What Have the Nats Done Right in 2016

Photo by @DCStadium

Photo by @DCStadium

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.

MattsBats.com 2016 Opening Day Season Preview!

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.

2013 Preview- NL East

NL EAST

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!

2013 Preview- AL East

AL EAST

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.

nlcentralonlynonhats

NL CENTRAL

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.

And the Astros (not pictured!)

AL CENTRAL

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.

2013 Preview- NL West

NL West

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.

2013 Preview-AL West

AL WEST

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!

1 opening day 2016

 

 

50 Things I Love About Opening Day

1 opening day 2016Baseball 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.

 

EXCLUSIVE: Nats Reveal New Name of Ballpark

faa58-natsparkAs 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).

 

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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.

zimsta1

zimsta2

Finally, before this fun filled season begins at MattsBats Park, I’d like to say-

APRIL FOOLS!

My Opinion on the News of Adam LaRoche’s Retirement

1 if you cant we can laroche and sonThe 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.

Matt’s Bats Chat with Max Domi of NHL’s Arizona Coyotes

MaxDomiAs I wrote about here, I was recently diagnosed with Type 1 Diabetes. Ever since I got my diagnosis, I’ve been looking around to find inspiring people who share the same burden I do. I learned that rookie winger for the NHL’s Arizona Coyotes, Max Domi, is also a diabetic.

When the Coyotes came to play the Capitals last week, I couldn’t miss the opportunity to grab this interview with Max.  The Coyotes invited me to their closed workout at the Verizon Center, and afterwards I got to ask him a couple questions about how he deals with diabetes.

There’s nothing you can’t do when you have diabetes, but being a professional athlete is one of the hardest things you can do.  As you’ll see below, Max describes the complicated routine he goes through during a game to make sure he stays healthy.

Before we get to this Matt’s Bats Chat, let me tell you about the day.  One of the best parts of the interview was the part before it!  The practice began at 11:30 a.m. on Monday, February 22, which meant that I got to leave school early to go to Verizon Center. Because the practice was closed to fans, the only other people in the entire arena were beat writers for the Coyotes.  We took some great seats right behind the visitors bench behind the glass and right next to the player tunnel. Being that close to the ice meant you could see every detail on Louis Domingue‘s helmet and almost get sprayed with ice as Shane Doan skated by. Some players gave me high fives or said hi as they walked onto or off the ice. We had a great view watching Oliver Ekman-Larsson take a heavy slap shot or watching Anthony Duclair and Max Domi having some fun stick handling. By the time practice was over, the Coyotes’ Director of Media Relations took us down to the locker room to interview Max.  I knew I was going to get to meet the rookie phenom, but I didn’t know I was going to be interviewing him in the locker room!  That was a great surprise because even though I’ve seen the insides of many stadiums, I have never done an interview in a locker room.  I was able to see everything that goes on behind the scenes at a hockey game.

For those of you who don’t know Max Domi, he is a 20-year old right winger for the Arizona Coyotes.  He made his NHL debut this season after being drafted 12th overall in the 2013 NHL draft.  He has already scored his first NHL hat trick.  Domi is the son of former Toronto Maple Leafs player Tie Domi.

Max was diagnosed with Type 1 Diabetes when he was 12 years old.  He has a tattoo on his arm that says “diabetic.”

He wears #16 on his jersey as a tribute to hockey legend Bobby Clarke, who made 8 consecutive All-Star Games, and is a 2-time Stanley Cup Champion.  Clarke also also has type 1 diabetes.

Matt’s Bats – How did your diabetes diagnosis effect your road to the NHL?

Max Domi – The first question I asked after I was diagnosed was whether I could still play hockey and the doctor said, yes, of course.  After he said that, I didn’t let the diagnosis phase me.  Now I’m lucky enough to be here playing 4 years in the OHL [Ontario Hockey League], which is a junior league in Canada.  I learned a lot and had a great time.  I’ve learned a lot about how to live playing hockey with the disease.  Now I’m here and doing OK.

MB – I’ve learned that you have a diabetic alert dog named Orion.  How does he help you deal with the disease?

Max with his service dog Orion. Photo from Max's Instagram. https://www.instagram.com/p/6vUPFFoVoP/?taken-by=max_domi

Max with his service dog Orion. Photo from Instagram.
https://www.instagram.com/p/6vUPFFoVoP/?taken-by=max_domi

Domi – He can alert me when I go high or low [meaning when he becomes hyper- or hypoglycemic].  So when my blood sugar goes out of range, Orion comes up to me and nudges my waist and grab this thing that I wear on my belt buckle and he’ll just sit there and look at me.  When he does that, I know that I’m either low or high.  In the middle of the night, as well.  He’ll be a normal dog, but he’ll wake me up if my blood sugar goes out of range.  He’ll lick my face until I wake up.  The good thing is he can catch stuff before it gets to be a problem and dangerous, and he’s good at it.

To read more about Orion, including a video of how he helps alert Max to dangerous blood sugar drops, I recommend this article.

MB – That’s amazing that he can do that.  Was he trained?

Domi – Yep.  So, I got him when he was 2 years old, but it takes a minimum of 2 years to train a dog. Obviously, with the obedience thing, you can bring him in public. He’s a service dog, so you just throw on his vest and he can go anywhere with you. The scent work takes a while. And all the standard stuff to train a dog.

Listen to Max explain how he manages his diabetes during a game:

MB – What’s your routine in terms of managing diabetes before, during and after a game?

Domi – There’s a couple things I have to do. I’m making sure I’m eating at the same time or almost the same time on game days as practice days and workout days. And then testing my blood pretty frequently. So, I’ll test my blood 2 hours before the game, an hour before the game, right before I warm up on the ice before the game, half-way through the first, after the first, half-way through the second, after the second, half-way through the third, after the third, and then two hours after the game.

MB – That’s a lot!

Domi – It is a lot, but, I mean, it makes me feel better and a little more confident with how I feel, so I do that and it works out pretty good.

MB – Do you wear a pump? [Ed. note: Diabetics need to take insulin in order to process the food they eat.  You can’t take insulin in a pill, so you either need to inject it using a syringe or use an insulin pump that you wear on your hip].

Domi – Yes, I do.

MB – Does it affect your game in any way? Can you not body check, or…

Domi – Nope. I broke a couple, though. I’ve actually blocked a shot and it shattered the whole screen. There’s a 1-800 number I can call on the back, and within 2 ½, 3 hours they’ll send a brand new one. If anything were to ever happen and I couldn’t get one right away, I have these protocols where I’d go back to injections and manually do that stuff. There are a couple different settings that the pump can do that injecting can’t do. I have a lot of stuff so in an emergency I can manage it without any issues.

DomiInterview

MB – Is wearing a pump better than using a syringe, being a professional athlete?

Domi – No. It’s definitely not better. But everyone’s different, obviously. It’s just a matter of finding what makes your life easier and more manageable. For me, the pump’s been great. I’ve had some issues with it, but you find a way to manage those and keep living your life. For me, it’s been going pretty smoothly with the pump, so I’ll keep it up for now.

MB – What do you do to raise awareness about the disease?

Domi – To be honest, I’m more involved with the Canadian side. There’s this one company, Bayer, which makes the Contour Link meter that I use to test my blood. They’re a pretty wealthy organization, so I’ve been able to partner with them and make some videos, and tweet some stuff out, and post on Instagram. They’re all on board. The JDRF is huge as well; they’re great at raising awareness and raising money and trying to find a cure. We’re going in the right direction, and hopefully we’ll find a cure.

MB – I remember seeing a post you put on Instagram a couple of months ago that said you would donate $1 for every like you got. I think that was very good for the diabetes community.

At this point, goalie Mike Smith came into the locker room and took a seat on the bench at his locker across from us. He took some ice from his skate and threw it at Max as a joke to distract him. “Don’t mind him. He’s trying to get me wet,” Domi said.

Domi – Yeah, that got a lot more than I was anticipating, but, hey, that’s great. We’re raising awareness and did a good job.

MB – The more the better!

Now just some general questions. What is your favorite moment ever playing hockey?

Domi – My first NHL game was pretty cool. World Juniors last year was pretty cool. I was lucky enough to play for Team Canada and we won the gold medal in Toronto, which is where I grew up. So that was pretty sweet. Those two are pretty much tied, I think.

MB – And, finally, what’s been your favorite arena to play at in the NHL?

Domi – I haven’t played in all of them yet. The rink in Toronto is pretty sweet. The ACC [Air Canada Centre in Toronto] is awesome, but I’ve only played their once. That’s probably my favorite, just because I grew up around there. I haven’t played in many Eastern rinks yet, but the one in Phoenix is pretty cool. They’re all really good nowadays. It’s fun. I’m looking forward to playing in the Verizon Center tonight.

MB – Max, thank you so much.

Domi – Alright, buddy. Thank you so much. That was great. A pleasure.

 It was great meeting Max to talk about how he is a role model for others who have diabetes.  I also got to take home a souvenir: a stick from center Viktor Tikhonov, and a puck they used during practice.

I returned to the Verizon Center later that night for the game. Even though I was rooting for Max, the Caps won 3-2.

Hockey

What the 2016 Nationals Should Learn from the 2015-16 Capitals

ovi499goalDuring the baseball off-season, I have been paying attention to the Washington Capitals.  If you don’t follow hockey, the Caps are the team to beat in the NHL. They are currently a whopping 15 points ahead of the second-place New York Rangers in the Metropolitan Division.  Every sports fan dreams of their team having a season like the one the Caps are having right now, especially in Washington, where it’s been one Bryce Harper-lifetime since the city has won a major sports championship (Washington Redskins 1992 Super Bowl). Just like in baseball, there is a DC-New York rivalry in hockey the past couple of seasons.  As the Capitals contend for this year’s Stanley Cup, I have been wondering how can our beloved Nationals be more like the Capitals in the 2016 MLB season.

Well, one thing the Caps are doing well this year is scoring, obviously. The Caps have the highest goals scored per game rate (3.32) in the NHL.  Similarly, the Nats did fine scoring last year.  They were third in the National League in total runs scored (703), and averaged 4.41 runs per game (compared to the Mets’ 4.23).  Where they need to play more like the Capitals is in defense.  The Capitals have given up the fewest goals in the NHL, and are about 30% below the league average in goals against.  Compare the 2015 Nationals, who gave up many late innings runs.  Over the season, they gave up more runs than they scored.  The bullpen blew 23 saves, which resulted in a below-league-average 64% save percentage. That’s why the Nats totally remade their bullpen this off-season, taking four guys off the roster and bringing in four new players.  On the field, the team committed a huge number of errors (90), and to the eye didn’t really command the field like they did in prior years.  You need to score runs to win games, but your defense has to be good enough to not let your opponent score more than you.

I am a fan of the additions the Nationals made to the team: Shawn Kelley, Trevor Gott, Oliver Perez, and Yusmeiro Petit to replace Drew Storen and Craig Stammen (both of whom I hated to see go), Casey Janssen, and Matt Thornton in the bullpen.  I’m especially optimistic about Petit.  In 2013, as a Giant, Petit came one out away from a no-hitter. He also got the win in the crazy Giants-Nats 18 inning postseason game in 2014, with a 6 inning performance, shutting down the Nats.

In terms of other off-season moves, I expect that when Danny Espinosa moves over to shortstop we’ll see errors decrease.  I like the addition of Daniel Murphy (not my first choice due to his defensive weakness) and Stephen Drew as left handed bats in the lineup. Ben Revere gives the Nats a solid outfielder who can play everywhere.  In the starting rotation, the Nats lost Jordan Zimmermann and Doug Fister, but they added Bronson Arroyo and his crazy leg-kick, who I think has a good chance of making the team.  Tanner Roark will probably get a nod in the starting rotation.

So how’s this for a lineup:

Revere/Taylor

Rendon

Harper

Zimmerman

Werth

Murphy

Espinosa

Ramos/Lobaton

Pitcher

I think that the Nationals are a playoff contender again this year.

Last year, the baseball team from New York took the NL East and eventually made it to the World Series.  And in the hockey world last year, the New York Rangers won the Metropolitan Division and made it to the third round Eastern Conference Finals.  Look how 2016 is already shaping up: the Caps are ahead of New York Rangers in the Metropolitan, and I expect the same from the Nationals over the Mets this season.  Pitchers and catchers is only 16 days away!

My Top 5 Favorites From Nationals Winterfest

2015-12-11 Natsfest

The Washington Nationals introduced something new this season- a two-day holiday-themed fan fest called WinterFest. That means that there was double the activities and double the fun! The Nats also introduced some new games, like the “Slider” which is basically a tubing slide, and the “Snowball Run” which is where you run in a large inflatable ball. I have some personal favorites from this year’s WinterFest, and I want to tell you about them. I think that the Nationals did a great job with Winterfest this year, and I especially like the new 2-day setup.  I attended the first day with my family and the second day with a friend’s family.

So without further adieu, here are my to 5 faves from Nats Winterfest!

5. Baseball Exhibit

The Nationals brought some items originally shown at the Nats at 10 exhibit at the Newseum. For people who did not get the chance to visit the Newseum when the exhibit was open, the Nationals let the people have an opportunity to see the historical baseball artifacts. Also, the exhibit had New Era hats from each minor league team in the US and Canada. I liked the Everett AquaSox hat.  Minor league teams have such great names and logos.  I also liked the Vermont Lake Monsters and Las Vegas 51s.

4. 2-Day Format

The new 2-day format of Winterfest made it so much less crowded and nice to visit. In past years, when there was only 1 day of NatsFest, there were much more people on that day, therefore making it a hour investment to get an autograph. It was much nicer with an emptier Convention Center, and made it more enjoyable for the fans.

3. Season Ticket Holder Autograph Session

Before Nats Winterfest started, the team allowed 2015 Season Ticket Holders to get autographs from their favorite Nats stars. We were lucky enough to get Stephen Strasburg, Matt Grace, Oliver Perez, Shawn Kelley, Mike Rizzo, Dan Kolko, and new pitching coach Mike Maddux’s autographs. While there was a long line to get the autographs, it was really cool that the Nats did the autographs for STHs this year.

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2. Snowball Run The Nationals designated an area for the “Snowball Run” this year. The Snowball Run is where you get into a giant inflatable ball that looks like a snowball. You could walk or run in the snowball, making it really fun for everyone. The main target for this event was children, and if you saw the line, you could tell that it was doing its job. Conveniently, it was located close to the kids area, batting cage, video pitch tracker, carnival game, and Stage, so it was easy to get to.

Before we get to my number 1, I wanted to remind you that there is still time left to enter the final round of FREE GIVEAWAYS from my 2015 Holiday Gift Guide.  You win get cool things like toys, books and a personalized Louisville Slugger bat.

1. Lip Sync Battle I mean, who attended Nats Winterfest and DIDN’T watch this! It was hilarious seeing the players lip sync to different songs, and it was nice that the players got to pick fans to lip sync with them. For instance, on Saturday, Anthony Rendon put on a great performance of “Bad To The Bone,” and on Sunday, Bryce Harper serenaded a young fan while singing “My Girl.” But the funniest performance was also by Harper and the rest of his team. He sang “Wannabe” by The Spice Girls, which made it amusing to watch. I think that this takes the cake, without a doubt.

Now, this was REALLY the best part of Nationals WinterFest:

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Listen to what it sounds like:

 

Check out some selfies below I took with some of the players after the event.

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MORE Giveaways From the 2015 Holiday Gift Guide!

With just a few shopping days left before Christmas, you may still be wondering what to get for the baseball fan in your life.  That’s where my 2015 Gift Guide comes in. There are lots of great ideas for kids and adults.

A couple of weeks ago, I ran some giveaways for some of the items on my gift guide.  Now, I have a few more things to give away, including a personalized Louisville Slugger bat! So if you missed out on the giveaways the first time or didn’t win anything last time around, you have a second chance to win these awesome prizes and gifts. So here is the 2nd round of the giveaways!

SECOND CHANCE- MAP YOUR TRAVELS POSTER

mapyourtravelsThe Map Your Travels poster was the most popular giveaway item the first round, getting almost 100 entries! I have a couple more more to give away. The Map Your Travels MLB Ballparks Map is a map where you can mark every stadium in the MLB you’ve been to. If you have a traveler who is also a big baseball fan, this is absolutely the most perfect gift to get them! Enter the giveaway today by using the giveaway code BALLPARKCLICK HERE TO ENTER THE RAFFLE.

 

SECOND CHANCE- SMARTY MARTY BOOK and SCOREBOOK

For any young basesmartymartyball fan wanting to know how to score the game, the Smarty Marty book and scorebook is the perfect gift. Written by the San Francisco Giants reporter Amy Gutierrez (“Amy G”), it gives kids a real-life example of a kid learning how to score a baseball game. The book was also a very popular giveaway last time and one of my favorite things on the Gift Guide, and you can take home an autographed book today by using the giveaway code SCORINGCLICK HERE TO ENTER THE RAFFLE.

 

SECOND CHANCE- OYO MINIFIGURE

OyoThe ultimate stocking stuffer, you can take home a minifigure of the hottest stars from MLB and other college and professional sports. You can build football fields, hockey rinks, baseball diamonds, and much, much more. I think that Oyo minifigures are a great gift for the aspiring architect. Sets are affordable, and they fit in the stocking. But you can enter to get one of the MLB’s best FOR FREE! Just use the giveaway code MINIFIGURE and enter to win one– your choice of Mike Trout or Buster PoseyCLICK HERE TO ENTER THE RAFFLE.

SECOND CHANCE- SPORTS ILLUSTRATED COOKBOOK

SIThe Sports Illustrated “Food, Football, and Fun” cookbook is a great resource to use when you are stumped on what to make for dinner one night. It uses sports themed recipes, like football shaped whoopie pies. If you know anyone who loves to support their team and loves to cook, enter the raffle for this cookbook. I guarantee that the results will be scrumptious! Use the code RECIPE to enter.  CLICK HERE TO ENTER THE RAFFLE.

 

NEW!- LOUISVILLE SLUGGER PERSONALIZED BAT

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Maybe I saved the best for last.  If you win this raffle, you get a CUSTOM Louisville Slugger wood bat, personalized the way you’d like!  Kids and baseball fans everywhere dream of being like Major Leaguers and having their names or signatures on Louisville Slugger bats. That’s why giving a personalized Louisville Slugger bat this holiday season is the perfect gift.  They make great focal points in offices, dens, bedrooms and man-caves.  Enter to win using the giveaway code SLUGGER, and you can win a one-of-a-kind bat to have.  You may not want to take your personalized bat to the cages, and that’s where you may want to invest in the Louisville Slugger Youth 2016 Prime 916 Baseball Bat.  It’s a powerful bat designed for the best amateur players.  CLICK HERE TO ENTER THE RAFFLE.

I hope you enjoyed these giveaways, and good luck! Thank you to all the companies that sponsored giveaways on my gift guide, like Louisville Slugger, New Era Caps, Franklin Sports, OYO Sports, Map Your Travels, SI Kids, and author Amy Gutierrez.

Check out all my recommended gifts for the 2015 Holiday season.   And there are more great items on my 2014 Gift Guide and 2013 Gift GuideClicking on the links not only helps show the companies that you like my recommendations, but it helps me too!

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

Raffles for all giveaways listed on this page start on 12/17/15 at 12:00am and last 1 week.  They’re all free to enter.  Operators of MattsBats.com have full discretion to select winners based on successfully completed entries, 1 prize winner per raffle.  Winners must be willing to pay S&H costs if alternative delivery cannot be arranged.  Delivery before Christmas 2015 is not guaranteed and unlikely.  There is no affiliation with MLBAM or MLB.com.  If you have any questions, contact us. Other giveaways via Twitter.

My Coverage of the Presidential Medal Of Freedom Ceremony

IMG_5413Last week, I had one of the most amazing experiences since I started MattsBats.com.  I had the chance to visit the White House to attend the Presidential Medal of Freedom award ceremony as part of the press pool.  On November 24, 2015, President Barack Obama awarded the medal to 17 Americans who have made especially meritorious contributions to the security or national interests of the United States, to world peace, or to cultural or other significant public or private endeavors.  I was invited to cover the event because the President awarded the Medal of Freedom to baseball Hall of Famers Willie Mays and Yogi Berra, who died in September.

Willie Howard Mays, Jr. was born in segregated Alabama in 1931.  He made his major league debut in 1951, and became one of the best baseball players in history.  President Obama said, “we never saw an all-around five tool player like Willie before and haven’t seen one since.” He stepped into the history books as a 2-time MVP, with 660 career home runs, a .302 lifetime batting average, 12 Gold Glove awards, and 24 All Star appearances.  In awarding the medal to Mays, President Obama said: “It’s because of giants like Willie that I even thought about running for president.”

Mays

Lawrence Peter “Yogi” Berra was one of our country’s most beloved and memorable sports heroes. “What could be said about Yogi Berra that he couldn’t say better himself?” President Obama remarked.  He was one of the greatest catchers in the history of baseball and had “the winningest career in the history of American sports.”  He was a 15-time All Star, winner of 10 World Series championships, and a three-time league MVP.  He is also a veteran of the U.S. Navy during WWII.  He fought on D-Day at Omaha Beach and came home with a Purple Heart.  President Obama presented Yogi’s award to his son Larry.

Berra

In addition to Mays and Berra, this year’s awardees included: Bonnie Carroll (founder of Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors, or TAPS), Shirley Chisholm (posthumous) (first African-American woman elected to Congress), Emilio Estefan (music producer), Gloria Estefan (Latin music singer), Billy Frank, Jr (posthumous) (advocate for Native American treaty rights), Lee Hamilton (former Indiana representative), Katherine G. Johnson (NASA mathematician), Barbara Mikulski (longest serving female senator) (Maryland), Itzhak Pearlman (violinist), William Ruckelshaus (environmentalist), Stephen Sondheim (composer), Steven Spielberg (movie director), Barbra Streisand (singer and actress), James Taylor (singer), and Minori Yasui (posthumous) (human rights leader).

ceremony

 

Now, let me let you in on what it’s like to go to the White House as credentialed media for an event like this.

The event did not start until 5:00p.m., but you obviously need to be there early.  I left school very early: at 11:50 a.m. After running home and getting dressed in a suit, my mom and I hopped on the Metro to head downtown to the White House.

IMG_5380We arrived at the Northwest gate of the White House on Pennsylvania Avenue a little before 2:00 p.m., which was the time press could start pre-set.  The Secret Service checked our IDs and made sure we were on the list, and then we had our bags screened and walked through a metal detector like at an airport.

Once we were through security, we walked on the driveway to a courtyard between the West Wing and the Residence. While on that walk, we saw the stations where the cameras and news reporters are stationed to report from the North Lawn.

While waiting there, we saw the most famous dogs in America, Bo and Sunny! They were coming in after their walk.

 

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When all the press members arrived, we went up into the White House, through the front door.  We made a left into the East Room so all the reporters could claim a spot and set up equipment.

After that, we went to the Press Briefing Room to wait while the White House staff got the room ready for the event.  To get there, we walked back outside the White House.  It’s along the corridor connecting the Residence to the West Wing.  The Briefing Room is the room you see when President Obama or White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest is giving a press conference on television.

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We were waiting in the Press Briefing Room for a while and decided to explore.  Located behind the room are puny offices for the White House Press Corps.  There are also some vending machines there. It was very cool to see behind the scenes of how news is made. Everyone was really nice to me and showed me around the space.

After waiting for a while, they called for us to return to the East Room.  We entered the White House again, this time to music played by the White House Marine Band. Guests trickled in, including some famous guests like will.i.am, James Brolin, former attorney general Eric Holder, Rep. Steny Hoyer, DC delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton, and former Transportation Secretary Norman Mineta, who has a cane made out of a baseball bat.  At around 5:10, the honorees were introduced, followed by a sudden crescendo in the music. Hail to the Chief started playing.  Everyone stood up, and President Obama and Michelle Obama entered the room.  He welcomed the crowd and spoke.

I knew about some of the honorees, like Berra, Mays, and Spielberg, before, but I had never heard about people like Shirley Chisholm, Katherine Johnson and Minori Yasui. When President Obama introduced them and spoke about their lives and accomplishments, it was so interesting. Each person who received the award did something really great to help our country.

After the ceremony, some of the honorees came over to the press for interviews. I was hoping to be able to see Willie Mays, but unfortunately, he went home early so I didn’t get the chance to interview him. But I was able to take a picture with Steven Spielberg, and get close to some of the other award recipients, including Barbara Streisand, James Taylor and Itzhak Pearlman.

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The whole ceremony lasted about a hour.  When it was over, the invited guests stayed for a reception, and the Marine band played music relevant to the honorees, like the theme song from E.T. and Don’t Rain on My Parade.  They took the members of the press out of the building through a back way out the East Wing.  We saw a portrait of Hillary Clinton and a bust of Henry Clay, yes, made out of clay.

It was really amazing being able to take in this ceremony firsthand from the historic East Room of the White House and to be in the same room as some of the most famous and celebrated Americans in politics, music, sports and science.

LansdowneBONUS COOL FACT: In the East Room, there is a famous portrait of George Washington by Gilbert Stuart called the Lansdowne Portrait. When I saw it, I recognized it and asked my mom if that was the original. She said yes because it’s hanging in the White House!  Well, later that week, we went to the Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery. While walking through the Presidents exhibit, we saw the exact same portrait of Washington! I was confused. How could it be in two places? Here’s the explanation: The National Portrait Gallery has the real, original one, not the White House!  My mom was wrong.  The one at the White House is a replica, but painted by the same artist. There are, in fact, more replicas by Stuart in the Old State House in Hartford, Connecticut and the Pennsylvania Academy of The Fine Arts Museum in Philadelphia. Also, copies not painted by Stuart are located at the US House Chamber and the Rayburn room of the Capitol. How can you tell the copies from the original?  “In the copies, the book at the lower left hand of the picture has “UNITED STATES” intentionally misspelled as “UNITED SATES.” I wish I had known that when I was in the White House so I could check it out for myself!