Category Archives: Washington Nationals

Presidents and Baseball are an American Tradition

Next Monday is President’s Day, or Washington’s birthday as it is also known here in the United States of America.

While originally the holiday was thought of as a way to recognize the two presidents with birthdays in February, Abraham Lincoln and George Washington, President’s Day has grown to include a time to honor all of the men, and most likely someday the women, who have served in the nation’s highest office.

Monday we celebrate Abraham Lincoln's Birthday along with honoring every other person to occupy the Oval Office. Photo R. Anderson
Monday we celebrate Abraham Lincoln’s Birthday along with honoring every other person to occupy the Oval Office.

Through the years President’s Day has also become a time to buy furniture, appliances and cars at unheard of savings as many companies have sought to capitalize on the fact that many people have the day off of work. While the founding fathers wanted us to enjoy various freedoms, I doubt they had no interest financing on washers and dryers in mind when they spoke of “self-evident truths.” Then again maybe they did.

So for our purposes let us not focus on the retail aspects of the holiday. Instead let us try to focus on the office of the President and what that entails.

To date, 44 men have served as President of the United States. The 45th President of the United States will be elected next year.

I was fortunate enough to come face to face with two of the men who would go on to become president although I was only old enough to remember one of them

I have been told by my mother that my first encounter with a future President was during a rally for Jimmy Carter.

Of course at the time of that rally I would have been perhaps just turning 1 so needless to say I do not recall meeting him but I am sure it was a lovely time for all.

As for the encounter with a Commander in Chief that I do recall, in 1992 I met Bill Clinton at a campaign event in Orlando, FL. While the election was still months away, and Governor Clinton had not yet become President Clinton, there was still something cool about meeting someone on the campaign trail.

Years later, meeting candidate Clinton is still one of the more memorable moments of my journalistic career. I am sure that reporters that cover the Presidents on a daily basis lose some of the wow factor at some point but there always needs to be a respect for the office at some level.

Although other Ballparks have been used for Presidential pitches, the home Ballparks of the Washington Senators and now the Washington Nationals hold the distinction of hosting the most presidents due to the proximity to the White House. Photo R. Anderson
Although other Ballparks have been used for Presidential pitches, the home Ballparks of the Washington Senators and now the Washington Nationals hold the distinction of hosting the most presidents due to the proximity to the White House.
Photo R. Anderson

There are of course many perks that come with residing at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. in Washington D.C. One of those perks is throwing the ceremonial first pitch each year on Opening Day.

President William Howard Taft started the ceremonial first pitch tradition in 1910 linking the Commander in Chief with the National Pastime ever since.

While the first pitch did not occur until 1910 the link between Presidents and baseball actually goes back to post Civil War America when Andrew Johnson invited the first team of professional ballplayers to the White House.

The first presidential first pitch occurred on April 14, 1910, at National Park in Washington, DC. during a game between the Washington Senators and the Philadelphia Athletics with Taft connecting on the pitch to Walter Johnson.

The Senators moved to Minnesota to become the Twins and the Athletics packed up and headed west to Oakland but the one constant for over a century has been presidents and baseball.

From 1910 to 1971 the President traveled to the home ballpark of the Washington Senators to throw out the first pitch on Opening Day.

To put that streak into perspective it stretched from Taft to Richard Nixon.

While Presidents had thrown out first pitches at the World Series as well President Nixon became the first president to throw out an Opening Day pitch outside of Washington D.C. in 1972 when he threw out the pitch in Anaheim, California since there was no longer a team in Washington.

Before becoming the 41st President of the United States George Herbert Walker Bush was a baseball player at Yale University. Photo R. Anderson
Before becoming the 41st President of the United States George Herbert Walker Bush was a baseball player at Yale University.
Photo R. Anderson

Various other ballparks were used for Opening Day after 1972 but Baltimore and Washington D.C. were the most widely used due to proximity to the White House.

For around 70 years the first pitch was thrown from the stands. Bill Clinton became the first president to throw from the mound and each president since has also toed the rubber on their pitch.

The Presidential links to baseball are not limited to first pitches alone however. Both President Bush 41 and President Bush 43 also have deep baseball roots.

George H.W. Bush was a baseball player in college at Yale and can often be seen behind home plate at Houston Astros games.

Before becoming governor of Texas en route to the White House, George W. Bush served as the owner of the Texas Rangers who relocated from Washington D.C. in 1971.  Photo R. Anderson
Before becoming governor of Texas en route to the White House, George W. Bush served as the owner of the Texas Rangers who relocated from Washington D.C. in 1971.
Photo R. Anderson

It is also a given that if both President Bush and his wife, Barbara, are seated together they will end up on the Ballpark’s kiss cam.

George W. Bush also has a baseball pedigree. Before becoming governor of Texas en route to the White House, the younger President Bush served as the owner of the Texas Rangers who, as one may or not know were once the expansion team that replaced the first version of the Washington Senators who left town to become the Minnesota Twins. It is sort of a neat bow to tie it all together.

So during this time that we honor our Presidents, let us not forget that soon it will once again be Opening Day and when the President steps onto the mound to throw that first pitch he will be continuing a long standing tradition that honors both the past, present and future of both the Oval Office and the game of baseball itself.

Now if you’ll excuse me I think I need to practice my pitching just in case I am ever called on to throw out a first pitch. After all, no one wants to be the person that bounces it a few times on the way to the catcher. Right 50 Cent?

Copyright 2015 R. Anderson

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Orioles and Nationals Set for Collision Course to Divide a Region

Yesterday, marked the end of the regular Major League Baseball season which makes today the official start of the postseason.

While Derek Jeter enjoys an early start to his retirement, since the New York Yankees failed to make the postseason for only the third time in his 20-year career, other teams and regions are preparing for what the MLB marketing team calls the Hunt for October.

In the nation’s capitol this means choosing between pulling for the Washington Nationals or the Baltimore Orioles with both teams being the first to clinch their respective divisions and punch their playoff tickets.

After winning their divisions the Baltimore Orioles and Washington Nationals are seven victories away from facing each other in the World Series. Photo R. Anderson
After winning their divisions the Baltimore Orioles and Washington Nationals are seven victories away from facing each other in the World Series.
Photo R. Anderson

The Orioles captured their first American League East title since 1997 while the Nationals captured the National League East title in equally dominating fashion.

As noted before I follow both the Orioles and Nationals as part of my stable of teams.

The Orioles were the first team I followed growing up in Maryland and through moves to Florida and Texas they are still considered my home team.

Although the Nationals were known as the Expos when I was born, I started following them when they moved down from Canada long after I had left the region.

Of course there was a time before I was born when the region supported two American League teams in close proximity in the Washington Senators and the Orioles.

With only one team in the region when I was growing up it was easy to pull for the Orioles despite living geographically closer to D.C.

Davey Johnson was the manager of the Baltimore Orioles when they won the American League East Division in 1997. He also managed the Washington Nationals to their first winning record. Photo R. Anderson
Davey Johnson was the manager of the Baltimore Orioles when they won the American League East Division in 1997. He also managed the Washington Nationals to their first winning record.
Photo R. Anderson

While the decision to root for the Orioles was easy for me I was curious to know what it was like for people in the shadow of the Potomac River before I was born when they had to pick which team to follow.

As luck would have it, it turns out that my mom is older than me (funny how it works that way) and was alive when there were two teams to choose from, so I called her up to see which team she pulled for growing up.

As I had suspected my mom was a Senators fan growing up. I had suspected this because long after the Senators had left town she would still where her Senators shirt.

Conversely I had never known her to wear anything Orioles related although she did follow the team and encouraged my love of the Orange and Black.

While the Senators only exist to me through old baseball cards that I rescued from a dusty bin at a card shop, the Orioles are full of vibrant memories that shaped the baseball fan that I am today.

In a world where the Senators did not move to Texas it is possible that I never would have rooted for Cal Ripken, Jr.
In a world where the Senators did not move to Texas it is possible that I never would have rooted for Cal Ripken, Jr.

But had the Senators not headed to Arlington, Texas a few years before I was born to become the Texas Rangers, the odds are I would of had an entirely different childhood when it came to baseball.

In this alternate baseball universe instead of the Cal Ripken, Jr. poster on my bedroom wall it could have been replaced by whoever the big star for the Senators was at the time.

Of course, it is likely that I still would have become a Cal Ripken, Jr. fan much in the same way that there are fans of Derek Jeter who cannot stand the New York Yankees. Certain players just elevate beyond team loyalty.

Each year during Spring Training when I was growing up I tried to catch at least one Orioles game. Once the Nationals came onto the circuit I added games to see them as well further cementing my divided beltway allegiance.

Bryce Harper leads a young core of players who have brought playoff baseball back to Washington, D.C. Photo R. Anderson
Bryce Harper leads a young core of players who have brought playoff baseball back to Washington, D.C.
Photo R. Anderson

This support of two teams in the same market was justified by the fact that the only time they would meet in games that really mattered was if they both made it to the World Series in the same year.

I was not counting interleague series play as a challenge to pulling for both teams. For me the only conflict would come in the World Series since I would be divided on who should be crowned World Champions.

With the Orioles undergoing years of mediocrity at the time the Nationals moved into the neighborhood it seemed a safe bet to pull for both teams since the odds of either team, let alone both teams making the World Series was extremely low.

That all changed this year though when I had a hunch that the stars could align and turn Washington, D.C. into a house divided.

Each Spring Training visit includes a stop to Ed Smith Stadium in Sarasota, FL to see the Baltimore Orioles play. Photo R. Anderson
Each Spring Training visit includes a stop to Ed Smith Stadium in Sarasota, FL to see the Baltimore Orioles play.
Photo R. Anderson

While few could predict the dominating manner that the Orioles and Nationals won their divisions few should be surprised that both teams are in the playoffs.

There really is no clear cut line in the sand declaring, “This far, no farther” when it comes to saying where the Nationals Fans live and where the Orioles fans live.

The closer one gets to Baltimore the more intense the fan base for the Orioles becomes. But, the region in between Baltimore and D.C is where the real battle rages.

In fact, the Orioles have a billboard less than seven miles away from the Ballpark that the Nationals call home.

For people like me who were born when there was only one team to pull for in the region it is easier to justify keeping allegiance to the team from our youth and adding a more geographically friendly one as well.

The Washington Nationals are also a must see during Spring Training. Photo R. Anderson
The Washington Nationals are also a must see during Spring Training.
Photo R. Anderson

The generations that follow now will likely have to choose a side, either Red White and Blue, or Orange and Black much like my parent’s generation had to do during the time of the Senators.

With both the Orioles and Nationals full of talent throughout their rosters it seems likely that postseason meetings between the squads could become a regular thing.

As for the Senators of my mom’s youth who made that western journey all those years ago, since moving to Texas I have found myself rooting for the Rangers. In that way I suppose I am a Senators fan as well. They just have a bit more of a twang now than they did back in D.C.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I have some postseason baseball to prepare for.

Copyright 2014 R. Anderson

 

Bo Porter Era in Houston Ends on Labor Day

Today, September 1 is Labor Day.

While originally established in the 19th Century as a way to honor workers, through the years the first Monday of September celebration has turned into a time of barbecues, beach getaways and appliance sales.

In fact Labor Day weekend is often called the last weekend of the summer even though fall does not officially arrive until September 22.

For fans of the Houston Astros, Labor Day will forever be known as the day that the manager and bench coach were asked to turn in their uniforms and leave the building.

Earlier today the Astros announced that Manager Bo Porter and bench coach Dave Trembley had been relieved of their duties. Tom Lawless will serve as interim manager through the remainder of the 2014 season.

Last Labor Day Bo Porter was managing the Houston Astros in a day game against the Minnesota Twins. Fast forward a year and Porter was fired by the Astros during an off day. Photo R. Anderson
Last Labor Day Bo Porter was managing the Houston Astros in a day game against the Minnesota Twins. Fast forward a year and Porter was fired by the Astros during an off day.
Photo R. Anderson

While no one ever likes to be fired part of me thinks that Porter and Trembley are relieved to be let go from the tire fire of a team that is the Astros. Plus, by being let go now Porter and Trembley have more time to line up jobs for next season.

Neither Porter nor Trembley should be held to blame for the performance of the Astros under their tenure. One can only manage with what they are given and few can argue that the front office has been very stingy in what they are giving the field staff to work with.

The company line for the Astros continues to be, “just wait we are getting better every day and are bolstering the farm system for continued success.”

While there has been slight improvement in the on field performance of the team this season there also has been a marked increase in stories about player discontent and mismanagement by the front office.

There was also the whole situation regarding failing to sign the first pick in this year’s draft and the release of confidential front office communications regarding trade negotiations.

Also, who can forget the absolute disaster centering on the team’s broadcast rights that has prevented much of the Houston area from being able to watch the games on television?

Of course with such spotty on field performance the last couple of years not being able to watch on television might be a blessing in disguise for those fans who do not get the games.

By many accounts the Astros front office did not give Bo Porter  much to work with during his nearly two seasons at the helm. The team will now look for a manager to share in the slow rebuilding process. Photo R. Anderson
By many accounts the Astros front office did not give Bo Porter much to work with during his nearly two seasons at the helm. The team will now look for a manager to share in the slow rebuilding process.
Photo R. Anderson

Granted no team is perfect but with each story that comes out it seems more and more like the Astros front office does not seem to have much of a clue on how to run a Major League Baseball team.

As Fox Mulder would say, “I want to believe” that things will get better in the not too distant future and that the Astros will once again be a playoff contender but with each day I fell more like they will be a Major League pretender.

Earlier this season it was announced that the Astros were going to raise ticket prices to help cover expenses. Asking fans to pay more to see a less competitive team does not seem like a sound business strategy.

Of course through their dynamic pricing model the Astros charge even more when the marquee franchises like the Yankees and Red Sox are in town to help cover the losses on the other games.

I do understand that there is a business side to baseball but continuing to fleece the fans will end up biting them in the end.

With the arrival of football season it is likely that even fewer people will pay attention to the Astros as they limp to the finish line of the 2014 season. While it is likely that they can avoid their fourth consecutive 100 loss season in the grand scheme of things it might be too little too late.

More and more I hear people say that Houston is a football town and not a baseball town.

While I do not yet believe that baseball will fail in Houston in the same way that Arena League Football, minor league hockey and Indy Car did, it is certainly a possibility under the current management team based on the recent track record of activities.

Thankfully there are the Sugar Land Skeeters to watch for a reasonably priced baseball fix. With the Atlantic League of Professional Baseball planning additional teams in the Houston area over the next few years there very well could come a time where fans grow tired of paying for the Astros antics.

While this is an entirely unlikely scenario the people of Houston could watch the Astros leave the fourth largest city in America and find themselves with two large empty sports complexes.

The fact that Houston is the fourth largest city in America is often brought up when people question how the Astros could be so bad. And while it is best saved for another column on another day, I believe that a city’s size does not guarantee success in sports. One need only look at the Los Angeles area and their inability to get a NFL team after 20 years as proof of that. Sometimes sports work better in a smaller market where there are less options for the fans to spend their money on.

Prior to coming to Houston Bo Porter was the third base coach for the Washington Nationals. The Nationals are having a much better year than the Astros and could reach their first World Series. Photo R. Anderson
Prior to coming to Houston Bo Porter was the third base coach for the Washington Nationals. The Nationals are having a much better year than the Astros and could reach their first World Series.
Photo R. Anderson

As for the next antics for the Astros front office they will in the words of general manager Jeff Luhnow seek “a consistent and united message throughout the entire organization.” If one was to read between the lines of that statement they could surmise the Astros are seeking a yes man manager who does whatever the front office asks of them and does not have an opinion of their own. Rarely does that sort of micro managing create a good working environment.

As for Porter and Trembley’s former teams, the Nationals and Orioles respectively, things could not be looking better as each team holds a commanding lead in their respective divisions and seems poised for deep postseason runs.

A beltway series between the Nationals and the Orioles would be a very nice thing and the way the teams are playing it very well could be a reality. Of course there are still several teams that could prevent that from occurring but one thing is clear it should be a very fun postseason with the inclusion of some teams that have not been there in a while.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I have some Skeeters tickets to buy and a beltway World Series to prepare for.

Copyright 2014 R. Anderson

Manatees Would Swim Inland Under Winter Park Proposal

Recently it was announced that the City of Winter Park, Fla., the Brevard County Manatees, and Rollins College had reached a tentative deal to bring the minor league baseball team to Winter Park, beginning with the 2016 season.

The Brevard County Manatees are a member of the Florida State League and a Class A-Advanced affiliate of the Milwaukee Brewers.

Space Coast Stadium in Brevard County, Florida may be without its two biggest tenants in 2016 if the Manatees and Nationals leave for greener pastures. Photo R. Anderson
Space Coast Stadium in Brevard County, Florida may be without its two biggest tenants in 2016 if the Manatees and Nationals leave for greener pastures.
Photo R. Anderson

Under the proposal the current Rollins College Ballpark, Alfond Stadium, would be torn down and replaced by a 2,500 seat minor league stadium which Rollins College and the Manatees would share.

Total cost of the project to be divvied up by the public and private sectors is said to be about $33 million and would include a Ballpark and parking garage.

Winter Park City Manager Randy Knight was quoted by several Orlando media outlets as saying that the fact that Orlando is the largest metro area in the nation without a professional baseball team played a role in the city’s decision to pursue a team.

After hosting Minor League Baseball since early in the 20th Century, the Orlando region was left without a Minor League Baseball team when the Double-A Southern League Orlando Rays relocated to Montgomery, Alabama and were renamed the Biscuits following the 2003 season.

The Brevard COunty Manatees, the Florida State League Class A Milwaukee Brewers farm team have a preliminary deal in place to move to Winter Park, Florida beginning in 2016. Photo R. Anderson
The Brevard COunty Manatees, the Florida State League Class A Milwaukee Brewers farm team have a preliminary deal in place to move to Winter Park, Florida beginning in 2016.
Photo R. Anderson

Without a team to call their own baseball fans in Orlando were left with hour long road trips to either Brevard County or Daytona if they wanted to catch a game.

While few people would argue on the surface that returning Minor League Baseball to the Orlando market is a good idea there are two sides to every relocation.

On the positive side of the coin the Orlando area would gain a new team and Ballpark to fill summer nights with the sounds and smells of baseball.

The negative side of the coin would be that Brevard County’s Space Coast Stadium to the east would lose their summer tenant on top of the likely loss of their Spring Training tenant the Washington Nationals.

Without a regular team calling it home Space Coast Stadium could fall into disrepair and meet the wrecking ball which is a fate that has befallen many Ballparks before it when they lost their professional tenant.

Bryce Harper and the Washington Nationals Spring Training days in Space Coast Stadium may be numbered. Photo R. Anderson
Bryce Harper and the Washington Nationals Spring Training days in Space Coast Stadium may be numbered.
Photo R. Anderson

While there was a movement to save historic Tinker Field despite it never being able to host baseball games again there are no such historic memories attached to the newer Space Coast Stadium.

In a perfect world there would be room for both cities to have a team but the fact remains that much like those sword wielding immortals from the Highlander, there can be only one.

Brevard County is likely to try to fight hard to keep both the Nationals and the Manatees as tenants inside Space Coast Stadium for many years to come through various incentives as several studies have shown the economic benefits of having the teams play there.

For years the Brevard County Manatees have given their fans much entertainment with each ticket. Soon fans along the Space Coast may have to travel inland to catch their team. Photo R. Anderson
For years the Brevard County Manatees have given their fans much entertainment with each ticket. Soon fans along the Space Coast may have to travel inland to catch their team.
Photo R. Anderson

However,with the current economics of baseball and the desire to treat Ballparks like disposal commodities it may prove to be a losing proposition to keep the teams in the 17-year-old Ballpark.

Under the current plan construction would be in 2015 with the team moving over a year later which would be just shy of Space Coast Stadium’s 20th Anniversary season.

Wherever the Manatees end up for the 2016 season they will likely still entertain the fans with the various aspects of Minor League Baseball that have entertained families for generations.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I have the urge to take part in some dizzy bat.

Copyright 2014 R. Anderson

Baseball’s Beasts are in the East

This week the Baltimore Orioles and the Tampa Bay Rays faced off in an American League East battle.

Before that it was the New York Yankees and the Rays facing off.

After all of the inter division dust settled the margin between the first place Orioles and the last place Rays was a mere three and a half games.

The Baltimore Orioles currently sit atop the American League East standings where only three games separate first from fifth place. Photo R. Anderson
The Baltimore Orioles currently sit atop the American League East standings where only three games separate first from fifth place.
Photo R. Anderson

The order of teams in the division is likely to change many times between now and the end of the regular season with the Rays, Red Sox, Orioles, Yankees and Blue Jays each having a legitimate shot to win the division when all is said and done.

The same can be said in the National League East where only three games separate the tied for first place Miami Marlins and Washington Nationals from the last place Philadelphia Phillies.

As is the case in the American League East, each of the five National League East teams, Marlins, Nationals, Phillies, Braves, and Mets should feel pretty good about their postseason chances at this point in the season.

While the beasts in the east are all within striking distance of each other things get a little more spread out for teams west of the Mighty Mississippi.

The American League Central has a 6.5 game spread between the first place Detroit Tigers and fifth place Minnesota Twins. In fact the Tigers have a 4.5 game cushion over the second place Chicago White Sox.

The Washington Nationals are currently tied for first place in the National League East with the Miami Marlins in a division that also has three games separating the top from the bottom of the standings. Photo R. Anderson
The Washington Nationals are currently tied for first place in the National League East with the Miami Marlins in a division that also has three games separating the top from the bottom of the standings.
Photo R. Anderson

Out in the American League West the margin stretches to nine games from the first place Oakland Athletics to the fifth place Houston Astros.

In the National League, both the Central and West Divisions have a 9.5 game margin between first and fifth place.

This snapshot of the standings shows once again how the most competitive divisions in baseball reside along the Atlantic coast. But the question remains what is it about those 10 teams that makes them so good year after year?

One could make the argument that much of baseball started with the east coast teams and the fact that they are still competitive could be in direct result of their longevity as franchises.

While it is true that the bulk of the teams in the East Divisions have long histories that does not account for the three World Series appearances by the relatively young Florida based teams.

Despite one of the lowest payrolls in baseball the Tampa Bay Rays manage to stay competitive year after year in one of the toughest divisions in Major League Baseball proving that money cannot always buy wins. Photo R. Anderson
Despite one of the lowest payrolls in baseball the Tampa Bay Rays manage to stay competitive year after year in one of the toughest divisions in Major League Baseball proving that money cannot always buy wins.
Photo R. Anderson

The Rays have one World Series appearance ending in a loss and the Marlins won their two trips to the October Classic proving that age is not the only driving factor when it comes to success in the east.

With length of franchise existence ruled out as the driving factor behind the success in the East one might be tempted to say payroll is the key to what makes baseball on the East coast so much more competitive than the western counterparts.

While it is certainly true that the New York Yankees and Philadelphia Phillies are not shy about spending money to sign players, the current teams atop the National League East and American League East, the Marlins and Orioles respectively, have some of the lowest payrolls in baseball.

Additionally the Tampa Bay Rays have shown year after year that they can be competitive despite a payroll that is a fraction of the size of some of the big spenders in the division.

So one cannot use history or finances to point to as reasons behind the competitive balance in the Eastern Divisions of Major League Baseball.

A third possible reason behind the success of the Eastern Division franchises that could be pointed to by some is the proximity of the teams to each other that leads to heated rivalries.

While it is true that the Boston Red Sox and New York Yankees have proximity as well as a heated rivalry that has spanned over a century there are rivalries in all divisions in Major League Baseball so the Eastern Division teams cannot claim a monopoly on that reason either.

In the final analysis one cannot really point to why the 10 Eastern Division teams seem so much more evenly matched than the other 20 teams in baseball.

Sometimes there are not simple answers for things.

One does not need to know how exactly it is that the Earth spins down to the molecular level to appreciate that it prevents people from floating off into outer space any more than one needs to know the complete formula for the success the teams in the Eastern Divisions.

Sometimes in life it is just best to enjoy the resulting sausage without having to see how it was made, and right now there is some very tasty sausage being made in the American and National League East Divisions.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I am suddenly craving some bratwurst for some reason.

Copyright 2014 R. Anderson