Redskins Training Camp

Every year at this time in late July when Redskins training camp opens, I like to look for visual signs in the local papers, any clue, as to how I think the team will do for the upcoming season.  What do I know?  Still, it’s fun.  I don’t trust the coddling, enabling Washington Post sports writers when it comes to covering the Redskins so I look for my own signs.  In years past I’ve seen pictures of players lounging in portable water tubs after practice – not good I always thought.  Other years it’s been the expanding waistlines and guts of the players – not good either – where’s the off-season conditioning?  Other years it’s been players standing around signing autographs for the fans – another distraction that takes away from the hard work on the practice field, but then again maybe I’m out of touch because I think most NFL training camps are open to the public these days.  One year when Marty Schottenheimer was coach I saw a picture of players doing the Oklahoma drill – an old school contact drill that tests players’ toughness and conditioning during the heat and grind of August.  Good, very good, I thought.   The team got off to a slow start that year, losing its first 5 games, but they finished strong to go 8-8.   Unfortunately, Schottenheimer was here for only one season due to a power struggle with Dan Snyder.  Telling.

So when training camped opened this week for the 2016 campaign, I did my usual perusing through the papers.   The first was a picture of Kirk Cousins and Colt McCoy running basic quarterback rollout drills, not bad I thought, but maybe a little window dressing for the fans.  Then, yesterday while on the Metro coming home from work, I saw it, the telling sign – Coach Gruden smiling on the practice field like a casual walk in the park, joking with the players who were nonchalantly doing stretches on the field – smiles on their faces as well.  Not good.  The coddling Washington media will tell you the Redskins are heading in the right direction, they’re ‘improving’, they’re settled at quarterback, they have a solid GM, the players are solid, yada, yada, yada.  Yet if you’re a legitimate NFL coach, you’re not your players’ best buddy.  In fact, you probably don’t want your players to like you.  You want them to be working hard (cursing you out in silent struggle while laboring for the next hard earned water break).  But not smiling.  The Belichicks, the Coughlins of the NFL, they don’t smile, and they don’t chum up to their players.  Yet they are respected.  And they win.  We’ll see.

Sunday afternoon little league baseball practice

It didn’t matter that my son’s little league team lost the day before.  What mattered is that 4 kids showed up the next day for practice at the local elementary school ball field, along with 4 middle aged dads on a spectacular, sunny fall Sunday afternoon in October.  If the day before was about fielding blunders, errors, and not knowing where to throw the ball, this day was about the love of the game:  outdoors, a clear blue sky, the leaves changing to yellow and amber hues, a bucket full of dirt smeared baseballs.

“You dads mind running the bases?” asked the coach.

We all shook our heads.  “Uh, no.”

“The kids need to work on fielding.  I’ll hit the grounders; you dads run the bases.”

After several labored trips around the muddy base paths, I was huffing it, a real Sunday afternoon workout.  It didn’t matter if my son Andrew threw to the correct base with dads on first and second, I had to concentrate just to keep up myself.

On and on this went, no cell phone to check the time.  When is this going to end?

Finally, while I’m standing at home, ready to lumber down first again:  “Any dad need a break?” the coach asked, looking back at me.  I shook my head.  Of course none of us aging dads would take a break now— not when all of us wanted to be home watching the Redskins game.  Besides, the 4 infielder kids were starting to get it.

“Throw it to first,” said my son, Andrew, to another kid during a fielder’s choice play, “my dad’s slow.”

Finally:  “Ok, let’s work on hitting now,” said the coach.  “The dads can field while the kids practice hitting.”

Standing on first base never felt so good.  Just stand there and catch the ball from a weak armed, middle aged dad like me.  Andrew even cracked one into center field, his first inside the park homer.

“That’s it guys, good practice.”

The blue sky and the leaves’ amber hues never looked so good.

“The Redskins are ahead, 7-3,” said one of the dads, looking down at his smartphone.

I walked off the school field middle aged, slow, and victorious.  I would become a couch potato the rest of the afternoon drinking a Coke, eating potato chips, and watching football.  Well earned.

Some observations on Washington’s pro sports teams

The Nationals

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

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 Capitals

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!

Back to School and Welcome Fall

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.