire season, and catcher, where Yan Gomes and Kurt Suzuki gave the Nationals their best backstoppers since the departure of Wilson Ramos. The Nats got the biggest fish on the starting pitching free agent market in the 2018 offseason, Patrick Corbin, to join with Max Scherzer and Stephen Strasburg to make one of the league’s most dominant starting pitching rotations. It takes serious talent to go from 19-31 to the World Series champions, and these Nationals definitely had the talent the whole time.
General Manager Mike Rizzo did a very good job of “keeping the gang together” during this offseason. However, keeping the exact same World
Series-winning team for the next year seldom rarely works – you can ask the 2019 Boston Red Sox about that one. Let’s start with the subtractions from the 2019 team. The first, and most notable difference, from the 2019 Nationals is Anthony Rendon. The mild-mannered third baseman signed a mega contract with the Anaheim Angels paying him $245 million over the next seven years. Rendon, who is considered as one of the top third basemen in all of baseball, left a big hole at the hot corner and in the #3 spot for the Nationals to fill. This will sting the Nationals. They will have to rely heavily on another rookie, Carter Kieboom, to take the bulk of playing time at third base. He may platoon with Asdrubal Cabrera, but for the most part, Kieboom will have to step up his game to become an everyday player. Personally, I think he will be up to the challenge. Kieboom, who is ranked as the 21st best prospect in all of baseball, showed signs of pop in his bat during the brief time he spent in Washington last season. He’ll need to work on his fielding as it was a weakness of his during his big league stint last season, but if he is able to hone his skills in that facet of his game, Kieboom should be able to pick up Rendon’s slack. The Nats also (probably) lost Brian Dozier to free agency, who has yet to sign with a team but is almost certainly not returning to a Nationals team with four second basemen by trade. Dozier is a hard worker and a great teammate, and Nationals fans will never forget his shirtless “Calma” karaoke sessions in the locker room following playoff wins. Although he will be missed in the locker room, it doesn’t make any baseball sense for the Nats to sign him back at this point. Losing Gerardo Parra, the Nationals’ morale booster and fan favorite, though, might be as sentimentally devastating as any other free agent loss this offseason. Parra wasn’t only the fun-loving replacement outfielder with the earworm walk-up music; he served as a valuable bat off of the bench. He brought his baby shark and talents across the Pacific to the Yomiuri Giants of Japan.
The Nats also made their team a lot better in the offseason, firstly by re-signing lots of 2019 Nationals who were free agents after the 2019 season. Most notably, Mike Rizzo made the very important decision to re-sign Stephen Strasburg, the World Series MVP, to a contract friendly to both sides. Strasburg will make the same as Anthony Rendon in Anaheim, with a 7-year, $245 million contract. This was a fantastic decision from the front office, as the Nationals couldn’t afford (from a baseball standpoint) to lose Strasburg and be forced to look elsewhere for a fourth starter. Strasburg is a very valuable arm for the Nationals; he will be able to give Davey Martinez seven innings each night he pitches and leave just two innings to the bullpen. The Nats also did a lot to improve their bullpen in an attempt to improve the ghastly performance of the back end last year. Daniel Hudson, who was the closer down the stretch and made the famous final pitch to end Game 7 of the World Series, is back for the 2020 season, as is Sean Doolittle, Tanner Rainey, and Wander Suero. Hudson will likely be out of the closer role in the 2020 season, a role which Hudson is quoted saying he did not enjoy. Still, Hudson provides a solid bullpen arm that Davey Martinez will make liberal use of. Will Harris, who is famous in Nationals lore for giving up the home run in Game 7 to Howie Kendrick that turned the tide of the final game, is now a National himself, adding an elite bullpen arm to a bullpen that desperately needed one. The Nationals, like last year, also added some prospects and projects in an attempt to find a diamond in the rough. Kyle Finnegan is a young reliever acquired from Oakland and Ryne Harper was acquired recently from Minnesota who should add depth to the bullpen and should be more productive in the position than Trevor Rosenthal or Kyle Barraclough last year.
In the field, the Nationals have moved some pieces around to make up for the loss of Anthony Rendon. As mentioned earlier, Carter Kieboom will step into a role as the starting third baseman on Opening Day. The outfield will remain the same, patrolled by Adam Eaton, Victor Robles, and Juan Soto. At catcher, a position which the Nationals have historically struggled at, the Nats re-signed Yan Gomes to platoon with Kurt Suzuki behind the plate. This combination worked very well for the team last year, and should continue to be very successful. First base was another position in question for Rizzo and the Nationals. They went with an aging Ryan Zimmerman for the majority of the 2019 season, with Matt Adams and Howie Kendrick filling in for Zim on his off days. Along with bringing back Zimmerman, the Nationals signed Eric Thames from the Milwaukee Brewers on a one year contract. The Thames signing gives the Nationals a pure power hitter in their lineup – someone like Matt Adams but with a little more upside. I really like this signing – even if it means that this year will be a farewell tour for Zimmerman. Elsewhere in the infield, the Nationals signed Starlin Castro for second base. Castro will serve in a similar position to Brian Dozier last season, as he will split time with Howie Kendrick and Asdrubal Cabrera at second base. If he produces at the level he did in the second half of the 2019 season for the Miami Marlins, expect Castro to be more of an everyday second baseman. Kendrick and Cabrera, the most versatile players on the active roster, were both respectively re-signed this offseason. The Nationals hope that the two can replicate their effectiveness displayed during the entire 2019 playoffs.
As it stands right now, the Nationals will look roughly like this when they take the field on March 27 at Citi Field in Queens.
Catcher – Kurt Suzuki
First Base – Eric Thames
Second Base – Starlin Castro
Third Base – Carter Kieboom
Shortstop – Trea Turner
Left Field – Juan Soto
Center Field – Victor Robles
Right Field – Adam Eaton
Bench – Ryan Zimmerman, Howie Kendrick, Asdrubal Cabrera, Yan Gomes, Andrew Stevenson
Starting Pitching – Max Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg, Patrick Corbin, Anibal Sanchez, Erick Fedde/Joe Ross/Austin Voth
Relief Pitching – Sean Doolittle, Will Harris, Daniel Hudson, Kyle Finnegan, Ryne Harper, Wander Suero, Tanner Rainey, Hunter Strickland
This roster is very competitive. Washington’s starting pitching is the best in all of baseball with a 3-time Cy Young award winner, the reigning World Series MVP, and one of the top five left handed starting pitchers in all of baseball. Not to mention Anibal Sanchez, who almost no-hit the St. Louis Cardinals in the first game of the National League Championship Series. The bullpen is greatly improved thanks to the addition of Harris, as he’ll join Hudson and Doolittle for a back end capable to shut down opposing hitters after facing a Scherzer or Strasburg start. The speedy Trea Turner and productive Adam Eaton will go one-two in the lineup, followed by Juan Soto, Starlin Castro, and Eric Thames. Over the season, Carter Kieboom should become more reliable to hit in the five or six spot in the lineup, but he will likely start towards the bottom like Victor Robles did last year. This team is very well-rounded and has the talent to make another run at the World Series.
All that stands in their way is a very talented NL East. Aside from the Miami Marlins, you could make a good argument for any team to go ahead and
win the NL East. Atlanta, last year’s division champions, feature a deep lineup with many young stars. The Braves sport a five-tool talent in Ronald Acuna, an elite power hitter in Freddie Freeman, and a true ace in Mike Soroka. This team is really good, and it keeps getting better; they picked up Marcell Ozuna in free agency to team up with Acuna and Ender Inciarte this offseason. The New York Mets, regardless of the tire fire in the front office, still sport a very good baseball team. Jacob deGrom is probably the best pitcher in baseball right now, and he makes up part of a deadly rotation with Noah Syndergaard and Marcus Stroman. The bullpen has starpower, with Dellin Betances, Edwin Diaz, and Jeurys Familia being lights-out relievers if they return back to their prior form. They’ve got the reigning rookie of the year and bonafide slugger in Pete Alonso, and have other young talent like Jeff McNeil and J.D. Davis rounding out their lineup. In Philadelphia, the strength of the team lies within its lineup. Led by Bryce Harper and Rhys Hoskins, the Phillies’ lineup is a nice balance between power hitters and consistent average hitters. J.T. Realmuto is the best all-around catcher in the league, and the middle infield is strong with Jean Segura and new addition Didi Gregorius. On the mound, their bullpen is a liability (but we said the same about last year’s Nationals). Still, they have a dominant top three in the rotation, with Aaron Nola, Jake Arrieta, and Zack Wheeler. The poor Marlins are going to have a tough time building for the future with this talent in their division. While it’ll be a dogfight, I think the Braves will win their third consecutive division title, with the Nationals in the Wild Card game for a second straight year. The top four in the division will be within no more than seven games of each other when the season ends, so really, it’s anyone’s division.
I really like the team that the Nationals are going into the new year with. Will they be able to replicate the magical season of last year? Probably not. But as Davey Martinez says, if the Nationals can just go 1-0 every day, who knows what could happen.
Missing the championship run of last year? Check out my interviews and posts from the magical playoff run –
The Nationals’ League
A Nationals Parade
Navy Yard Businesses See Boom In Business During World Series
Meet the Nationals’ Youngest Fans from All Things Considered, WAMU NPR Radio
Fox 5 Interviews Before Game 1 of World Series