The Nats died eight weeks ago, done in during a weekend series against the Mets in late July, two ships passing in opposite directions during the night. The Nats proved to be an overrated, underachieving team that clearly lacked team chemistry. The question now is whether to keep manager Matt Williams. Based on my own observation from a couple of visits to Nats Park this year, I’d say no. The manager/player chemistry was missing, so important during the long grind of a 162 game season. If you don’t think a manager is important, look at the Cubs. During a June visit to Nats Park (when my wife was able to get lower level, club level seats from her company), I noticed Cubs manager Joe Maddon had an easy, healthy rapport with his players and staff. He was clearly a communicator and a teacher. Contrast that with Williams and his apparent uneasy body language with his players and you’re on to something. Age caught up to Jason Werth, too; happens to everybody. With Werth’s long term contract, I’m not sure how the team can address that. Stay tuned. One last note on team chemistry. It came to my attention this week that the great Yankee teams of the late 40s and early 50s (five straight World Series championships) did not have the best pitchers in baseball, yet their staff was clearly the most effective. Why? Catcher Yogi Berra, who passed away this week, apparently had great rapport with his pitchers and knew how to call a game.
The Redskins are in what I’d call a state of ‘organizational purgatory’. They’re trying. They’re trying to change the culture. Whether they really can with Dan Snyder remains to be seen. Jay Gruden’s a good man, maybe not the best coach, too vanilla, but he did make the decision to go with Kirk Cousins this season. Problems remain, however. RGIII is still on the team, and until the organization makes a clean break, the potential for unneeded drama is there. The coaching staff also lacks cohesion. They may have talent and reputations, but coaches don’t come to Washington to win, they come to get paid. The team needs a sense of urgency, a work ethos. Stop listening to the Washington media and your enablers, and get to work.
The model for a good organization in this town right now is the Capitals. They don’t panic. They continue to make good moves. Barry Trotz is exactly the coach this veteran team needs with Alex Ovechkin turning 30. He’s a taskmaster, disciplined, a leader. And with the acquisition of former Olympic star T.J. Oshie, this team is going to be fun to watch. There are no guarantees in sports, but this is a legitimate, solid team with few weaknesses.
I’ll get to the Wizards soon!
As the mornings turn cooler, the days grow shorter, and the murmur of the crickets portends the change of seasons from summer to fall, we’re reminded once again that a new school year is upon us. For us aging baby boomers on the 9 to 5 grind, we’ll always be on the school schedule. Maybe we’re even nostalgic for it. The first day of school, the site and sound of those yellow school buses (still ugly and as reliable as ever). The first week of school is always the best: a short week following the long Labor Day weekend, Friday night high school football, college football on Saturday, and the first Sunday pro games (along with a neighborhood afternoon pot luck block party to boot). A new, exciting season is upon us.
Enjoy the last day of summer and the anticipation of the fall, feel better knowing the Redskins are better off with Kirk Cousins at the helm than RGIII, and hope that this murmur of a late season Nationals run (yes, the Nationals really are still playing) is not some sort of a tease to lure fans back to Nationals Park with glimmers of playoff hopes. We’ll find out soon enough with this series against the Mets. Have a great fall.
We’ve seen this story before Washington sports fans. An over-hyped, overrated professional sports team, destined to win the championship (Redskins (2000), Capitals (2009-2012), and now the Nationals (2015) because of its plethora of can’t-miss stars and talent comes up short, well short. Last night you could feel it if you watched the Nationals game (a 10-3 drubbing to the Brewers at home), a flat crowd, an even flatter team, coming to the fall-is-almost-here realization that they just don’t have it. It’s a lot of things: player chemistry, managers not connecting with the team, lack of discipline and effort, but the common thread, again, is that these teams fail to live up to wildly inflated expectations. It’s a Washington thing. We’re entitled to a championship therefore it must be. Not. What Washington needs to learn is that championships are earned, the hard way, through grueling work and effort. Don’t let the easy life around here fool you, the beautiful vistas, the sophisticated Washington parties, the Washington media enabling you and your greatness. You still have to work. Maybe that’s why professional sports teams from grittier cities do better (think Pittsburgh and Baltimore), they take on the ethos of the city. They know the only thing you can count on is work, hard work.
You look forward to it all week. A Friday night under the lights at the ballpark. Just kick back and unwind. No agendas. You don’t have to be your best. You just have to be there and take it in, like a great summer movie. The perfect end to the work week grind. In my case I had been looking forward to the Nats/Dodgers game all week. The first game after the all-star break. The start of the second half of the season. The serious fan starts to pay attention because the serious teams, the contending teams, start to make their moves. Oh, and did I say the Nats were playing the Dodgers? The LA Dodgers? The glamour, flagship major league baseball team from Southern California and Chavez Ravine where the palm trees beyond the outfield beckon the dreamers. The Dodgers and Vin Scully were meant for Friday nights. Perfect. And it doesn’t hurt when your wife gets free Diamond club seats from work, that means access to the air conditioned lounge and all the free eats and Cokes you can handle. You’re one meal away from going on Statins anyway so you might as well as enjoy the hot dogs, sauerkraut, and sausages. You’re at Nats Park and it’s Friday night and the living is easy….until, the lights go out above the third base side. Washington does a lot of things well; it’s a beautiful city and a great place to grown up, the fan experience at Nats Park is first rate, but one thing Washington doesn’t do well is the basics (haven’t we heard that before?) The lights stayed out, and the teams waited in the dugout. I even had a great view of Bryce Harper in the Nats dugout…waiting, doing his thing, like the rest of us for the lights to power back up. It’s Friday night and you’re tired, your wife’s tired, and your 9 year old who loves baseball and wants to stay, is tired (and in youthful denial) after a long week of sports camp After 45 minutes the lights powered back on and the players slowly trickled back on the field, and the umpires appeared, and play eventually resumed…briefly, until the same lights went out, again (they would do this three times before the night was over). And when they once again resumed playing the Cardinals/Mets game from Busch Stadium on the center field scoreboard, I knew it was finally time to go. One thing the Cardinals do well is they get the basics. This was a reminder. Their red-clad fans are in their seats from the first pitch on, not many empty seats in their house, and those sensible Mid-westerners know baseball, unlike us Washingtonians who really are quite newbies to baseball. The game is almost a distraction to our cell phones, Presidents’ races, girls throwing t-shirts into the crowd, and that ubiquitous Nats pep-guy rep who shows up on the scoreboard from time-to-time during the game live at various venues around Nats Park, like we’re at a rock concert. Nah…Washington’s not there yet when it comes to being a solid baseball town. When you hear the old grizzled fan next to you naming the third base coach who had just made the call to send the runner home from second after a single to center, the fans are in their seats ready at the first pitch, and the lights stay on, then you’ll know Washington baseball has arrived!
As late spring soon turns to Washington summer heat and humidity and the sweet singing of birds is replaced by the constant drone of a/c units and the splashing of kids at local pools—“Marco…Polo”, here’s what we have to look forward to on the local sports scene. The Nationals, the Nationals, and the Nationals. Get out to Nationals Park when you can. Wear an old t-shirt, shorts, and flip flops. Drink a cold craft brew (if you can afford it) and sit way up high in the 400 sections, preferably a night game, and simply kick back and enjoy the atmosphere. Oh, and while you’re at it, pay attention to when Bryce Harper comes to bat. You’ll know it when you hear the old Frank Sinatra staple, “the best is yet to come…” This is a special player having a special season so enjoy it. Absent any blockbuster movies this summer, Nationals Park is the place you want to be. Fans can lament about the Caps and Wizards coming up short…again, but alas, despair not. We’re all being set-up for the championship that will come to this city.