I recently had the amazing opportunity to interview the Commissioner of Major League Baseball, Rob Manfred, about his new youth baseball initiatives.
Ever since taking the reins as Commissioner in 2015, Manfred has done a great job encouraging young kids to try out our National Pastime to become fans for life and future players of the sport. This season, with the exciting new launch of the Play Ball initiatives, I was lucky enough to talk to him about the state of the MLB’s youth initiatives.
Matt’s Bats – Can you please briefly explain Major League Baseball’s youth initiatives and why the league is working on this?
Rob Manfred – All of our youth initiatives are under the umbrella of Play Ball. We have programs designed to reach all sorts of kids, including softball programs, baseball programs, and programs to revive baseball in the inner cities, which are grassroots programs in under-served communities. The MLB Youth Academies and the League Development Invitational are designed for kids who may have a future as professional or college players. It’s an across the board approach to try to get kids of all levels playing the game.
MB – How do you think these programs will help get kids back into baseball?
RM – Play Ball has a focus on simpler ways to engage with the game. One of the impediments to kids playing baseball is that people think you need 18 kids in uniforms and an umpire. We want kids playing the game in a simpler way, whether its Wiffleball, Hot Box, catch, or Home Run Derby. There are a lot of simpler games kids can play that are enjoyable and athletic, without needing 18 kids on the field.
MB – These programs can also encourage kids from inner cities that might not have the field space to play a true baseball game, to play games that are like baseball.
Why did you reach out to Ken Griffey, Jr. to lead the initiative as an ambassador?
RM – Two reasons. First, star power drives kids’ interest. Junior was probably the greatest player of his generation. He has a wonderful personality and an infectious smile.
Second, since his retirement he has shown a lot of interest in youth baseball. He has a long relationship with the Boys and Girls Club. We thought he was the perfect ambassador.
MB – I’m a Nats fan, so I was really excited to see the support of former Expos player Marquis Grissom too.
RM – Marquis runs a great program in Atlanta. Our former players are a huge asset helping kids more interested in baseball. They know and understand the game better than anyone. They are passionate about engaging kids because they believe its the future of our game.
MB – What life lessons can baseball teach kids?
RM – First, teamwork. There’s no sport that’s more of a team game than baseball. No matter how good you are, if you don’t have good teammates around you, you can’t win. Second, the ability to overcome failure. Baseball is a very hard game. The best hitter only succeeds 1 in 3 times and you need to be able to work from your failure to be more successful next time you’re up.
MB – Why are the league’s youth initiatives so important to have now?
RM – The competition for youth players’ time is greater than ever before – there are a lot more sports choices they can make. Each and every sport is trying to get kids to specialize in only one sport, which only increases the competition. Baseball needs to make sure it is putting its best foot forward.
MB – On a different subject, Major League Baseball is obviously a men’s league, but when do you think there will be a woman on the field in an MLB uniform, maybe either as an umpire or coach?
RM – I think its really important that our on-field personnel, players, coaches, and umpires, reflect the diversity of our fan base and I’m hopeful that we’ll have a woman on the field in some capacity in the not too distant future.
MB – Finally, when is the next big youth baseball event that the league is sponsoring?
RM – There will be an exciting announcement up in the Bronx, opening a new MLB Academy at Roberto Clemente Park. [MLB announced the opening of the Academy on Wednesday, July 20, 2016, the day after this interview was conducted]. The opportunity to have an Academy at a park named for one of the game’s greatest stars is a really exciting one.
As you can see, there MLB recognizes the importance of getting kids involved in the sport of baseball. Since I am such a fan of baseball and write about my experiences with the game through the viewpoint of a kid, I was very happy to hear about Commissioner Manfred’s plans for the future of the sport. Keep reading my MLB Pro blog MattsBats.com and follow on Twitter and Instagram. I’m going to be covering a lot of cool things this summer–including I’LL BE AT THE WHITE HOUSE TODAY AS PRESIDENT OBAMA WELCOMES THE 2015 WORLD SERIES CHAMPION KANSAS CITY ROYALS.
Last year, during his first season with the Washington Nationals, ace of the staff Max Scherzer launched a charity called Baseball Cards for a Cause. Max autographed fans’ baseball cards in exchange for a donation to the Washington Nationals Youth Baseball Academy. This was a fundraiser Max and his wife, Erica May-Scherzer, started when Max was in Detroit on the Tigers, and I think that it’s great that the Scherzers brought it with them to Washington. I participated in the fundraiser last year, and thought it was a fun way to support a great cause. I now have in my collection the autograph of one of baseball’s best pitchers, and it’s even personalized to me. I had a chance to talk with Max and Erica about their charities, and Max answered the most important questions about his autograph signing programs.
This year, the Scherzers are expanding their autograph and fan engagement programs to help even more charities. In addition to participating in Cards for a Cause again this year (more details on the expanded program below), there are three more ways he’s helping the community: Autographs and Athletes, Strike Out Modern Slavery, and The Scherzer Showdown. I’ll explain each one below and the different worthy causes each supports.
Autographs and Athletes – Autographs and Athletes is like last year’s Baseball Cards for a Cause, but kicked up a notch. Now, fans seeking autographs are not limited to sending in a baseball card. You send in your favorite items, like a baseball, photo, or ticket stub, and Max will sign it and return it to you. All the details are online here: polarisproject.org/autographs-athletes All the money raised supports a charity called Polaris, a leading charity in the global fight to eradicate modern slavery. I asked Erica why they chose to support Polaris with the Autographs and Athletes program: “I’m an ambassador for the organization and have worked closely with them for the last year. I cannot say enough positive things about how much I love Polaris and how impactful the work they are doing is. Human trafficking is an issue that so many people are unaware or misinformed of, despite the fact that it impacts over 21 million people globally. By supporting Polaris with these fundraisers Max and I can not only raise money for the National Human Trafficking Hotline (which Polaris operates), but also help bring attention to the cause.”
Fans paying close attention on Twitter may have noticed recently that Max has already started signing some of the items that have been mailed in.
— Polaris (@Polaris_Project) June 28, 2016
In a recent interview, Max told me, “I’m signing them in groups so my fans can get their items sooner. I just signed 120….Depending how many more come I’ll sign one or two more times” before the season ends. So, I wanted to know what it’s like signing all those cards. He can’t get a cramp in his pitching hand! “It doesn’t really hurt my hand too much since I’m used to signing all the time,” Max told me. “I can sign about 500 items in one sitting before my hand hurts and I’m mentally fatigued.”
Strike Out Modern Slavery– Also in support of Polaris, Max is organizing a pledge drive for each strike out this season. As Nats fans know, Max can serve up quite a few strikeouts– as many as 20 in a single game! Fans are encouraged to make a pledge on the website (as little as $0.31 a strikeout), and Max and Erica will match all donations up to $25,000. Everyone who pledges is entered into a drawing to win Nationals prizes like Scherzer-signed baseballs and Nationals tickets. For more information and to pledge a donation to Polaris, visit pledgeit.org/maxscherzer. So far, this charity has raised just under $10,000.
The Scherzer Showdown– For the second year in a row, Max Scherzer and fellow Nationals teammates are hosting a fantasy football draft benefiting the Washington Nationals Youth Baseball Academy. Sponsored by the Washington Nationals Dream Foundation, the Youth Baseball Academy (“YBA”) teaches DC area kids about how to stay healthy and have a good education. The YBA integrates the STEM curriculum into baseball, like teaching math using Nats’ player batting averages. “They are such a well run organization that is focused on at-risk youth development,” Erica told me. “I was very excited when Max signed with a city that had a youth academy. Sports have such power beyond the field and can truly make a life changing difference in countless kid’s lives.” When you sign up for the Scherzer Showdown, not only do you attend a fantasy football draft with Max and his teammates, but fans play fantasy football with the players all season. This is such an awesome idea for a fundraiser, and a great way for players to interact with their fans. For more info and to sign up for the draft, visit scherzershowdown.com!
Cards for a Cause- The Cards for a Cause autograph program is back for 2016, but a little different this year. By making a donation to the Nationals Dream Foundation, fans will receive a limited edition Dream Foundation baseball card, presented by TOPPS, which will be autographed by your choice of Max Scherzer, Jonathan Papelbon or Shawn Kelley. It will also be authenticated by MLB. At the end of the regular season, Scherzer, Papelbon and Kelley will will match all funds raised by their individual baseball card with a charitable donation of their own.
It’s great to know that the stars of our hometown baseball team like to give back to the community and to charities that mean a lot to them. I strongly encourage you to help them out, and maybe get a nice autograph for yourself or a friend.
Since I was diagnosed with Type 1 Diabetes (“juvenile diabetes) last October, I have been using my website and social media to raise money and awareness for this life-long autoimmune disease that kills the cells in your pancreas that make insulin. I was helped by the wonderful nurses and doctors at Children’s National Medical Center in Washington, who helped me understand this new disease and how I can take care of it. Ever since, I’ve been going to frequent classes and doctor’s appointments at the Washington Nationals Diabetes Care Complex (“WNDCC”).
The WNDCC hosts an annual player visit, where the players come and hang out with the kids. Last week, relief pitchers Sammy Solis and Blake Treinen came to meet about two dozen of the WNDCC patients, as well as some kids from the Washington Nationals Youth Baseball Academy. One of the activities was making healthy, carb-friendly snacks. Even though Type 1 diabetes is NOT caused by unhealthy eating or poor exercise habits, people with Type 1 diabetes need to monitor the amount of carbs they eat because they need to take an injection of insulin to help the body “digest” it since their own bodies can no longer make insulin.
The first event was an interview panel inside Seacrest Studio, which is a TV/radio studio inside the hospital. It broadcasts throughout the hospital so kids can tune in from their rooms. I was one of the kids chosen to ask the players questions. I asked Blake Treinen about how he reacted when he learned he was in a Jeopardy! question during the offseason.
He told me that he did not know he was going to be mentioned. He was “stunned” that he was mentioned on the show because the rest of the people in the category were Hall of Famers. He said his grandparents were at home watching the show and “literally fell off their rockers” when his name was mentioned.
Another kid on the panel asked Blake and Sammy what their favorite ballparks were, other than Nationals Park. Blake said that he liked Petco Park in San Diego. After the Q&A, I told him that Petco was my favorite too. Sammy said that he went to college in San Diego, and for the rest of the day, I was “Mr. San Diego” to the two of them.
After the interview, the players and patients left the studio and went back to the WNDCC rooms. First, I helped make snacks, like a skewer with meat, cheese, and vegetables, a lemon hummus, and “pizza popcorn.” It’s funny– I don’t really like pizza or popcorn, but I did like the pizza-flavored popcorn that I made. Sammy helped us make the popcorn.
We then moved on to Blake’s station, which was in the WNDCC exercise room. There were a bunch of different stretches, machines, and ways to keep yourself healthy in the mini-gym. I liked the machines we were able to use, like the elliptical and the exercise bike. Blake was pitching in a Wii baseball showdown with the patients present at the event. I did fine against him, getting 2 “hits” off errors. It was a really fun day.
After the activities, the nurses and doctors working the event led us outside, where we met Blake and Sammy sitting at a table. Topps, the sports card company, was there, and they made custom baseball cards for the patients and attendees. Sammy and Blake asked us to sign a card for them, they signed a card for us, and then we got a stack of custom cards. Also, the favors included a brand new Nats hat, and a pack of real Topps baseball cards.
It made me feel good that the players take time out of a game day to help kids at the hospital. I like seeing players give back to the community, and this is what happened on Wednesday.
I can’t wait until the next time this will take place. Wednesday was such a fun day!
The NHL’s expected announcement Wednesday afternoon of new expansion teams got me thinking about where Major League Baseball should go next. In 2005, the Montreal Expos relocated to Washington, D.C. to become the Nationals, leaving a hole for fans of America’s pastime who live North of the Border. Today, as NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman discusses his league’s plans to bring hockey to new cities, I’m sure Major League Baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred is also thinking where the MLB may expand in coming years.
One of the places Manfred has reportedly talked about bringing a new MLB team is back to Montreal, and I think the Expos deserve a second life. One of the reasons that the team moved in the first place is because the city of Montreal couldn’t afford a new ballpark in the downtown area of the city. Now that people are talking about expanding the league or possibly relocating teams with smaller fan bases and aging stadiums (like the Tampa Bay Rays and the Oakland Athletics), I think that Montreal deserves its Expos back.
Baseball has a rich history in Montreal, as explored by former Grantland writer Jonah Keri in his excellent book Up, Up, and Away: The Kid, the Hawk, Rock, Vladi, Pedro, le Grand Orange, Youppi!, the Crazy Business of Baseball, and the Ill-fated but Unforgettable Montreal Expos. I learned a lot about the long history of baseball in Montreal from reading that book. A team named the Montreal Royals played in the Eastern League for 20 seasons until the Brooklyn Dodgers purchased the team and made them their Triple-A affiliate. The Royals’ best player was future legend Jackie Robinson, who was sent to the Royals after Branch Rickey signed him to the memorable deal that eventually broke the color barrier in the MLB. Soon after the Royals left, their stadium, Delorimier Downs, was destroyed. This hurt the team that was soon going to report to Montreal. When the Royals left, optimistic mayor Jean Drapeau put in a bid for an MLB franchise. He got what he asked for, in 1969 and the Expos were created.
Fast-forward now to 1981. The Expos grew from a mediocre expansion team to the team analysts called the “team of the 80’s.” Led by stars (and even a couple of future Hall of Famers) like Andre Dawson and Gary Carter, and also Warren Cromartie, the ’81 Expos were a very deep and good team. After a strike that split the season, the Expos finished in first place and moved into a playoff berth. The Expos faced the Philadelphia Phillies, the team that won the NL East in the 1st half of the split season, in the new NLDS. The ’81 Expos were the first Canadian team to ever make the MLB playoffs, and had the entire country behind their back. (The Toronto Blue Jays did not yet exist).
The 1981 Expos played an exciting series against the Philadelphia Phillies. After winning the first two games of the playoff series at Olympic Stadium, the Phils forced a 5-game series. In the final game, the Expos did not score off Phillies ace Steve Carlton until the 5th inning, when the Expos scored 2 against Carlton. The Expos put another one on the board in the 6th, and kept the shutout lead for the rest of the game. The Expos had moved on to the second round, now facing the very talented pitching of the Los Angeles Dodgers. But after several really exciting games (including a complete game shutout by Ray Burris), the Expos lost the series to the eventual World Series winner.
That’s just one of the many heartbreaking moments in Expos history. Another was in 1994. The Expos had a wonderful team, headlined by Larry Walker and Pedro Martinez. The team got off to a blistering start, but the season was interrupted again, coincidentally, by a strike. MLB team owners committee proposed a salary cap, and, boy, did that not go well with the MLBPA. The final games of the season were played on August 11, 1994, and MLB finally canceled the season on September 14, 1994. The Expos had an incredible record of 74-40 when the ’94 season was called, 6 games up on the Atlanta Braves. Frank Thomas, the slugger for the White Sox, said about his year that “We picked a bad season to have a good year.” Again, the best hopes of a World Series title were gone.
Ten years later, Montreal bid its Expos adieu. Olympic Stadium, built almost 30 years earlier for the 1976 Summer Olympics, was not really liked by the fans because it was literally falling apart. Instead, the Expos played 22 home games at Hiram Bithorn Stadium in San Juan, Puerto Rico that final season. But it was a very disappointing season for the Expos, which finished last in the NL East with a horrifying record of 67-95.
The team moved to DC to start the 2005 season. With the 4th selection in the draft, the new Washington Nationals acquired young third baseman from UVA, Ryan Zimmerman, who would go on to become the “face of the franchise” for the Nationals for their first decade. In 2005, the Nationals finished with a respectable .500 record (81-81), a feat the team would not match again until 2012 (OK, maybe they would have in 2011, but the team finished 80-81 because a rain out game earlier in the season was not made up).
So to those who don’t remember, the Expos had some exciting times in Montreal, with some really spectacular ballplayers. The fan base is still there, despite the bad attendance totals in the team’s last few seasons. I think low attendance at games in the late years of the Expos were likely due to the fact that the stadium was a huge, crumbling mess that no one wanted to go to. For the last 3 years, the Blue Jays and MLB have hosted exhibition games at Olympic Stadium. In only 2 games the first year, the exhibition games drew a whopping crowd of 96,000 people. Add to the momentum that former Expo Warren Cromartie has started the Montreal Baseball Project, which is dedicated to bringing a MLB team back to the Montreal area. It’s nice to see that the former players want their former team to be back in the city they grew to love.
In addition to having the history and fan base, Montreal is at least on equal footing with other possible expansion cities that need new ballpark to house a team. But at least Montreal has Olympic Stadium to use in the meantime, unlike many of the other contenders. Some of the cities that were considered in 2005 when the Expos were up for relocation were Las Vegas, Monterrey, Mexico, and Portland, Oregon. None of these cities has a temporary home for a new team: Portland has only a 22,000 seat facility in Providence Park and Monterrey a 27,000 baseball stadium; Las Vegas currently has houses no professional sports teams. Another option for an expansion team, Charlotte, NC, just built a new ballpark for the Charlotte Knights (AAA affiliate of the White Sox), but would the city really invest in a new MLB ballpark too? Other citites also rumored to want a baseball team, like Columbus, Ohio, or Indianapolis are in too close proximity to other MLB teams, and baseball probably wouldn’t a repeat of the broadcast territory disputes that have gone on between the Washington Nationals and Baltimore Orioles. There’s been talk about the Oakland A’s leaving O.co Stadium for San Jose. That’s a city with pro sports successes– NHL’s San Jose Sharks and MLS’s San Jose Earthquakes–and I think that is where the Oakland A’s will eventually build a new stadium. But if baseball is going to give life to a new team, I think the best choice is back in Montreal.
What are your thoughts about MLB expansion? Comment below or Tweet me @MattsBats.
This is a special post about how you can help me raise money for a very important charity, and also win amazing autographed and game-used sports memorabilia. Please click on http://www2.jdrf.org/goto/mattsbats and read below.
Last October, after being rushed to the emergency room of Childrens’ National Medical Center in Washington, DC, I was diagnosed with Type 1 Diabetes. Type 1 Diabetes is an autoimmune disease where your immune system attacks all the cells in your pancreas that produce insulin, a hormone vital to changing food into energy and keeping you alive. Although no one knows what causes Type 1 Diabetes (it is some combination of genetics and exposure to something in the environment), this form of diabetes is a lifelong disease, and currently there is no cure for it. About 1.25 million Americans have Type 1 Diabetes, and usually it is diagnosed as a kid, which is why it is sometimes known as “juvenile” diabetes (although it lasts all your life).
If you’ve heard the term “diabetes” from friends, relatives or on TV, most likely they were referring to Type 2 Diabetes, a much more common, although totally different, form of the disease. About 30 million people in America (about 9% of the population) have Type 2 diabetes. Unlike Type 1, their bodies are still able to make insulin, but they can still get very sick unless they improve their diet and exercise or take medicines to help jumpstart their bodies to make enough insulin to meet their needs.
Most of the time, if someone is suffering from a chronic disease, there are some kinds of signs or symptoms you can recognize. If you looked at me, you would never know I have a chronic disease. But I do have to pay very close attention to my medical needs. I need to constantly balance my blood sugar levels with my need for insulin, which I do by giving myself a shot of insulin at least 4 times a day (before meals and one basal injection as well). I have to know when I am going to eat, what I am going to eat, how many grams of carbohydrates are in my meals, and how much insulin to inject to balance the carb intake, and how much activity I am going to be engaging in. I also wear a continuous glucose monitor (CGM) to make sure that my blood sugar is not too high, or even more important, not too low, which can lead to a very serious hypoglycemia emergency. That’s why I also carry some candy around in case my blood sugar drops, and I need a sugar boost to avoid getting shaky or even passing out. This is what goes through the head of everyone with Type 1 Diabetes all day. It’s especially hard as a kid, because you have to learn all about the disease and how to treat it, while keeping up with all your non-diabetic friends who can eat whatever they want (whenever they want) or workout as hard as they can without even thinking about it.
Fortunately, my diabetes hasn’t stopped me from doing anything. I still go to school, play sports, and hang out with friends. And I still write MattsBats.com, my baseball blog. If you don’t yet know about me, I am the youngest Pro Blogger on MLB.com’s blogging website. I’ve gotten to travel to lots of different ballparks, meet players and broadcasters, go behind the scenes of Major League Baseball. I’ve covered sports events across the country from Wrigley Field to Fenway Park, and from the red carpet in Hollywood to the White House. Since I’ve been diagnosed, I’ve also met athletes with Type 1 Diabetes and I am using my blogging and social media to raise money and awareness for great organizations that are helping to cure Type 1 Diabetes.
This is where I need your help!
I have started a team to participate in the JDRF One Walk event on the National Mall on June 5, 2016. My goal is to raise $11,000 this year– $1,000 for each year of my age. I know that sounds really ambitious, but in the past MattsBats.com readers have helped me raise almost that much for cancer charity.
So I am asking all my readers to sign up to walk with my friends and family, or to consider making a donation to JDRF. The JDRF is the leading international non-profit organization dedicated to finding a cure for Type 1 diabetes. I recently met with the CEO of JDRF, Derek Rapp, at their Type 1 Nation Research Summit, to ask him how JDRF is going to use the money donated by supporters.
Here is where it gets very exciting!
Some of my friends from the baseball world have generously donated some awesome game-used and autographed memorabilia to help support me and help me raise money for my JDRF One Walk team. For example, Washington Nationals pitcher Max Scherzer and his wife Erica donated a bunch of unique autographed items, including some items celebrating his two no-hitters in the 2016 season.
Nationals first baseman Ryan Zimmerman and his wife Heather have given me one of Ryan’s used baseball bats and some batting gloves, which he autographed. There is a lot more very cool items from other baseball players, as well as other professional athletes. New items are still coming in from other sports teams!
These items will be available to bid on in an auction, and 100% of the money will go to JDRF.
Ready to Bid? Let’s Get Started!!
If you aren’t able to win the auction items, I will be giving things away free to anyone who supports me with donations to my One Walk team, or who signs up to walk with me. Other items will be available to people who help me promote my fundraising on social media.
Stay tuned to MattsBats.com and @MattsBats on Twitter to learn how you can bid on or win these unique items.
Also, please click here to join “Team Matt’s Bats” on my JDRF One Walk team or donate money to my fundraising campaign. http://www2.jdrf.org/goto/mattsbats
Even if you don’t donate money or come to the event, you should read these facts about T1D, so at least you get a little bit of education about it.
Thanks so much for everyone who chooses to donate or to come to the JDRF One Walk and become a member of “Team Matt’s Bats” or even just retweets me or copies this post on Facebook!
The first 10 games of the Nationals season have already been played, and the Nats are off to a 9-1 start, the best record in the bigs and the best record to start a season in DC baseball history. They already have a 5-game lead in the NL East over the Mets and Phillies. While records are meaningless at this point in the season, a large lead right out of the gate might be too much for the rest of the division to overcome. This start is some sort of amazing, and is a very, very good sign to a special season for the Washington Nationals. The question is, why are the Nationals, led by almost the same players as 2015, doing so much better? In this post, I will tell you what the Nats have done right this season.
WHAT HAVE THE NATS DONE RIGHT?
Daniel Murphy and Bryce Harper getting on base
Daniel Murphy, the former Met who led his team to the World Series, was signed by the Nationals to a 3 year, $37.5 million contract on Christmas Eve, a nice present for Nationals fans. On Opening Day, Murphy hit a towering home run to center field and doubled down the line in extras to win the game for the Nats. Since then, Murphy has continued his tear, and leads the league with a .438 average. Bryce Harper, on the other hand, has been what everyone expected out of him. Harper already has 5 home runs, putting him in a tie with 4 others for 2nd, only behind rookie phenom Trevor Story. Harper is also tied for 1st in the league (with Nolan Arenado) in RBIs, and the two together have been a dominant force in the lineup.
Joe Ross and Tanner Roark pitching very nicely
After losing Jordan Zimmermann and Doug Fister to free agency, the Nats needed someone to fill the last starter role, behind Max Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg, and Gio Gonzalez. Joe Ross and Tanner Roark both are really good options, and they’ve been pitching really well this year. In 2 outings, Ross has been phenomenal. In a 4-2 victory over the Miami Marlins on Sunday, April 10, Ross went 7 innings, and gave up 1 run. He also struck out 5 (and gave me a fantasy baseball win over my brother). Roark has also been great. While he lost the home opener to the Marlins, Roark bounced back, beating the Braves 3-0. He went 7 sparkling innings, and struck out 4. Neither was a lock to make the rotation out of Spring, but they’ve been playing great.
The bullpen has been lights out
Last season, the bullpen was one of the worst parts of the team. That bullpen had Drew Storen, Matt Thornton, Casey Janssen and Aaron Barrett, who are no longer on the team anymore. This year, Dusty Baker’s 100-pitch limit for starters has been great, with the bullpen getting key outs. Jonathan Papelbon has been a great closer, going 5/5 in saves. Felipe Rivero, acquired in the Jose Lobaton deal, has been very good himself, with a 1.80 ERA and a save. Blake Treinen and his 100 mph slider has been really promising, with already matching his win total from last season (2). New recruit Oliver Perez boasts a 0.00 ERA, as does Shawn Kelley, another new signee. The bullpen has done a great job, and the Nats hope the ‘pen keeps it up for the whole season.
Today is Opening Day! The baseball season, after what seems like forever, is finally back! Today I share with you my predictions for the 2016 MLB season, with a “player to watch” on each time.
5. Philadelphia Phillies
If you look at Philadelphia’s roster this year, you’d think that they’d never win a game all season. Even the loss of Jonathan Papelbon seemed to hurt them. However, expect a productive year from Odubel Herrera. He is one of my favorite rookies to watch for both his consistent hitting and solid defense. But they still finish last in the NL East.
4. Atlanta Braves
The Braves seem to be planning for the future. They got a steal in 2 of the D-Backs’ prized prospects in Touki Toissant and Dansby Swanson, and dealt Shelby Miller to Arizona. Atlanta also has Freddie Freeman, who seems like the only homegrown Brave not traded away. Watch for Jace Peterson this year. I see 20 homers and a good bit of RBIs out of him this year. With many candidates for 2nd now out of Atlanta, I see him playing a lot.
3. Miami Marlins
It’s really hard to put a team with Jose Fernandez and Giancarlo Stanton in 3rd place, but that is always where Miami seems to end up. Miami’s outfield is stacked. Marcell Ozuna, Stanton, Ichiro Suzuki, and Christian Yelich all will have time patrolling one of the largest outfields in the league. The Fish also had a promising closer in Carter Capps, who the Marlins will lose due to Tommy John Surgery. Justin Bour will be a quality player this year. He always has some pop in the bat, and will start at first for the Marlins this year. But they rank below the Nats and Mets.
2. New York Mets
Why did the Mets do so well in the playoffs? Who was that one guy that everyone was praising? That man was Daniel Murphy. Well, he’s now in DC. The Mets still have a pretty darn good lineup, consisting of All-Stars such as Yoenis Cespedes, Matt Harvey, and David Wright. The Mets will have another old-fashioned dogfight to the top, but the Nats will get the edge this time. My player to watch is Juan Lagares. He is an absolute Nat killer, but he plays awesome defense and can hit a couple of homers along the way, too.
1. Washington Nationals
There are a lot of reasons why I’m picking Washington in first this year. Firstly, their rotation is very good. Gio Gonzalez, who would go 1st or 2nd in many rotations, has the 3rd spot in ours. Joe Ross looks like he will have a very bright future. Secondly, even with the loss of Denard Span, our outfield is still on point. Jayson Werth, Bryce Harper, and Ben Revere are all top-of-the-line outfielders and will be productive, supplemented by Michael A. Taylor. Lastly, I think that the Nats deserve revenge on the Mets. Don’t forget- it’s an even year! (Nats division champs in 2012, 14). Keep your eye on Trea Turner. He’s not getting the nod on Opening Day, but will be up by the end of the season!
5. Tampa Bay Rays
Tampa is a good team but in a very tough division. They’ve got one of the game’s top rising stars in Chris Archer, and still have Evan Longoria at the hot corner. Also in Tampa is Steven Souza, who is famous in DC for saving Jordan Zimmermann’s no-hitter in September 2014. But my value pick here is Corey Dickerson. I think he will have some amazing stats for the Rays down in Florida. Some home runs, some RBIs, and some stolen bases, along with possibly some defensive stats. But I still put them at the bottom of the Division.
4. Boston Red Sox
Enter the David Ortiz goodbye trail. As with Derek Jeter, I think that the Red Sox will not make the playoffs in their star’s last season. Luckily for them, the Sox have some players coming up in the system. Blake Swihart and Mookie Betts have already made their first statements last year, as did Eduardo Rodriguez. They will have a tough time against their division (as with Tampa), but you have to cut them some slack. They are a very good team. The player to keep your eye on is Steven Wright. A pitcher out of Torrance, CA, Wright is a knuckleballer and will throw some quality innings for the Sox. I know that firsthand because I was able to see him in action when I visited Boston over Memorial Day weekend last year.
3. New York Yankees
You might want to re-name the Yankees the New York Retirees after this season. Their best players- Jacoby Ellsbury, Mark Teixeira (from Annapolis), and Brian McCann to name a few are all aging. The retirements of the “core four,” Derek Jeter, Mariano Rivera, Andy Pettite, and Jorge Posada really hurt the Yankees, and the others aren’t going to be in pinstripes much longer. But one of the rising young stars is Dellin Betances. Watch him for the Yanks’ bullpen, shutting down the game as the closer.
2. Baltimore Orioles
Some of the offseason’s prized pick-ups were eventually Baltimore-bound. Mark Trumbo, Pedro Alvarez, and Odrisamer Despaigne all signed contracts with Baltimore this year. Those join J.J. Hardy, Manny Machado, and Adam Jones up at OPACY. Pitching won’t be a problem for Baltimore, as Kevin Gausman, Chris Tillman, and Yovani Gallardo headline the rotation and Zach Britton mans the closer position. But the player I like is Hyun-Soo Kim. An outfielder out of South Korea, Kim was signed by the O’s in one of their many major splashes. Kim was the 2008 KBO (Korea Baseball Organization) batting champ. Although he didn’t make the Opening Day roster, I think he will make a huge contribution to the Orioles this year when he’s called up.
1. Toronto Blue Jays
O Canada! The Jays didn’t disappoint last year, and should have made it to the World Series. The Jays improved even though they didn’t necessarily need to. Power is the key word in Toronto. Josh Donaldson, Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion are the keys to success, hitting homers that almost hit the CN Tower outside of Rogers Centre. Pitching-wise, the Jays are led by Marcus Stroman, who is looking to bounce back after missing the 2015 season with Tommy John surgery. The bullpen is strong, with Roberto Osuna and possibly even Drew Storen now closing games. Osuna is my player to watch. The righty from Mexico will have an important role withe the Blue Jays, earning the closing spot at the start of the season.
5. Cincinnati Reds
The Reds are a pretty darn good team. Led by Joey Votto, Brandon Phillips, and Billy Hamilton, the Reds have the talent to be a very good playoff contender. There’s just one problem- they play in the same division as the Cubs, Cardinals, and Pirates. Let’s talk about the team’s offense- it’s pretty good. The right side including Phillips and Votto never disappoint, and the outfielders like Jay Bruce can really slug a baseball. Billy Hamilton is a speed demon, and steals about 60 bases a season. The Reds’ pitching staff isn’t as skilled as their offense. You should watch Adam Duvall. He should start over at 3rd base, replacing Todd Frazier. Duvall was traded from San Francisco over to Cincy for Mike Leake, who he hit his first home run off of. He will have a good year driving in runs, and he shows that even with Type 1 diabetes, he can do anything!
4. Milwaukee Brewers
The Brew Crew has a lot of pop in their bats. Ryan Braun, their franchise player, always has a good year offensively (unless he’s using PEDs), and Jonathan Lucroy is always a threat to get an extra-base hit. Projected 1st baseman Chris Carter hits a ton of home runs (24 last season) but doesn’t have a necessarily good average every year (.199 last year). The Brewers have some good, young talent, including Scooter Gennett, Orlando Arcia, and Taylor Jungmann. The rotation would also have Chase Anderson and Wily Peralta in the mix. The bullpen, anchored by the closer Will Smith (no, not that Will Smith), also will have Jimmy Nelson for the 7th and Jeremy Jeffress for the 8th. Keep an eye out for backup catcher Martin Maldonado. He has tons of pop and can also play first base. He will be a good idea if you are looking for a backup catcher on your fantasy baseball team.
3. Pittsburgh Pirates
This is the most competitive division in baseball. What I think the Pirates, Cubs, and Cardinals in the NL Central will be this year is almost identical to the race right now between the Blackhawks, Stars, and Blues in the NHL. With one game, the standings can be changed. The Bucs have 8 series in September against the Cards and Cubs, but I am projecting them in 3rd place. The Pirates always get a great year from their outfield, which this year will be Andrew McCutchen, Gregory Polanco, and Starling Marte. The infield will be headlined by utility man Josh Harrison. The pitching is perfect on this team. Gerrit Cole and Francisco Liriano will have slots in the rotation, as well as Ryan Vogelsong. Liriano was fantastic on Opening Night! The bullpen will have Mark Melancon as the closer, with Neftali Feliz having the 7th or 8th. Keep your eye on young Floridian Jameson Taillon. Baseball America compared him to Stephen Strasburg. I think he will make the team this year as a late-season call-up. He’s got a 99-mph fastball and a plus change-up. The Pirates have a big boost with him.
2. St. Louis Cardinals
For the first time ever, I’m not picking the Cardinals in first in the NL Central. They still have a very skilled roster. Randal Grichuk will have a breakout season, and he’ll share the outfield with Stephen Piscotty and Matt Holliday. The infield is very, very good. Matt Carpenter always gets a ton of RBIs, and Kolten Wong can gets many extra base hits, too. The pitching staff takes the cake. Adam Wainwright, Michael Wacha, Lance Lynn, Mike Leake, and Jaime Garcia make the pitching rotation, and Trevor Rosenthal is a lights out closer. Kevin Siegrist and Seung-Hwan Oh also will be in the bullpen for the Cardinals. The Cards’ quality player is Matt Adams. A first baseman picked in the 23rd round, Adams is known for his consistent ability to hit long home runs. His homers are so long, one is destined to hit the Gateway Arch!
1. Chicago Cubs
Yes, this is their year. A year after “Back To The Future Part II” took place, I think the Cubs have a chance at the World Series. The Cubs were able to land Jason Heyward and Ben Zobrist this offseason, so they were “fixing what ain’t broke”. Dexter Fowler and Jorge Soler will man the outfield with Heyward. The infield is as good. Kris Bryant is at 3rd, Addison Russell at short, Zobrist at 2nd, and Kyle Schwarber at 1st. Jon Lester, Jason Hammel, and Jake Arrieta are the starters for the Cubs, while Hector Rondon is shutting down Cubs wins. The player to keep an eye on is Miguel Montero. Montero always has a spark in his bat, and should slug for the Cubbies this year.
5. Detroit Tigers
The Tigers were so,so close to winning the World Series, but then their stock went down. Miguel Cabrera still leads the Tigers, after being acquired in the most lobsided trade in a long time (Miggy and Dontrelle Willis for 5 prospects). Victor Martinez is going to DH for the Tigers, and Ian Kinsler will play second base. The Tigers landed Justin Upton and Jordan Zimmermann this offseason, but I don’t think it’ll change the team. A bright spot is J.D. Martinez. Martinez has stepped up his game and turned into a secret slugger.
4. Chicago White Sox
The South Siders will have a harder time winning then their northern counterparts, but they’ve got their bright spots. Jose Abreu will be a beast for the Sox, getting about a hundred RBIs and 40 home runs. Todd Frazier will make a difference, hitting behind Abreu. That will also boost the White Sox defense. Adam Eaton headlines the outfield, with Melky Cabrera and Austin Jackson following. Pitching-wise, Chris Sale should do the job for the Sox. Carlos Rodon and Mat Latos should also be in the rotation. Jake Petricka has a closer role with the Sox, and David Robertson will also be in the pen. Watch for Brett Lawrie this year. The Canadian 3rd baseman should have a good year, and may get some playing time at 3rd base.
3. Minnesota Twins
If you like young talent, move to Minnesota. The Twins have a lineup full of players who can make a difference now, and keep that difference later on. Byron Buxton, former #1 rated prospect, is in the outfield, as well as Oswaldo Arcia. Brian Dozier, former Bethesda Big Train, will play second, and Joe Mauer will play first or DH. Trevor Plouffe, a very skilled player, will play third, as well as Miguel Sano, Eduardo Nunez will play short, and Byung-Ho Park, newcomer from Korea, will play first if Mauer doesn’t. Ervin Santana starts on Opening Day, and Ricky Nolasco, Alex Meyer, and Trevor May will also get time in the rotation. My player to watch on this team is Miguel Sano. He has some raw power, and can absolutely clobber a baseball out of Target Field.
2. Cleveland Indians
The Indians, like most of the AL Central, have a lot of power hidden in their lineup. Mike Napoli, a newcomer to Progressive Field, is an example of that. Don’t go wrong with Zach Walters, either. Walters has some home run power, too. The outfield will include Michael Brantley, a very underrated player, Rajai Davis, and Joey Butler. Jason Kipnis leads the infield, which has Juan Uribe at 3rd, Francisco Lindor at short, Kipnis at 2nd, and Carlos Santana at 1st. The pitching staff has Corey Kluber at the top, followed by Trevor Bauer and Carlos Carrasco. TJ House is one of many contenders for closer on the Indians, and would be my pick. But the rising star of the Indians is Francisco Lindor. Lindor, who made his debut last year, should turn into the next big thing in Cleveland.
1. Kansas City Royals
The reigning World Series champions are poised to get the title back, and they have a lineup to do so. Lorenzo Cain is very speedy, and is the center fielder for the Royals, along with Alex Gordon and Raymond Fuentes on Opening Night. Eric Hosmer, Omar Infante, Alcides Escobar, and Mike Moustakas are the infielders for the Royals in 2016. Wade Davis is going to close, and Joakim Soria will also join the bullpen. Watch speedster Terrence Gore this season.
5. Colorado Rockies
If you throw back your best fish, you can’t expect another fish just like it to pop right back. Well, that’s the case with the Rockies and Troy Tulowitzki. The Rockies traded Tulo to the Blue Jays last Trade Deadline for Jose Reyes, and it hurt the Rox. Reyes is suspended for the season, as of now. Still, their team can win games. Carlos Gonzalez will hit many home runs again for the Rockies, and Charlie Blackmon will continue his success. Nolan Arenado will play stellar defense again at 3rd base, and DJ LeMahieu will have a nice season at 2nd. Pitching-wise, I think Jorge de la Rosa will get the Opening Day start. Jon Gray and Tyler Matzek will also get a chance at their big time in the rotation. Jake McGee will probably be the closer, and Boone Logan will provide 8th inning support. The breakout player this year for the Rockies will be Ben Paulsen. Paulsen will probably play 1st base, and he has a nice tendency to get on base. He also has an awesome ‘stache!
4. Arizona Diamondbacks
The D-Backs have some good players that can turn them into a winning franchise in the near future. Paul Goldschmidt is projected by many to be the MVP this season, and Yasmany Tomas can provide some offense in Arizona. They lost big with a late Spring Training injury to outfielder A.J. Pollock. Zack Greinke gets the ball on Opening Day, but Shelby Miller should help on the bump ths season too. Keep an eye out for David Peralta. He has the ability to drive in runs and hit some dingers, too.
3. San Diego Padres
The Padres have what it takes to be a good team. They are led by Wil Myers, an outfielder acquired from Tampa. Their outfield is pretty good, consisting of Myers, Matt Kemp, and Melvin (formerly B.J.) Upton. In the infield, the loss of Jedd Gyorko really hurt the team. Yangervis Solarte will play 3rd, and Alexei Ramirez at shortstop. That means Alexi Amarista will play 2nd, and Cory Spangenberg will play 1st. The bullpen should be led by Fernando Rodney, who is a good closer. Another big name in the ‘pen is my quality pick, Kevin Quackenbush. Quackenbush, who is projected for some big stats this year. I’m excited to see what comes out of him.
2. San Francisco Giants
The Giants have a team that can win a championship, but I think they’ll have to settle for a Wild Card this season. Buster Posey will have another great offensive year and he’ll be great at defense, too. In the outfield, Hunter Pence leads the crowd in right. Denard Span will get the Opening Day center fielder slot, and Gregor Blanco in left. The Giants’ infield is very good, with Brandon Belt at 1st base, Joe Panik at 2nd base, Brandon Crawford at shortstop, and Matt Duffy at 3rd base. The starters would be headlined by Madison Bumgarner, and then Johnny Cueto and Jake Peavy following him. The bullpen would have Santiago Castilla closing, but Hunter Strickland in the 7th or 8th. Strickland is my quality pick. He has a 95+ mph fastball, and has an amazing changeup to strike out hitters. Back to what I said at the beginning. It’s an even year, and the Giants have won the World Series in 2010, 2012, and 2014.
1. Los Angeles Dodgers
The Dodgers always seem to be the top of the NL West, and I project the same from them this year. The Dodgers are led by Clayton Kershaw, and he will provide stellar pitching for another year. Joc Pederson is a center fielder who has some serious pop in his bat, and is looking to add more homers to his career numbers. Yasiel Puig and Andre Ethier finish off this awesome outfield. Adrian Gonzalez will play 1st base for the Dodgers, and he will slug more for the Dodgers. Chase Utley will be at 2nd, Corey Seager at SS, and Justin Turner playing 3rd. Clayton Kershaw will lead the rotation, and he’ll be followed by Hyun-Jin Ryu and Scott Kazmir. The bullpen will be anchored by Kenley Jansen at closer, and J.P. Howell will help seal the deal in the 8th. My value pick will be Corey Seager, who has high expectations at short for the Dodgers. I think he will live up to them, and have a great year.
5. Seattle Mariners
Wow, this is a hard one. The AL West is stacked with talent and the M’s don’t lack that. The Mariners are led by Robinson Cano. Cano was signed to a mega-deal, but so far it hasn’t worked out. Firstly, the outfield. Seattle has Nelson Cruz, Norichika Aoki, and Seth Smith. Robinson Cano will play 2nd, and Kyle Seager is a offensive threat at 3rd. The bullpen has Joaquin Benoit closing. My power pick is starting pitcher Wade Miley. He should get some support behind him, and will continue to impress with his high strikeouts.
4. Oakland Athletics
Another tough call here. The Athletics have loads of talent, especially in the outfield. GM Billy Beane has done a great job. Big names on the team that I like include Billy Burns, Coco Crisp, Khris Davis, and Josh Reddick. Starter Sonny Gray should have another lights-out year, with Jarrod Parker and Henderson Alvarez following him. Sean Doolittle is going to be the A’s closer, and John Axford will also be a force in the bullpen. Stephen Vogt is my player to watch. He has tons of pop and is a nice catcher/1st base utility man.
3. Texas Rangers
The AL West is such a tough division! The Rangers are a great team and they deserve to be higher. But unfortunately, the Rangers play with all of the other great AL West teams. The Rangers’ outfield consists of Shin-Soo Choo, Delino DeShields, and, for the first time, Ian Desmond. Desi signed with the Rangers over the offseason, but Elvis Andrus mans short. Luckily for Nats fans, the Nats play the Rangers next year. Hopefully they come here! In the infield, Prince Fielder plays first base. Shawn Tolleson will be closing again this year. My quality player prediction is going to be Joey Gallo. He has raw power in his bat, and he should tally for many home runs this year.
2. Houston Astros
The Astros are almost there. Carlos Correa’s is going to be there real soon, but still need 1 more year. The outfield is headlined by Carlos Gomez and George Springer. Don’t forget speedy 2B Jose Altuve! Dallas Keuchel is a definite for Opening Day, backed up in the rotation by Doug Fister and Collin McHugh . My power pick will be Colby Rasmus, who is an underrated outfielder who can hit some home runs.
1. Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim
The Angels should have the edge in a really tough division. I heard they have a pretty good player, his name is something like Mike Trout? Trout will lead his Angels to a division title this year. In the outfield, Trout, Kole Calhoun, and Daniel Nava should all see plenty of play this year. In the infield, Albert Pujols should play 1st base, Johnny Giavotella at 2nd base, Andrelton Simmons at shortstop, and Yunel Escobar at 3rd base. The bullpen has Huston Street as a great closer. Kole Calhoun is who you should watch, with his good OBP, and he also can hit home runs pretty frequently.
There you have it. Enjoy the return of baseball!
Baseball fans have been eagerly awaiting the start of baseball season. Opening Day is Monday! My hometown team, the Washington Nationals will play the Atlanta Braves at Turner Field.
As is an annual tradition, to celebrate Opening Day, here are my 50 favorite things (not in order) about the start of the baseball season.
1. Um, baseball begins!!!
2. The beginning of MASN HD broadcasts so I can watch real, live games, not Nats Classics
3. The family DVR will stop recording all my parents’ shows
4. Fluffy Thoughts cupcakes and cookies!
5. The sounds of baseball – “crack!” of the bat. “whoomup!” of the ball hitting a glove. “peanuts! cracker jack!” shouting vendors.
6. Dusty Baker is the new manager
7. The high pop fly getting lost in the starry night of DC
8. Listening to DC Washington (who has a pretty awesome name) sing the Star Spangled Banner
9. Seeing how players deal with the new sliding rule.
10. Welcoming Shawn Kelley, Daniel Murphy, Yusmeiro Petit, and Ben Revere to the team
11. Waving your caps for the troops in the 3rd inning
12. Quick Pitch is on MLB Network. It is my main source for games I can’t stay up to watch
13. 6-4-3 doubleplays!
14. Scoring the games
15. Inside Pitches
16. Opening of the new kids area at the ballpark – I can’t wait to try the carnival games
17. Seeing the train scoreboard in the Norfolk Southern Club in action again
18. Nats-Mets nail-biters
19. Counting down days until the Bryce Harper Chia Pet giveaway
20. Now that I’m older I get to stay up later to watch more of the night games
21. We’re season ticket holders again!
22. JINX JINX JINXY JINX – all of the major sports magazines have the Mets winning the NL East
23. Finding out what song will play at Nats Park during the seventh-inning stretch
24. I can’t wait to try the new Pinch Dumplings at Nats Park
25. Sometimes missing school for games
26. Pups in the Park and Werth with Magnus giveaway
27. Commemorative bobbleheads to collect this year (I can’t wait for the Scherzer bobbleheads!)
28. Lots of new things to write about on MattsBats.com
29. Dealing with the “grind” of the Fantasy baseball season
30. Constantly looking at the Out-of-Town scoreboard
31. Waiting for summer to officially begin
32. Baseball games that actually count
33. Watching rookies like Trea Turner and possibly Lucas Giolito play in the Majors
34. Baseball vacations later in the year to Oakland and maybe Seattle
35. Reading articles by some of my favorite reporters like James Wagner and Chelsea Janes
36. “Buy me some peanuts and Cracker Jack”
37. Bob and FP on TV, and Charlie and Dave on the radio
38. Ryan will hit homers to Zim-bomb-we
39. Watching the games with my friends
40. It’s my baseball season too!
41. Listening to baseball on the radio during car trips and while going to bed
42. Lots and lots of cheering Nats fans at each game
43. The only time I can bug my parents for a soda and actually get it
44. I might get my 1,600th Twitter follower this season
45. Nats Dogs
46. The possibility of the Nationals announcing their new sponsor for the stadium
47. Turning twelve!
48. Getting the chance to meet more Matt’s Bats readers and Twitter followers at “tweet-ups”
49. Baseball almost every day until at least September and hopefully October
50. Charlie Slowes saying, “Bang! Zoom! Another Curly W is in the books!”
What are your favorite things about the start of the baseball season? Leave a comment or tweet me at @MattsBats.
As you all know, the Lerner family has been looking to sell the naming rights to Nationals Park, and the team has given me the exclusive opportunity to reveal the ballpark’s new name today! I am so excited to bring you this exciting EXCLUSIVE news story today before any other reporter.
As part of the Nationals’ plan to make the game experience more fan-friendly, the Washington Nationals have unveiled the new ballpark name, announced new stadium amenities, and revealed new promotions for the 2016 season. The team will now call their home “MattsBats Park” after the popular hometown blogger, the youngest Pro Blogger on the MLB.com network. The team was expecting to receive $250 million for 20 year name rights from large local companies like GEICO, Lockheed Martin, or even Amazon.com (owner of the Washington Post). Instead, the Nationals thought the prestige of calling their ballpark MattsBats Park was worth doing it for free. The deal is for only one year and will expire after the Nationals win the World Series at MattsBats Park in 2017. Then it’ll probably just be called Capital One Field or something.
Nationals Chief Revenue Officer Valerie Camillo also announced new giveaways and promotions to encourage fans to come out to MattsBats Park during the 2016 season:
Giveaways- On June 12, when the Nationals take on the Phillies, all fans will receive a life-like Jayson Werth’s Beard mask! More exciting, the beard is made out of actual hair collected from Jayson’s dog, Magnus. You will look exactly like Jayson when you put the dog hair beard on your face! Plus, anyone who tweets a picture of themselves wearing their dog hair Jayson Werth Beard mask to the Twitter account of @JWerthsBeard will be re-tweeted with lots of emojis and gifs.
Also, on August 28, the first 20,000 fans will be treated to a free lunch at Chipotle with reigning NL MVP Bryce Harper courtesy of Harper (on his lifetime free burrito card).
— Bryce Harper (@Bharper3407) March 19, 2013
Fan Experience- This season, when the Nats play the Orioles in the Battle of the Beltways matchup, every fan in a Nats jersey will get free noise-canceling headphones. These headphones provide strong defense against the irritating sound of the Orioles fans chanting “O!” during the Star-Spangled Banner.
Food- Although he’s no longer playing shortstop for the Nationals, Ian Desmond will be back at Nats Park this season in the form of a new restaurant he has opened on the club level called “Steak, Taters, America.” The restaurant will solely serve steak and tater tots, and will also have a patriotic theme. All employees will wear the Nationals Archive-designed T-shirt bearing the same name, which you can see being worn by Nats first baseman Ryan Zimmerman, basically anytime he is not wearing a baseball uniform.
Finally, before this fun filled season begins at MattsBats Park, I’d like to say-
The big news out of the baseball world this week is that Chicago White Sox (and former Nationals) 1B Adam LaRoche is retiring. Reports have said that LaRoche retired because White Sox Executive Vice President Kenny Williams told LaRoche that his son, Drake, was no longer allowed inside the White Sox clubhouse everyday. For years, Drake had been accompanying his father on his baseball adventures. During LaRoche’s time as a Washington National, Drake was able to be in the clubhouse, and he even chugged sparkling grape juice with Bryce Harper during the 2012 NL East champion celebration (Harper wasn’t 21 so he couldn’t drink alcohol). When the White Sox said Drake was no longer permitted in the clubhouse everyday, LaRoche walked away from his $13 million contract.
Everyone has an opinion about this, some supporting LaRoche, and some thinking the White Sox were right to ask him not to bring Drake with him every day. No reporter knows all the facts. But my opinion is that I support LaRoche’s decision to walk away.
First, when LaRoche signed his contract with the White Sox, the team had to have known that Drake being “the 26th man” was part of the deal. Last year, Drake had a uniform and his own locker in the Sox clubhouse. If having Drake around was in LaRoche’s contract, he or the MLBPA could challenge the White Sox.
Second, other White Sox players, especially Chris Sale, are standing behind LaRoche. Everyone seems to think having Drake around doesn’t impact the clubhouse atmosphere. The LaRoche family thinks that Drake is destined for the Majors–Drake’s grandpa and uncle also spent time in the MLB. It’s obvious he wants to continue the family business. For him, spending everyday with the team is a learning experience, seeing up close what goes on behind the scenes of a baseball season.
Third, Drake LaRoche works on a special school schedule–he goes to public school when he’s home in Kansas and gets lessons while he’s away. Now, LaRoche told the Washington Post a couple of years ago, “We’re not big on school. I told my wife, ‘He’s going to learn a lot more useful information in the clubhouse than he will in the classroom, as far as life lessons.'” That is a controversial thing to say. You probably can learn things about life in a clubhouse, but you also need to get a normal education and make friendships. If Adam LaRoche is retiring, does that mean that Drake has to go to school full time? I bet he isn’t a big fan of that.
Finally, one thing that I haven’t seen anyone else pick up on is that LaRoche also has a daughter named Montana. There’s reasons why a young girl shouldn’t be in a locker room with grown baseball players. But female reporters work out of MLB clubhouses, and I think it isn’t fair to only focus on LaRoche’s relationship with his son. Hopefully by retiring from baseball, LaRoche will spend more time with his daughter, who missed out on all the experiences Drake had with his dad at the ballpark.