December 18, 2006

The Vidro Vacuum: Winners & Losers

Now that the trade is official, it's time to hastily and arbitrarily declare winners and losers. Aside from the obvious, Natspos win/Gran Marniers lose, the sudden (and sizeable) absence of Vidro from the infield creates more opportunity for some remaining Nationals and less for others.

Big Winners:

Cristian Guzman - GUZMANIA '07: The Comeback Tour, is off to an auspicious start. Vidro's departure means FLopez moves to 2B, clearing a spot at SS for you-know-who. Some people might not consider this a good thing, but all true adherents to the cult of 15 know that a rested, surgically-enhanced Guzman is a GOOOOZ primed for a mid-career breakout.

Bernie Castro - With a wave of Trader Jim's magical vodka bottle, "Lil' Fidel" just became the most experienced 2B on the Nats roster; which is somewhat akin to noting that Kory Casto is our sturdiest potential LFer. Still, in the race for that one utility infielder slot, a weekend with Bernie is infinitely preferable to the Jose Macias doing his best impression of Henry Mateo starring in the Damian Jackson story.

Larry Broadway - In addition to being a loveable immobile lump at second, Vidro was our nominal backup 1B too. Throw in the inevitable recovery period for Nick "The Limping Stick" Johnson, and Larry's chances of seeing big league at-bats are significantly improved. Of course, it would be just like the Nats to re-sign Robert Fick to vulture Broadway's "reserve 1B/LF" slot. Youth movement my eye.

Big Losers:

Ryan Church - Poor Ryan. Since mid-2005 he's been labelled too callow and gimpy to be an everyday player. Now the Nats have gone and added a younger, gimpier, corner OF. What's a guy to do? If only he could play 1B, maybe he could vulture Larry Broadway's roster spot. Best case scenario: Church forms an offense/defense and lefty/righty platoon with Nook Logan in CF. Most likely scenario: Adios, Ryan; Hola, fungible 4th SP.

Kory Casto - The Nats outfield just got a little more crowded, and Kory just got a little more likely to be left standing when the music stops. Unlike Church, Snelling and (I'm pretty sure) Escobar, Casto's got minor league options left. Which means he could start the year in AAA and shuttle back and forth replacing the injured Escobar/Snelling/Church. On the plus side, he's the only legitimate backup 3B on the roster. But hey, Zimm can play 320 games in his first two full seasons, right?

Jason "Harvey" Bergmann - Or any of the other replaceable, back of the bullpen righty relievers. The addition of Fruto, and the inexplicable selection of LeVale Speigner in the Rule 5 draft, means there's two more right-handers competing for a spot in what's fast becoming a crowded bullpen. Add Ray King to the mix, and slots for the Bookers, Schroeders, Riveras and Bergmanns of the world will be hard to come by.

The Big Question: Rauch to the Rotation?

big right-hander has been a starter for most of his career, and while he thrived in the set-up man role last season, the Nats have a number of candidates (Ryan Wagner, Beltran Perez, Luis Ayala v. 2.0) to fill that slot. Lest we forget, Rauch battled John Patterson tooth-and-nail for the 5th starter spot in Spring Training '05, (behind such luminaries as Zach Day and Tomo Ohka.) If JimBo were willing to lay out a little cash we could reassemble 3/5 of our 2005 Opening Day rotation in '07. Somebody find Antonio Osuna and T.J. Tucker, STAT. But I digress...

Of course, if Rauch had ever excelled as a starter he probably wouldn't have bounced between the minors and the bullpen for the last few seasons. But hey, a solid third or fourth SP looks pretty good right now, no?

December 14, 2006

Jim Bowden: Sooper Friggin' Geenious

Holy Crap, he did it again! Pending physicals (Big Money, Big Money, No Whammies, STOP!) Trader Jim fleeced another GM. We now have documentary proof that KaBowden is no more than the 3rd-worst General Manager in Major League Baseball. This is big news, people! Even if the whole Vidro deal falls apart tomorrow, and it may, (though I have to believe the Nats would take Snelling & Fruto if they were missing three limbs between the two of them,) just finding another human being to agree to this deal is a masterstroke? And the Mariners are picking up 3/4 of Jose's salary? That's rum raisin icing on the cake, baby.

Elsewhere is the Nat(m)osphere you'll find detailed analysis of the trade, profiles of the two soon-to-be-newest Nats, paens to the glory days of Jose Vidro, speculation about whether this frees up cash to pursue actual, honest-to-god pitchers (Short answer: NO), and lots of non-specific giddiness. All of it is worth reading. But what matters to me is that this is the first tangible evidence I've seen that the Nats are adhering to a plan.

Not necessarily "The Plan" (copyright, trademark, patent-pending), mind you. But a clearly understood objective supported by identifiable steps along the way. Clearing Vidro's contract off the books was an absolute prerequisite to accomplishing anything in the next two years. Jose was a great guy, but he was an albatross on and off the field. Trading him was good. Getting something in return was brilliant.

December 7, 2006

Jesus is Coming, Everybody Look Busy

Whew! Well, that was exciting! And you thought the Nationals weren't going to make any moves during the Winter Meetings. Silly fans. Free agents may be for other teams, but Bowden is all over toolsy minor leaguers like some kind of animal all over some kind of spoiled meat product.

In one fell swoop the Nats managed to land power-hitting catcher Jesus Flores and a righty reliever already gunning for the All-Name Team. Granted, Jesus topped out at hi-A ball last season and the pitcher looks suspiciously like every other right-handed middle reliever on the roster, but hey, it's action. Something had to be done, the Nat(m)osphere was beginning to turn on our thrifty overlords.

The official press release also notes the selection of Triple-A LHP Justin Jones from the Minnesota system. Jones is a neighbor of Ryan Zimmerman from down Tidewater way. As always, the Farm Authority's definitive coverage is required reading for all things developmental.

Incidentally, we lost about a half dozen utility infielder/middle reliever types in the later phases of the Rule 5 Draft, but again per Farm Authority, no one we're going to miss.

Net result? We're either going to carry 3 catchers all season or turn over backup duties to a 22-year old rookie with no experience above A-ball. And if Speigner makes the roster, that's one less slot for Beltran Perez, Jason "Harvey" Bergmann, "King" Saul Rivera or some other fungible righty middle reliever. On the other hand, maybe we swing a deal with Minnesota to ship Levale to Triple-A where he belongs in exchange for Bernie Castro, killing two birds with one stone.

Do You Smell Smoke?

Which brings us to today's edition of "Hot Stove or Fire Sale?" The Nats have issued their first vague, tentative statement of interest, indicating a possible intent to sign veteran Jose Macias to a minor league deal. Macias would likely fill the utilityman role for the Nats in 'o7, with production hovering somewhere between Marlon Anderson and Damian Jackson levels. Now that's some Hot Stove action!

Rumors continue to swirl around The Chief and Ryan Church, with the latter most likely to be moved. The Nat(m)osphere has pretty thoroughly canvassed every approach to this offseason, from Capitol Punishment's "Buy some halfway decent pitching so I don't gain 500 lbs gorging on Hard Times Chili Nachos to smother my sorrow," to Banks of the Anacostia's "Dynamite the fecker. Let's lose 100!" and Farm Authority's impassioned, "Won't someone please think of the Type-B free agents and sandwich round draft picks?" Mmmm.. sandwich picks... ::drool::

Myself, I tend to look at 2007 as open audition time in Natsville. We've got Church (for the moment,) Casto, Logan, Escobar, Restovich and (maybe) Larry Broadway fighting for two outfield spots; "Irish Mike" O'Connor, Beltran Perez, Shawn Hill, Tim Redding, Colby Lewis and Joel Hanrahan are auditioning for the rotation; and more RHRPs than you can shake a stick at are clogging up the 'pen. Play 'em all, see who sticks, who might have trade value and who can restock Columbus for the next few years until Colton Willems becomes the Quad-A pitcher we all fear.

Will it be ugly as Katherine Harris first thing in the morning? Probably. But at least the brisket will be smoking!

November 23, 2006

Today We Give Thanks...

For having the good sense not to reward Gary Matthews Jr's fluk... err breakout season with a 5 yr/$50M contract.

That Juan Pierre's 5 year $45M contract made it possible for him to afford a razor.

That Fonzi's new 8-year, $135M deal will enable him to purchase the luxury sedan he's going to need to patrol the outfield in 2013.

And for Manny Acta. Como se dice "basement" Manny?

Happy Thanksgiving from Nats Triple Play!

November 14, 2006

You Know the Drill

Kriner: The Face That Launched 1000 Questions

Succumbing to intense peer pressure, mild ennui and enormous lack of content, Nats Triple Play has joined the 5 Questions movement. If you are unfamiliar with The Curly W's interrogatory Crusade... well, go bother them.

Brandon has intrepidly quizzed allied and adversarial bloggers far and wide. As a result, all the obvious questions have been answered, ad nauseum. NTP steps up to the plate to fill your useless knowledge void hole.

Question the First: Should there be cheerleaders in Baseball?

Absolutely not, unless you're talking about replacing all the male Nat Pack members with attractive, nubile women. If that's what you mean, then YES!

But seriously, we already have mid-inning JumboTron contests, people firing things into the stands, and a giant Eagle riding around in a golf cart. I don't think cheerleaders would add anything substantive to the atmosphere.

Question the Second: What's your favorite breakfast meat?

Chicken Maple Sausage. It's sausage, but doesn't make you feel like you're drinking grease out of a tube like pork sausage does. I've always wondered how some meats became acceptable for breakfast consumption and others are verboten. Why the hell can't I have ribs for breakfast?

Question the Third: What's your favorite baseball movie?

I really liked Field of Dreams because it really honored the quiet nature of baseball. FoD was poignant for the things that weren't done and said, and baseball is my favorite game for the same reason. The game doesn't rely on nonstop action for excitement. Instead, anticipation builds through the windup, the checked swing, the foul tip, the lead off the bag. The hit, home run and stolen base are so exciting because they release all that tension.

Question the Next to Last: If you could pick one feature for the new stadium to have what would you choose?

This is more of a meta-feature, but I'd choose for it to be as uniquely "DC" as possible. I hope that the stadium takes on an unmistakable atmosphere of its own, something that's synonymous with soul of the city the way that Wrigley is for Chicago, Fenway is for Boston, or even like Camden is for Baltimore. 30 years from now, when someone suggests that the stadium be torn down, I want people to get all up in arms and protest because the place has such a sense of presence.

Sadly, the philosophy behind the construction of nearly all the modern parks has been to maximize the delivery of amenities for optimum revenue generation. The emphasis is on cash registers per square foot, not on building an amazing place to spend a summer night.

Question the Last: What would your coming to bat music be?

Ah, no brainer. I'd choose the opening chords of Son Volt's "Bandages and Scars." Love that song.

Thanks again to the Curly One for including us in his tour of the Natosphere. Follow this link to see our responses to Brandon's incisive journalistic questioning.

Now we're late for Happy Hour. Good luck to Manager Manny, Tim Redding, and Alfonso Soriano's tax advisor. Parting Thought: If "something" should "happen" to Hanley Ramirez, would Ryan Zimmerman assume the duties of NL Rookie of the Year? I'm just asking...

October 16, 2006


What's a Nats fan to think about Kory Casto? Is the gifted young hitter a future fixture in left field, the next Ryan Church, or just the best product of a bad farm system?

The statistics are no help. Casto put up a great line at Potomac in 2005 (.290/.394/.510) good enough to earn him the organizational Player of the Year award. He followed that with a solid season at Double-A Harrisburg (.272/.379/.478) and a second consecutive POY. But as Basil demonstrated
here, Kory's stats don't translate well to the big leagues, at least not yet. Most notably, the talented Mr. Casto can't hit left-handed pitching.

So that's it, right? Nice kid, this Kory. Might have a future as a corner OF/3B, spelling Ryan Zimmerman once every couple of weeks. Just never against a lefty. Not such a bad life, really. But then came the
Arizona Fall League. And in the early going, Casto's tearing things up.

The AFL's supposed to be finishing school for prospects just about ready to make the leap to the big show. In theory, Kory's facing the best pitching of his professional career, and he's beating the snot out of it. All the usual small sample size caveats apply (18 ABs over 5 games) but Casto's .500/.667/.778 line is more than just eyebrow-raising. Most impressive? Nine BBs against two Ks.

Of course,
Larry Broadway had a nice little Arizona Fall League last season, and look where that got him. Another wasted year in Triple-A (.288/.356/.455) and a season-ending separated shoulder for his trouble. So maybe Kory Casto's October Surprise is just a flash in the pan. But in an offseason that promises little to get excited about, sometimes it's nice to dream.

October 14, 2006

Of feathers and more stupidity

Back in May, I commented on some stupidity from the NCAA.

The bloggers at the Post have picked up on this too.

Favorite quotes from the president of W&M:

I am compelled to say, at the outset, how powerfully ironic it is for the College of William & Mary to face sanction for athletic transgression at the hands of the NCAA. The Association has applied its mascot standards in ways so patently inconsistent and arbitrary as to demean the entire undertaking.

But even better:

Meanwhile, across the country, in the face of massive academic underperformance, embarrassing misbehaviors on and off the field, and grotesque commercialization of intercollegiate athletics, the NCAA has proven hapless, or worse. It is galling that a university with such a consistent and compelling record of doing things the right way is threatened with punishment by an organization whose house, simply put, is not in order.

For those still reading enough to care, I do wish W&M would take up the charge on this. Nichol's second quote hits the nail on the head -- the NCAA does little to actually promote student athletics, and now has the gall to tell W&M -- a school that actually graduates students shouldn't be penalized over something this stupid.

The inconsistency of the process what makes it a real sham. What was once inappropriate is now fine, but none of the criticism is actually justified -- it's some stupid hand waving with no specifics.

I wish they would focus on something, you know, important.

October 9, 2006

The (New) Owner's Cheap, The Stadium's a Dump and All the Players are Broken

Somebody needs to be hired, fired, signed, cut, indicted or elected Rookie of the Year right quick. The Natmosphere is growing restless.

You can't leave a Nats blogger alone for too long. We are by nature a skittish and mildly paranoid bunch. Not as downtrodden as Cubbie fans, who honestly think they're cursed by a goat, and maybe not even as paranoid as Yanqui fans, who must be starting to think that Alex Rodriguez is a $250M practical joke foisted upon then by the rest of baseball. But after decades of heartbreaking near-misses and two years of MLB mismanagement, if the average Nats fan doesn't have a bit of the whipped puppy syndrome, it just means they aren't paying attention.

We've been conditioned to lap up every scrap of available information, (Who's the front-running ownership group? What's the vote breakdown on the DC Council's stadium plan? Who's playing CF this month?) and when the information dries up, well rumor, innuendo and speculation are Washington's real pastime. If
Julius Caesar had a Nats blogger reading his chicken entrails, not only would he not have left the house on the Ides of March, he would have sealed the place up with duct tape and plastic sheeting, loaded his shotgun and put a load of buckshot into Casca, reserving the second barrel for Brutus himself. Or so we like to think.

In truth, we operate in an information vacuum that is nearly complete. We know what we read, and what we are told, which is almost always second-hand information at best. But we're dedicated and resourceful, and genuinely want to be useful sources of information for each other and Nats fans everywhere. So we do what we can to analyze and validate the information we're given, and struggle mightly to come up with something new and interesting to say that also has a chance of being correct. And then, every once in a while,
a story like this comes along.

It seems the Lerner family, the new owners of our somewhat beloved Nationals, are businesspeople. This comes as a shock to certain segments of the community, who were under the entirely reasonable misapprehension that professional sports owners are made of equal parts gumdrops, rainbows and disposable income. The most recent manifestation of this unsettling bottom-line orientation is the Lerner's focus on the new Southeast stadium. For reasons passing understanding, the family is pushing to have the stadium open on time and on budget, a stance which conflicts (to some extent) with DC's larger redevelopment goals for the neighborhood.

I have enough to say about the stadium in the wider context of redeveloping Southeast that I'll save it for another post, at another time. But I do want to talk about how this approach to the stadium project affects public perceptions of the new owners. For starters, take a look at
Capitol Punishment's take on the situation. Chris Needham's a bright guy, and no latecomer to the "Potential Cheapskate Alert" bandwagon. He takes a balanced, thoughtful look at the available evidence. The comments below his post are much more instructive.

There is a certain segment of the Nats fanbase that doesn't like the Lerners. Some people preferred the Malek ownership group, perhaps having been guests at one of Fred's puppy-BBQs. Others find the lack of Ben's Chili Bowl half-smokes at RFK a sure sign of owner indifference. Still others are apparently peeved that the Lerners didn't just hand out gold bricks to fans during the Grand Reopening Weekend. After all, with a net worth of $1.5 billion the cheap bastards could surely have afforded it. And some have examined the available evidence and concluded that the Lerners show early signs of joining Calvin Griffith, Bob Short,
Vince Naimoli, Carl Pohlad school of sports ownership, characterized by an unhealthy fascination with profit margins at the expense of fielding a competitive club.

Unfortunately there does appear to be some justification for this concern. The team was unwilling, for whatever reason, to commit the money necessary to sign rookies
Sean Black and Dustin Dickerson, who opted for college instead. Jim Bowden is already laying the groundwork for the Nats absence from the 2007 free agency free-for-all. And the Lerners haven't shown any inclination to splurge on that lovely limestone stadium facade that we all registered for at Crate & Barrel.

But is any of this enough to prove that we're to be eternally relegated to watching a shoddy "Tampa Bay North" team in a cheap, slapped together stadium amidst a sea of surface parking, while near Southeast DC is reclaimed by auto-body shops and gay nightclubs as the Lerner family laughs all the way to their next suburban shopping mall project? Not hardly. The Lerners just spent $450M, they're going to own the team for quite some time. We'll have plenty of time to sharpen the pitchforks and light the torches.


October 7, 2006

Ain't Gotta Go Home, But You Can't Stay Here

Sure the playoffs are still going on (except for the Twins, and possibly the Yanquis,) but the Nats season is well and truly over. And if you don't believe me, ask Pedro Astacio. Pedro, along with five other members of the Nats "pitching" staff got their walking papers earlier this week. Right now Astacio, along with Brian Lawrence, Zach Day, Ryan Drese, Joey Eischen and Felix Rodriguez are free agents, which is a nice way of saying unemployed. And rightfully so.

Of the six, Lawrence and Day are the only two I'm remotely interested in seeing in a curly W next season. The Nats are going to need pitching, and a lot of it, again next year. Lawrence will be turning 31, Day just 28. If either or both of them can return to health, an iffy proposition at best, they'll be useful additions to what figures to be another cobbled-together Nats pitching staff. Even with a bad 2005, Lawrence has a career ERA of 4.10. Zach Day is only two years removed from pitching 19 games with a 3.93 ERA. Granted, neither of these guys would have any place on a good team, but then again we're talking about your 2007 Washington Nationals.

The team cleared a little more roster space by outrighting four more players to Triple-A. OF George Lombard and INF Henry Mateo might soon be joining the ranks of the unemployed. Neither man is more than organizational filler at this point, and if they can be replaced by younger players, they should be. Reliever Roy Corcoran and utilityman Melvin Dorta are also headed back to the minors, but they're young enough to be worth keeping around.

And The Award Goes To...

Speaking of the minor leagues, the Nats have named their
organizational player and pitcher of the year. The Player of the Year is a familiar name, 2005 Minor League POY Kory Casto. On the opposite end of the spectrum the Minor League Pitcher of the Year is reliever Zechry Zinincola, taken by the Nats in the June draft.

Kory had a nice year in AA Harrisburg, hitting .272/.379/.468 with 20 homers and 80 RBI. But he still can't hit left-handers (.189/.311/.273 in 132 AB.) And the fact that, with apologies to Larry Broadway, Casto is the only power prospect in the upper levels of the system is less a compliment to Kory than it is an indictment of the lack of depth down on the farm.

Zinicola is a testament to both the strengths and the weaknesses of the Nats farm system. The 6th round draft pick rocketed through the system, from Vermont to Potomac to Harrisburg, racking up a 1.65 ERA in 32.2 IP. But he's only a reliever, and he was pitching for Arizona State last year. This is really an acknowledgement that there are no starting pitchers in the minors ready to contribute anything at the big league level. On the other hand, if this is an indication of the Nats drafting accumen, then the future at least looks bright.

Requiem For a Hall of Famer

Buck O'Neil, the great Negro League first baseman and baseball ambassador passed away yesterday at the age of 94. That O'Neil never gained entry into the Baseball Hall of Fame is one of the great travesties in baseball, and a discredit to the Hall itself. Baseball should be ashamed that it failed to honor such a great player, coach and scout during his lifetime. In a season when so much has been made of Frank Robinson's contributions to baseball, we should all pause to remember the passing of a giant.

October 5, 2006

Baking an Action Movie

The Guardian

Matt Watson – 2 out of 5 Stars

Mix three cups of An Officer and a Gentleman, add a heaping dose of Top Gun, two quarts of The Perfect Storm, and a half pint of Bull Durham and you have the basic recipe for The Guardian. All that’s left is baking that mix for a 2006 movie audience and you’ve got instant action movie. Director Andrew Davis isn’t serving up anything we haven’t had before but like most deserts if you put good things in chances are it will taste okay.

In The Guardian, Kevin Costner stars as Ben Randall, Coast Guard rescue swimmer extraordinaire. Rescue swimmers are the guys that jump out of helicopters to save people whose ships have sunk or have otherwise been stranded. We quickly surmise that Ben is the best guy out there. He’s been there and done that. Ben is stationed in Kodiak Alaska and he spends most of his days freezing in the Bering Sea rescuing one hapless victim after another. Per standard Hollywood cliché, this is a tough and demanding line of work, hence it must take its toll on Ben’s marriage to Helen (Sela Ward). She’s moving out and Ben can’t see past his pride to see what’s wrong. Before they can patch things up, Ben’s crew has a brutal accident. In order to recuperate and get his head on straight, he’s reassigned to “A-School” the training program where fresh faced recruits attempt to become rescue swimmers.

The head of the class is Jake Fischer (Ashton Kutcher), a high school swimming champ who passed up multiple ivy league scholarships to jump out of helicopters for a living. He’s surrounded by the usual group of military recruits, including the muscle-bound jerk, the timid outsider, and the lone female. Randall’s methods of teaching are a little unorthodox and after a little head butting with the schools regular instructors he settles in to make or break his recruits. You know where the movie is going from here. Jake meets a local girl and they fight their feelings for each other, Jake rebels against Ben’s authority, Ben fights back and the movie follows the setup perfectly. While it’s all standard fare, there is one good bar scene with Jake and Ben that the film can call its own.

While the film really is a bunch of clichés pulled together, it is well executed. Costner plays the aging hero really well. He finally has the face and experience to go with the gravitas that he’s had since Dances with Wolves. It’s not a stretch to think his Ben really has seen it all. He and Kutcher play well together and Kutcher manages to keep his characters bravado under control. We know Jake is the best recruit, but Kutcher makes him sympathetic enough that we don’t immediately root against him. Along with the performances, we’re treated to the usual training montages that are Hollywood required for any movie that shows sports or the military. The MTV style cuts and editing is a little annoying at first but you get used to it after awhile. In contrast the scenes on the ocean are well done and they have a palpable sense of danger that helps underscore the real danger of this line of work. It's too bad the plot doesn't have the same effect.

Sometime in the past a Hollywood producer decided that the best way to make movies was to rehash things that had already been successful. If it worked the first time it should work again right? Hence every now and again we get an original premise that never strikes out on its own. The Coast Guard is uncharted territory as far as movies go so it’s a shame that all we got was An Officer and a Gentleman in a wetsuit. All and all, the Guardian is a decent action movie that is probably best enjoyed by fans of the films that it borrows from.

October 3, 2006

Obligatory post-season wrapup

So after sunday, I came home, polished my monocle, hung the top hat, and got out a big bowl of caviar to look back on the season. It is somewhat obligatory to have a season recap, and so I'll do my part.

Back in March, I posted something called "What Is Success?", which I took as my own personal success criteria for judging the season. Seems worthwhile to bring this out.

For the team....

1. During the season, at least one 6 game winning streak.

We did this. Friday, Jul 22 to Thursday, Jul 27, we swept the Cubs and swept the Giants.

2. Not to be mathematically eliminated before Sept 5 (which does happen to be my birthday).

We did this too. Our mathematical elmination came later in September.

3. Nick Johnson to only be on the DL at total of 20 days or less.

We did this one as well. Admittedly, the end of the season was quite a way to go on the DL, but he got a full season out there.

4. Chad Cordero has 20 saves or more. Being conservative, but trying!

Chief came in with 29 saves for the season, and one at bat.

5. John Patterson has a record that includes 12 wins. Hoping for run support, this is more than last year

Double injury kept Big Nasty out of the rotation entirely. Patterson's record ended up being 1-2, with 8 games, for a total of 40.2 innings.

6. Guzmania delivers a Batting Average better than .260, and hits 30 dingers. I'm trying to recreate 2004 for him. If he hits Nate's predictions, so much the better.

Ok, so no Guzman. At all.

7. Zimmerman delivers, and we see a solid ball player.

Considering he's a rookie of the year candidate, I think we hit this one.

For Dave

8. Attendance at 15 games.

Did much better than this this year. I made 22 games, which is actually 2 more than last year. The Nats were actually a pretty good club in my presence, playing 13-9 ball when I was at RFK. This does not count the game at Camden, which would have made 23 games for 13-10.

9. Chipwich's at at least 5 games.

Chipwich's ended up becoming hard to find, and I ended up switching this to soft-serve. I did hit 5 for soft-serve, however. :) Soft-serve is yummy.

10. One entry into Coyote Ugly after a game

We did this once this season, even before the place became RnR.

11. One night of total stupidity at the ball park, involving not driving and a lot of beer.

I never did quite pull this off.

12. A win on Jun 24, just to have some personal gratification on beating the Orioles while at Camden Yards decked out in Nats gear.

We lost this game. We were 2-1 at Camden Yards. Better luck next year on this one.

If you do totals on my success list, we hit 8 of my 12 goals. (The team pulled off 5 of 7, and I did my part hitting 3 of 5) Since these were lower expectations than last year, we could dwell, but I'm willing to say it was fun, I saw most of what I wanted to, and from my particular set of beer goggles, this is pretty good. I think next year I'll raise the bar back to something more along the lines of what I would really like to see.

As a P.S. despite being late to the party (and hungover, as there was a wedding the night before in Philly), it was nice meeting the folks at the tailgate before Sunday's game. And yes, I met and shook Yuda's hand, and the world did not explode. Thanks to Miss Chatter for putting it all together.

Time to go don the top hat again, and go find new ways to squash the little man under foot.

September 27, 2006

Spoiling for a Phight

This is what's left. Symbolic victories and keeping a division rival out of the playoffs. 70 wins ain't much, but it's something. In the wake of last night's 4-3 win over Philadelphia the Nats have 5 games left in the season, including two more against the Phillies. Sweeping the series, or even taking two out of three, would put a serious dent in the Phills wild card ambitions. Doing it the way they did it last night would suck the life out of the the City of Brotherly Love. These are all noble, worthy goals for a team trying to build for the future.

Let me take you to Section 313 at RFK with Nate, Dave and Watson on Tuesday night. Bottom of the 9th, two out, Chad Cordero on the mound. Chase Utley has just scored Chris Coste from second with an RBI single, reducing the Nats lead to one run, and bringing the winning run to the plate in the person of Phillies first baseman Ryan Howard. Howard is a near-mortal lock to win the homerun title and he's been on a monsterous tear lately, including a 2-4 night against the Nats.

The stadium echos and bounces like a minature summer of '05 as Frank Robinson shuffles to the mound to consult with his closer. No one would blame Frank for ordering Cordero to walk the imposing slugger and pitch to whoever comes next. Sure, the Phillies fans would whine that the Nats cheated by refusing to pitch to their best hitter, but they'd be howling for blood if Phillies manager Charlie Manuel didn't walk Soriano in a similar situation. But Frank issues no such order. He simply says to Cordero, "You created the situation, get yourself out of it."

A collective roar goes up from the crowd. This is the way baseball is meant to be played, ace against ace, strength on strength. And when The Chief jams Howard and induces a lazy pop-up to left-center the Phillies fans go quietly into that very good Washington, DC night. Later they complain, with some justification, about the Chase Utley 3-run homer that wasn't, but no one says anything during the game. Charlie Manuel called the missed call "terrible" and "unreal," but neither he, his first base coach nor Utley himself argued it. And as Frank Robinson can tell you, homeruns are in the eye of the beholder.

So the Nats find themselves playing meaningful games in September in spite of themselves, and winning them to boot. If the Phillies miss the playoffs by one game, or should the Mets find that you can't just flip the switch back to "Win" in the postseason, that should be a small measure of consolation to a team that never quit on a thoroughly snakebitten year.

September 26, 2006

Train Kept A Rollin'

The Nats season has certainly been tough, both on and off the field but this is ridiculous. On the way home from New York, the Nationals train derailed. What are the chances of that??? Thankfully it was a minor incident and no one was hurt.

We're at home through the rest of the year so no worries there. Rumor has it that the team is exploring other options for travel next year.

Props to Adogg for sending along this gem along.

September 23, 2006

Get Well Soon

Our thoughts and prayers for a full and speedy recovery go out to Nick Johnson, who broke his leg during a collision with Austin Kearns. The injury was an absolute fluke, two players going hard after a bloop hit, and Nick just got the worst of it.

Nick the Stick had managed to avoid any serious injuries en route to the best season of his career, so it's both sad and ironic that things ended this way. Many of us thought Nick dodged a bullet when he emerged only shaken and sore from a collision with Braves thug OF Jeff Francouer early this year, but I guess a full season just wasn't in the cards.

A tip of the cap to the Shea Stadium crowd who gave Nicky a standing ovation as he was lifted on to the cart and driven from the field. The genuinely classy gesture is much appreciated. Thanks for a great season Nick. We'll see you next spring. In the meantime, rest easy, you've earned the time off.

Just Call Him ROY Zimmerman

Ryan Zimmerman drives in 100 runs, is on pace for 20 HR and pulls foul balls out from 3 rows deep in the stands. All in his first full season of professional baseball. Just give him the damn Rookie of the Year award already.

September 22, 2006

WaPost props

Apparently, Barry reads some blogs.

According to yesterday's chat, he referred some readers to our recently more quiet friend Ball Wonk, and commented that he thought some of the blogs are really, really funny.

If Barry reads this, it's Nate that is funny. I'm the ass and Watson watches movies. Just to get our positions straight on the team. Nate's kinda s-m-r-t too.

September 20, 2006

Nick's Birthday Bash

Many thanks to Dave for "dragging" me out to the ballpark last night. I was kind of curious to see Beltran Perez's debut as a starting pitcher (what with B.P. passing for a hot, young pitching prospect in the Nats system these days.) We were hoping for a respectable performance that might provide some hope for next season. We got that and a whole lot more.

Perez was nearly untouchable, pitching 6 innings of 1-hit, no walk ball and he got levels of offensive support unseen in the canyons of RFK for quite some time. Birthday boy Nick Johnson got things started with a bang, leading off the second inning with a solo homer. Nick took the first pitch he saw from heralded Braves rookie SP Chuck James deep to right center. Though that was the only score of the inning, it was a sign of things to come. Nick would celebrate his nativity with a 2-4, 1 RBI, 3 run performance.

James struggled all night, and certainly didn't look anything like a potential ROY candidate. The Nats batters consistently worked themselves into good counts and drove up the Atlanta pitch count, tacking on two runs in the third inning and two more in the fifth. Those two runs, on Jose Vidro's annual second half homer, chased James, who threw 105 pitches in 4 and 1/3 innings.

Meanwhile, Perez cruised right along, retiring 16 consecutive Braves and tossing just 70 pitches through six innings. It's silly to read too much into one start. Teams often have trouble with pitchers they've never faced before. The Nats themselves have something of a habit of making mediocre rookies look like Cy Young. But in a season largely devoid of memorable pitching performances, it was exceptionally fun to watch a young pitcher come in, work quickly and throw strikes.

In a Minor Key

The Nats are reshuffling their minor league system. One day after announcing an agreement that will keep the High-A level Potomac Nationals in the fold for 4 more years, the Nats severed ties with the Triple-A New Orleans Zephyrs and the Low-A Savannah Sand Gnats. Replacing these two teams will be the Triple-A Columbus (OH) Clippers and the Low-A Hagerstown (MD) Suns. The two new affiliation agreements will run for two years. The status of the NY-Penn League Vermont Lake Monsters is still undetermined. As usual, Nationals Farm Authority has in-depth coverage.

From a player development perspective it makes sense to consolidate your farm teams geographically. It's easier to keep an eye on players, centralize control of the system, and move people back and forth between teams. As MLB orphans the ExpoNats ended up with many of their affiliates virtually by default, and had probably the most dispersed farm system in the league.

But they also had one of the most cosmopolitan systems, encompassing cities as diverse as Burlington, Vermont; Savannah, Georgia; and New Orleans, Louisiana. So even though I never got to see Mike Daniel swat a double in Vermont, watch Marco Estrada struggle through a start in Savannah, or cheer a resurgent farm system (and a resurgent city) in New Orleans, part of me will miss them all.

September 19, 2006

Two weeks left

Two weeks left.

I'm so bummed on so many levels. The end of summer, the coming of fall, the mindless attention to football....

Despite the mess, I'm sorry to see the baseball season go. September has been an awful lot of fun.

Starting with the labor day fun, the September games have been a blast. Soriano chasing 40/40. Say what you will (Nate) about it being a meaningless/arbitrary race, but it's such an accomplishment there is a night club named after it. According to their website.. ."“When we were thinking of a name, we wanted 
something exclusive -- the 40/40 Club in baseball is 
as exclusive as it gets,” said Jay-Z."

It's exciting watching a guy chase something that is so rare. Sometimes you have to have achievements like this to recognize special levels of play

Bos is having the same fun, pointing out Nick Johnson's great year. Soriano is, of course, also having a ground breaking year. We apparently have 5 patient guys who wait for their chance...

On top of all that, Chris Schroder strikes out all six batters he saw in relief on Saturday. For a pitching staff we all agree is a mess, we still have been seeing some great individual performances.

In September the boys are 9-8, including the Monday night game.

These may be games that don't count (as we have, in fact, been mathematically eliminated), but they are turning out to be a lot of fun. I'm dragging Watson and Nate out to the game Tuesday night.

September 18, 2006

Lazy Sunday

I caught Sunday's game with my folks and girlfriend. I figured the great weather would bring out more fans but I guess most people are in full football mode. The Nats looked pretty good, especially on the bases. Bernie Castro can flat out fly. It's amazing what a little speed can mean. When's the last time we had a bases-loaded single go for three rbis? At any rate the product on the field was stellar yesterday. Hopefully it's a sign of good things for next year.

It was also nice to see Fonzi get a standing O for joining the 40/40 club.

September 17, 2006

40/40 Vision

Congratulations to Alfonso Soriano for becoming the fourth member of baseball's 40 homerun, 40 steal club, courtesy of his theft of second base during Saturday night's win over the Milwaukee Brewers. Statistically Alf joins elite company, though these multi-category numerical landmarks are by nature fairly arbitrary. Had Mickey Mantle known that the 40/40 Club was going to be such a big deal, he might have stolen a few more bases during his four 40+ homer seasons.

I'll leave it to the sensibilities of the individual to determine whether a club whose membership consists of Jose Canseco, Barry Bonds and Alex Rodriguez is a group one should aspire to join, but none of that makes Soriano's achievement any less remarkable. What is depressing is that the most notable season in ExpoNats franchise history was put together by a player who looks for all the world like a one year rental. I doubt that Soriano's milestone makes it more likely that the Nats will go above and beyond to resign him. I don't know if the warm fuzzy he got from the achievement will make him more likely to resign. What seems almost certain is that the public pressure to bring him back will intensify tremendously.

Like it or not Soriano's dazzling season has made him the face of an otherwise moribund franchise. Devoted baseball fans can catalog Fonzie's shortcomings: his hack-happiness, his inability to hit in the middle of the lineup, his misadventures in the field. But casual fans see moonshots to RFK's distant upper decks and quick-as-a-wink moves from first to second. Ryan Zimmerman may be the future of the team, but Alfonso, for better or worse, is its present. It would be a serious mistake to mortgage the future to bring him back. But letting him go without making a genuine good-faith effort to resign him could be just as crippling. I don't envy Jim Bowden, Stan Kasten and Mark Lerner the difficult decisions that lie ahead.

Spare Parts

Speaking of offseason decisions, we are now more than two weeks into the September call-ups, the time when bad teams (like the Nationals) evaluate rookies and role players to determine who might compete for a spot with the club in 2007. The Nats have no heralded rookies above the A-ball level. (Apologies to Kory Casto, but see Federal Baseball's excellent analysis of his 2006 campaign in Harrisburg.) So this September is more about evaluating young veterans like Bernie Castro and Nook Logan, and scavenging for cheap bullpen arms.

On the position player front, the results are uninspiring at best. Bernie Castro has put up a frightening .239/.280/.310 line as the latest contestant in the "Please God, Anyone But Vidro At 2B" Sweepstakes, and his fielding around the bag has been equally "Meh." The one thing Bernie can undeniably do is run, swiping 5 of 6 bases on the season, 11 of 14 for his brief big league career. His speed and range make him an adequate backup second baseman, but his deficiencies as an everyday player and his inability to play any other positions make him a fringe bench player at best.

Exavier Prente Logan (which, if you ask me, is even better than Nook) is a slightly different story. All the usual small sample size disclaimers apply, but the guy has done alright. Compare Nook's 2006 line (16 games, 51 ABs) to Brandon Watson's career (35 games, 68 ABs)numbers:
  • Logan: .294/.339/.412
  • Watson: .176/.233/.265
Alright, so being a better hitter than B-Dub is a distinction on par with having the shortest rap sheet in the Cincinnati Bengals locker room. For a more interesting comparison, let's put Exavier's career stats up against ex-Nat Endy Chavez:
  • Logan: .267/.318/.346
  • Chavez: .270/.310/.376

Endy is having a much publicized breakout season as the Mets 4th OF, but his career line is decidedly Loganesque. There's no question that Nook's speed and range make him an asset patrolling the vast outfield expanses at RFK, and he has a few highlight reel catches to his credit already. If the Nats can resist the urge to try and turn Logan into Juan Pierre, Jr., Nook could be a serviceable youngish, cheap, slap-and-run #8 hitter.

And if the Nats are going to be the team to give Fonzie the 12-year, $436M contract he so obviously deserves, young and cheap are going to be key words for the next few years.

September 9, 2006

The Natosphere Has Ruined My Life

The less said about the opening games of the Rockies series the better. Don't believe me? Fine, go read these game recaps. But don't blame me if your eyes melt out of your skull like some sadistic Nazi henchman confronted with the awesome power of early 80s CGI.

Now that we've both got that out of our system, I want to direct your attention to the problem
du jour. And hard though it may be to believe, it isn't team defense. It's the Natosphere, that wacky, wonderful, ocassionally inspired collection of Nats blogs, citizen journals and message boards that make up our bitter yet resigned corner of teh interweb.

"But how can that be?" you cry. The Nats blogs (including the increasingly late, lamented
The Nats Blog,) are perpetual fonts of wit and wisdom, snark and substance, perspective and photos! Surely, no evil can come of their obsessive cataloging and analysis of all things Good and Natty!?!

Well, gentle reader, I'll tell ye. Consider, if you will, the representative case of Tom Boswell's latest
e-mail column, a spirited defense of chronically-abused OF Ryan Church. It is Boz at his 21st-century best, as fine a piece of baseball op-ed as you're likely to read in our fallen, Shirley Povich-less age. But here's the problem: it's old news.

OMG touches briefly on the problem. Tom said nothing any right-thinking Nats fan could disagree with, but he also didn't say anything that hasn't been written, repeated and assented to many times over here in Nats Nation, (not to be confused with Nationals Nation.) We've all been there, done that. Hell, we even bought the proverbial t-shirt.

"The Curious Case of Ryan Church" has been beat to death. His
stats have been scrutinized. Official pronouncements have been deconstructed and analyzed with Delphic fervor. Rumors have been mongered; if urine samples were readily available, someone whould have tested them. So it's an understatement to say that Boz comes a little late to the party.

And this is no isolated incident. Prior Boswellian pronouncements have included: "The starting pitching is terrible, and must be improved if the Nationals hope to be competitive." and "Golly, those stadium parking garages sure are controversial." Cutting edge stuff, right? It sounds like I'm picking on Boz, and that's not the point. The problem is much larger. In the face of relentless, compulsive blogging, the mainstream sports media has been measured and found wanting.

Now, before
Will Carroll calls to congratulate me on my conversion to the cause, let me clarify. I'm not suggesting that the blogosphere can or should replace newspaper, radio, TV and internet coverage of American sports. Blogs and their ilk are at best news aggregators with a heavy dose of personal opinion thrown in. But sports bloggers have the advantage of having the same raw material as sports journalists. When everyone can see the action on the field, interpretation is the ballgame, no pun intended.

Think about it. If you saw the game last night, and have only a limited amount of your bosses' time to waste, are you reading
Barry Svrluga, Mark Zuckerman, or Chris Needham? If you need a quick synopsis of a Nats prospect, are you digging through, searching for the Harrisburg Senators website or clicking over to the Farm Authority? When a big trade goes down, are you waiting for Dave Shenin's weekly chat, or do you turn to Federal Baseball for instant analysis?

So, the sports blogosphere is proliferating, and to my eyes at least, it's doing so at the expense of some tarditional, even venerated, media outlets. Is this a bad thing? Why are you asking me, isn't it fairly obvious I'm biased? But good or bad, it's definitely a thing worth mentioning. And that's more than you can say for the Nats these days.

September 3, 2006

A Labor (Day Weekend) of Love

Labor Day is, as Watson puts it, a "made up holiday". As such, I haven't really had all that much going on. My wife was sick Thursday and Friday, and worked Saturday and Sunday. Watson had plans, Nate a wedding, and many of my other friends were on the road. This left me with very little to, in general.

So I entered the weekend with two plans. The first was to be productive and catch up on the things that I hadn't gotten done in the past couple of weeks... this included several bits of paperwork, some email, etc. I haven't made much progress on this one.

The second plan was to watch a hell of a lot of baseball. I *have* managed to be pretty productive on this front.

Nate and I caught Thursday's game at RFK. A last minute lark, we actually were planning to sit in the stands and drink beer if the rains started. Instead, we watched the fantastic comeback that just made the night. Our buddy Carl from the row behind Nate and I joined in the fun. A comeback, 6-5.

Friday was the rainout, so I went into Saturday planning to watch baseball and work. Seems I mostly watched baseball. I watched 800 people watch a game on the grey afternoon, and a huge rally in the 9th. Comeback, 7-6.

In the evening, I watched more baseball. The weather was nicer, and I watched as the city saluted Livan one last time. He deserved it -- despite his 8th inning meltdown (which, this time, was in our favor), the guy was our first ace in this new chapter of DC baseball. Comeback, 4-3.

Finally, on Sunday afternoon, Watson and I caught the game at RFK this time. A much more full stadium, a much nicer day, but the story seemed the same. A 4 run rally in the bottom of the 8th. Comeback, 5-3.

What can I say? It's been a great weekend. I'm going to put Monday's game on the TV, and be at Tuesdays. For those of you feeling bitter, remember weekends like this. This kind of weekend is exactly the kind of great baseball weekend that makes you feel good to be a fan.

Watson and I also had the pleasure of meeting Miss Chatter on the way out of the game. Who could miss the Gary Bennett jersey? It was nice to meet you and Mr. Chatter, and Princess Chatter.

August 29, 2006

Dave Takes On: Bitterness

So Nate wouldn't even jump in to help me on this, because the bitterness has just reached an all time high.

Watching the end of the season come up on us is proving to be a tough road for the Natosphere. Ball Wonk has gone quiet again, Chris at Capitol Punishment comments on this craphole of a team, Curly W has Just. No. Hope., Basil at Federal Baseball points out that this team is going nowhere, and the Nats Blog notes 2006 is very much dead.

Nate didn't want to even comment -- his bitterness seems to know no bounds. We lost Watson on baseball a couple of months ago, I think.

As we come up on Labor Day weekend, and I was reviewing how many games I had left in me, I had to say I was trying to get in as many trips to the ballpark as I can. I've been plotting getting my hands on a new red-alternate jersey. I put as many games on the TV as I can, both day and night.

I think as this season ends this may be the last time we're able to say this, but having baseball is still better than not having baseball. Baseball remains the best social sport of the lot -- best for watching live, best for sports bars, best for watching with friends at home, and even best for watching alone.

Sure, we're not in playoff contention. But as I watch Zimm hit his triple tonight in the 5th, and drive in two, isn't it still fun? The little things make it. Let me remind my friend Nate of a comment he made back in April:"I suspect this is going to be the season that I really learn to appreciate those intangibles that Dave talks about: a warm summer evening spent outdoors with friends, warm beer sold by a vendor in the 7th inning, catching up with our fellow season ticket holders in Section 313, a well-timed heckle in a momentarily silent stadium, the deep conversations about the hygiene, parentage, and ultimate eschatological fate of Phillies fans"

I understand where the bitterness comes from. There is a lot of emotional investment in a team. You want to be associated with a winner. We know we're not. (Still better than living in Kansas City, that's for sure). But you know what? We have one of the hottest players in the league hitting homers in our giant canyon. We have a rookie who is playing every night like he's been playing for years. This is fun to watch, folks!

You can wallow in self-dispair, or you can just have some fun with it. You're already invested -- why make it miserable?

I'm trying to get together friends to go with me on Saturday (Watson and Nate are both previously obligated), and wouldn't be anywhere else on my birthday (Tuesday) than the ballpark. The beer is cold and I know I'll miss it when it's gone in October.

August 28, 2006

Head, Shoulders, Knees & Toes

A top to bottom Nats injury round-up:

  • HEAD - That'd be Nick Johnson, who suffered a cervical strain following a collision with Braves thug OF Jeff Francoeur. I've just about had it with the French. Frankly, we've been carrying these cheese-eating surrender monkeys since the late 18th century, and this is the last straw. Freedom Fries for all! And while we're on the topic, why is it that "cervical" refers both to the spine, and to the ummm... well... you know? Caused me several seconds of intense confusion, that did.

  • SHOULDERS - Poor Alex Escobar will be having surgery to repair a torn labrum in the right shoulder he dislocated in the ninth inning of Friday night's game against the aforementioned punk*ss "Braves." Again, oddly enough, Jeff Francoeur was right in the middle of the action. Throwing behind runners, Jeff? Is that how this is gonna have to be? Ayight then. It's on like Donkey Kong, Frenchie. Also, Triple-A 1B Larry Broadway suffered a seperated shoulder a few days earlier, effectively ending his season as well. Coincidence? I think not. Not until we know for certain where Jeff Francoeur was at the time.

  • KNEES - Not much to report in the significant knee injury category, but Jose Vidro's still got knees, and they still suck. I think it's safe to say that Jose Vidro's knees have gone completely Snakes on a Plane, taking roughly $15M of our payroll money with them. And, because some has to say it, "That's it. I have had it! I am tired of Jose Vidro's muthafeckin' knees on this muthafeckin team!!1!1!!"

  • TOES - Yep, our closer was felled by inferior foot care. Check out NIH's harrowing account of one man's battle with the enemy (toenail) within. Can't wait to see what personal insights the Natmosphere's resident injury guru has to share when Chris Schroeder develops a goiter and begins talking like Rue McClanahan.

August 26, 2006

Esco-Barring an Injury

I'm done making fun of Alex "Pablo" Escobar. I genuinely feel bad for the guy and it's just not funny any more. Escobar's career track has gone from sad to comic and now settled firmly on pathetic. The man just cannot stay healthy. It's like he's allergic to not being injured.

In case you missed it, Alex separated his right shoulder diving back into first base in the late innings of yesterday's shocking non-loss to Atlanta. After singling up the middle Escobar was leading off first when Brian Schneider hit a rocket directly at Braves RF Jeff Francouer. Francouer threw to first to double off Escobar. Alex lunged awkwardly back and jammed his right arm against the bag, dislocating his shoulder. Premlinary reports put the recovery time at 4-6 weeks, effectively ending Escobar's season.

And Alex was finally having a good season. Despite being only sporadically healthy, he put up a .356/.394/.575 line, far and away the best of his career. He was the Nats de facto starting centerfielder and a real asset in the bottom half of the lineup. He will be missed. Escobar's latest injury means Ryan Church is a starting outfielder again, which is good. It also means that our fourth outfielder is now Marbertyle Anderfickard, which is bad.

The other significant tragi-comic injury news out of last night's game concerns Chad Cordero. The Chief was unable to toe the rubber (pun intended) last night because of a flare-up in his ingrown toenail. I really, really, really don't want to delve into the details of this injury (I rely on NIH for things like that) but given the voluminous amounts of free time that any Nats closer has this season, why can't Chad keep his nails trimmed? Maybe he should have been doing that instead of lighting off fireworks with Tex. The upshot? Rookie Saul Rivera got his first career save, in slightly too dramatic fashion. Talk about having a Road to Damascus experience.

Elsewhere on the Hallelujah! front, the team, probably during one of Trader Jim's binge-drinking blackouts, managed to excise Damian Jackson from the roster. I was no great fan of the Damian Jackson signing, but my complaints focused on the fact that Jackson would inevitably steal a roster spot from Jamey Carroll, Brendan Harris or Rick Short (or all 3, as it turned out.) I could never have predicted he'd go all Snakes on a Plane, both as player and as a person. Good riddance.

August 25, 2006

Close Encounters of the Slithering Kind

Snakes on a Plane

Matt Watson – 5 out of 5 Stars

Take a simple premise, a good cast, some good dialog, a scary villain and you have the ingredients for a good movie. Turn that scary villain into two hundred bloodthirsty snakes and add a heaping dose of Samuel L. Jackson and you have Snakes on a Plane. That movie recipe goes from merely good, to being absolutely fantastic.

The simple premise is just that, simple. The LA mob has murdered a vacationing lawyer and the FBI has a witness (Nathan Phillips). That witness must be brought to LA from Hawaii to testify. How do you get from Hawaii to LA? You take a plane. No complicated storylines, no need to expand on a back story, just enough info to get moving.

Now that the premise is up and running, we get to meet the rest of the cast. Along with our FBI agent and our witness we have the flight crew and passengers for South Pacific Air flight 121. Julianna Margulies plays Claire, the head flight attendant who happens to be on her last flight. We have David Koechner (who fans will recognize from Anchorman) as the chauvinist co-pilot. They’re joined by the token sexy flight attendant, the token effeminate male attendant, and the token older past-her-prime flight attendant. We also have on board a famous rapper and his two bodyguards, a ditzy women and her pet chihuahua, a stuck up British businessman, a professional kick boxer, a mother and her newborn, a man who’s scared to fly and his new wife, two young brothers flying alone for the first time, and a young stoner couple.

If you’re wondering why I listed all those people, it’s because they actually add something to the movie. Snakes on a Plane is not exactly an ensemble movie, but it utilizes each person to the fullest. This movie has more character development for the throw away characters than the entire three hours of Dead Man’s Chest. This isn’t a bunch of faceless passengers meekly sitting in their seats waiting for something to happen. This is a living breathing mob that manages to display everything that is good and bad about humanity. And that’s all outside the scope of the main plot.

Seeing as he can’t kill the witness while he’s in FBI custody the mob boss decides to release hundreds of venomous snakes on the place to do the job for him. Just to make sure the snakes do their part the entire plane is saturated with pheromones designed to turn the snakes into bloodthirsty, flesh-eating, vampires. The results are scary, gory, pick your feet up off the floor encounters of the slithering kind and it’s a riot. The movie is already unbelievable and it knows that so pushing things over the top only adds to the fun. The snakes are ridiculous, the fights are comical, and the finale is absolutely a blast.

All of this would be for naught, if it wasn’t for the presence of Samuel L. Jackson. At this point in his career he can hold a film together just by the force of his personality. When he tells the passengers to listen to him because he’s the only hope they have everyone in the theater believes him. He’s one of the few actors that can maintain his action hero status with the audience while still being accessible as a character. He only yells when he has too, he’d rather talk it out than fight, and he intimidates with his eyes rather than his gun. Not only does this make enable him to develop a rapport with the other characters but when he goes into full throttle bad ass mode it’s all the more impressive. New Line was originally going to produce this film as a PG-13 vehicle but thanks to the overwhelming internet-based fan pressure they opted for the full bore R rating. They made the correct choice, if only to let Jackson drop one of the best one-liner’s in quite awhile.

Over the last ten years creating action movies has become an rigid exercise in bigger explosions, bigger guns, and bigger destruction, often at the expense of the actual plot and characters. This trend has been encouraged by Hollywood, specifically because of their need for summer blockbuster for revenue. Snakes on a Plane avoids that idea and feels more like a throwback to the B-movie monster films of the 50’s. Instead of the effects being the point, filmmakers are beginning to use the technology to underscore the stories. This shift in thinking is starting to produce some fantastic movies, including Snakes on a Plane.

August 23, 2006

Sit Down Already

I realize that DC is still a relatively young baseball town (at least if you ignore the last 70 years). There's a good number of knowledgable baseball die-hards that attend each game, but they can't make up for the cluelessness of your standard summertime fair-weather fan. Once again, a short list on ballpark etiquette.

1) You decided to come to the game and pay for a seat, How's about you sit in it? And I mean the seat you purchased, not a better seat that seems to be open. Also, once you're there, stay there. Don't come in during the middle of an inning where your make your entire row stand up to let you in, sit down for 30 seconds, and then get up again to go get a hotdog. We'd much rather watch the game than watch you try to kick over as many beers as possible. If you have to get up, wait until the inning is over, or at least a stoppage in play. Same goes for you coming back.

2) We want you to bring your kids to the ballpark. Baseball needs young fans and they're fun to have in the stands. That doesn't mean the ballpark is a substitute for daycare. If you know your two year old has trouble sitting still for 5 minutes at a time and enjoys shrieking at the top of his lungs please don't bring him. Wait until he can actually comprehend what's going on.

3) Corollary to number two, if you are a grown man who catches a ball in the stands that has zero significance (i.e, wasn't a milestone homerun), please find a child near you and give them the ball. You get to be a hero to the kid and you still have a great story to tell. Same goes with T-shirts.

4) If you go into a bar, it's customary to tip the bartenders. That goes for stadium vendors as well. That extra $1 tip won't kill you and it's the right thing to do. Matter of fact, you should tip all the vendors that bring anything to you, even the lemonade guy.

5) If the game is 14-0 with the Nats WINNING in the bottom of the 7th and the game is a foregone conclusion, feel free to start the wave. If either A) the Nats are losing or B) the game is still even remotely in contention don't start the wave. If someone else starts the wave, don't encourage it. It's disrespectful to the players and annoying to those of us that want to see the game.

We're all stuck at RFK for few more years so anything that can help make it a good experience should be embraced. Now if only we can figure out a way to keep out Philly fans . . .

August 21, 2006

Ventin' Ain't Easy

On this, the ocassion of Nats Triple Play's historic 309th post, I would like to share with you, dear reader, my thoughts on the state of the team. The team sucks.

But they don't suck in traditional, predictable Kansas City/Pittsburgh/Tampa Bay fashion. Oh no, not our Nationals. They suck in ulcer-inducing, teeth-gnashingly original ways. In the rare instance where one of our cast-off collection of has-been and never-will-be pitchers manages a decent outing, the offense takes the night off, apparently laboring under the misapprehension that the game will eventually end in a scoreless tie.

On the much more frequent days when our starting pitching implodes to the tune of 42 runs in the first 2/3 inning the hitters, freed from all pressure, will invariably mount a stirring 41-run comeback that falls just short in the 9th inning as our last batter watches a 2-strike changeup sail over the outside corner of the plate.

The only legitimate power hitter on the team has a Memento-worthy mental block that forces him to hit in the one spot in the lineup guaranteed to generate the fewest RBIs. And he plays the outfield because, to paraphrase Sir Winston Churchill, left field is his worst position except all those other positions that he's tried from time to time. And despite being on pace to hit 50 home runs and steal 40 bases the front office couldn't even teach him to play trade bait effectively.

Forget a fire sale, this team ought to be completely dissasembled, the rubble plowed under and RFK Stadium sown with pretzel salt. I'd say the plan for the offseason should be to unload every player whose last name doesn't end in -immerman, but what would be the point? Washington is apparently the franchise where previously healthy players come to collapse and once-promising prospects pass through on their way to a fulfilling career as assistant regional manager at Steak n Shake.

Meanwhile, the Team President vows to build for the future with players acquired by the Village People's love child. The same paragon of competence who built a roster composed of 5 first basemen, 6 second basemen, 1 shortstop, 1 third baseman and 1 catcher. The guy who looked at Daryle Ward, Damian Jackson and Marlon Anderson and saw an outfield. A man so acursed that even his good trades end up worthless.

On any other team, the exhange of two middle relievers for two 26 year-old position players would be unqualified grand theft. Only in Washington would one of those two leave his heart, and his bat, in Cincinnati. And only for the Nats would finding out that the other one brought his glove with him amount to a bad thing.

And you know what's great? Next season figures to be even worse, after the one marketable star departs, to be replaced by two mediocre pitching retreads and whatever else the general manager can trade his 45-minute AA sobriety chip for at the annual winter swapmeet.

Meanwhile, the lovely iconic new riverside stadium, opening April 2011, for the low low price of $2.7 billion, will be accessible only by camel caravan across miles of burning dilapidated asphalt; and the affordable seats will come equipped with oxygen masks in the event of a sudden decrease in atmospheric pressure.

But for all that, RFK's still a comfortable, easily accessible craphole, the beer's cold, the Hard Times chili nachos are hot, and the brisket is still unmatched in all the land. Tickets are cheap and plentiful. The players, despite sporadic god-awfulness, are still trying, and Ryan Zimmerman better damn well win NL Rookie of the Year or there will be consequences and reprecussions. And only 6 months until pitchers and catchers report to Spring Training.