Tuesday, May 10, 2005

Tough as nails.

Boswell was nearly spot on in his column today. "The Nationals should be falling apart. They have every excuse. But so far they're not. In fact, against logic, they're thriving. In time Washington's new team may succumb to its wave of injuries," he writes. And he's exactly right. The Nats should be dead. Ten players on the DL in May? That's ridiculous.

Boswell details how just about everything has gone wrong. Eischen breaks his arm, Sledge rips his hammy, Vidro turns an ankle... And just last night, Guzman hurts himself.

The current Western roadtrip was feared to be a killer for the Nats, and it started off with MLB putting another finger in the eye of the team, their schedule forcing them to arrive at 6 am local time for a 7:05 pm game. But what do the injury-riddled Nats do? They go out and take 2 of 3 from both LA and SF. And we're halfway to another series win in Arizona.

Ten players on the DL doesn't leave the team with much room for error. They should have fallen apart already. But they didn't.

We Are Fam-il-y

I think there's a little bit of the 1979 Pirates - of "We Are Fam-il-y" fame - in this team. They genuinely like each other and care about each other. And why shouldn't they? The core of the Nats went through hell together while in Montreal, forced to play over 100 games on the road. They've been the nomads of baseball, wandering through the desert in search of the promised land.

After he went down with a broken arm, Joey Eischen was reportedly in tears. The players all gave him hugs and wished him well. Apparently Eischen said something like "I need this team as much as they need me." John Patterson called him the personality of the team. It's clear that these guys are tight knit.

And the key players added to this team, as Boswell points out, have been instrumental in the success of the Nats.

Esteban Loaiza, who has pitched wonderfully so far this year, was quoted in spring training as saying, "Being with this team is like being with a family.”

Vinny Castilla is a strong veteran presence who has performed very well. He was reportedly pranked by Loaiza when he arrived at spring training.

But the guy I think deserves much of the credit is Jose Guillen. He seems to have completely turned himself around from his volatile days in Anaheim. Manager Frank Robinson says he's emerging as a leader, and he certainly showed it in two games against San Francisco. On Saturday he put the team in the best position to win by hitting to the right side rather than swinging for the fences. "My approach was to hit the ball the other way. That shows a lot to a young player, that I care about winning. I care about my team," said Guillen, a guy who might be on his way to earning the nickname "Pops," just like Willie Stargell.

Frankie was impressed too. "He's not up there trying to be the hero himself by hitting a home run or things like that. He felt like doing what the occasion calls for to win a ballgame. That was a big play. ... I don't know too many hitters of his stature who would have done that."

Guillen has the exact mentality a baseball player should. He believes in working hard and taking responsibility for oneself. Take a look at these clips from an Associated Press article:

"Jose Guillen believes his fellow Latin American baseball players are making lousy excuses for testing positive for steroids. ... 'I don't buy that, that they didn't know what they were doing,' Guillen told The Associated Press on Sunday. 'They knew what they were doing. There's no excuse for them. We're all grown enough men and we all know what we're doing.'"

"Guillen came to the United States at age 19 and couldn't speak a word of English. He was determined to learn, and still encourages his friends and countrymen to do the same if they want to play professional baseball. 'They say we need translators,' Guillen said. 'I came to the States and spoke no English, but I took it upon myself to learn. This is an American game, not a Latin game. You need to learn to speak the language.'"

Whether he's right or wrong about using the language barrier as an excuse, the point is this: Guillen believes in working hard and doesn't believe in excuses. You have to admire that.

The New Pops?Original Pops

Perhaps the most telling snippet comes from Boswell's column today. "[O]n the bench last week at Dodger Stadium, Guillen pounced on the 69-year-old Robinson before the game and each playfully punched the other in the stomach a dozen times. Guillen, hitting .311 and on a 40-home-run pace, claims Robinson has become a kind of baseball father to him while the manager has said that if pitchers keep throwing at Guillen with impunity, there will be fireworks."

By all accounts, the Nats should lose tonight. Two bench players will be the double-play combination for at least the next few days. That leaves almost no one on the bench. On the hill is a guy making his first start of the year.

Yet with guys like Guillen on the team, you can bet the Nats won't go down without a fight.


Blogger Yuda said...

Damn straight.

9:16 AM  

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