June 29, 2006

The Return of a Great American Hero

Superman Returns

Matt Watson – 5 out of 5 stars

There’s always an element of risk when Hollywood decides to remake a classic. Not only does the new film have to live up to its predecessor, it has to bring something else to the table to make the story its own. Couple that with the remaking of an American icon who also happens to be the grandfather of all comic books, the bar is set so high it’s practically impossible to leap in a single bound. That is unless the leaping is being done by Superman.

Superman Returns is a fantastic movie. It grabs you at the opening credits and just doesn’t let go. The cast is exceptional, the plot is well developed, the effects are spectacular without being the story themselves and I was riveted the entire time. Director Bryan Singer shows he’s still got the touch when it comes to telling a story and he’s not afraid to throw in a twist or two. With the proliferation of comic book movies over the last few years it’s was easy to lose Superman in the shuffle and it’s a shame we lost him. Superman really is the greatest of our heroes and this film really brings home how powerful he is. It also humanizes the Man of Steel and reminds us how hard it is to live a double life. He still fights for truth and justice, all the while sacrificing his own happiness for the greater good. Such is the burden of a super hero but Superman is saving the world not because he’s motivated by revenge or his own survival, he is saving the world because it’s the right thing to do and because only he can. As we hear Superman tell Lois, “You wrote that the world doesn't need a savior, but every day I hear people crying for one.”

When our story picks up the Man of Steel has been crossing the universe to see for himself the remnants of Krypton and in his absence earth has moved on. The people have done as best they could without him, including intrepid reporter Lois Lane and criminal mastermind Lex Luthor. While Superman was away Lois found another good man and together they produced a precocious son. Lex weaseled his way out of prison and found a love of his own, sort of.

When he returns, Superman tries to reinsert himself back into his old life, assuming his alter-ego Clark Kent and his old job as a reporter at The Daily Planet. As soon as Clark gets back into town Lex is up to his old tricks and he has few new ones up his sleeve. Thankfully Superman is there to stop him.

In this case, Superman’s cape is donned by newcomer Brandon Routh. I don’t know where director Bryan Singer found this guy but he was born to play this part. Superman is a man of few words and Routh makes every one count. With every glance Routh does a tremendous job imparting Superman’s torn feelings about Lois Lane. He also exudes a nobility of purpose that gives gravitas to our hero. Routh also dances a wonderful tightrope between being mild mannered Clark Kent and The Man of Steel. Every scene with him is a gem, doubly so if Kate Bosworth is there.

Bosworth plays the aforementioned Lois Lane. She takes Margot Kidder’s sharp edged Lois and adds a dose of humanity and frailty. It’s this new vulnerability that really adds depth to the relationship between Lois and Superman. Bryan Singer incorporates some much needed character development that really gives the movie another level. It’s not just an action film, it’s a complicated story about love, family, responsibility, and heart.

The family part of that equation is provided by James Marsden as Lois fiancĂ© Richard and Tristan Lake Leabu as their son Jason. It’s refreshing to see that Richard is not an unlikeable creep per the standard threatened husband. Jason is your usual wise beyond his years five year old. In this case Leabu doesn’t overact and Singer coaxes a good performance out of him.

The counterpoint to Superman and Lois is the nefarious Lex Luthor, played with aplomb by Kevin Spacey. Spacey has some of the best lines in the movie and seems to revel in the madness that is Luthor. Singer has a knack for getting the best out of Spacey, as seen by their turn together in The Usual Suspects. Spacey is aided by the performance of Parker Posey as Luthor’s Moll/Accomplice Kitty and a band of nameless thugs to order around.

While the cast really does make the film, the effects are amazing. From crashing planes to city wide earthquakes the CGI is top notch. What really helps here is that the CGI is not just for affect, its part of the plot. The effects never outshine the principles. In fact, Superman’s simple act of flying is elevated to art, displaying amazing beauty and pageantry with every trip.

Wrapping all of this together is the brilliant incorporation of John William’s music. The original score is such an iconic peace of music and with every fanfare the film pays homage to the original and instantly causes goose bumps. It’s impossible to imagine the story without it.

After years of stops and starts, three different directors and a slew of discarded scripts this project seemed doomed from the start. Instead Bryan Singer provides us with a great motion picture that re-introduces us to one of America’s most enduring heroes. We see his goodness, his pain, his suffering, and his greatness. This is a phenomenal movie in every respect; you might even say it’s super.

June 28, 2006

Now this is teamwork

Right here.

In our own backyard.


And I quote:

"If we have to go get a free agent, let's go. I'll take a pay cut. I was a second-round pick so I didn't expect to be where I am anyway."

and again

"I want us to be like Dallas, like San Antonio, places where players want to come play."

I don't even follow basketball that much, but damn -- that guy makes a statement. And that's the kind of player you want.

Where's our guy in baseball like that? Where's the Gilbert Arenas of baseball? Of the Nationals?

June 26, 2006

Fetchez La Vache!

There's a minor controversy swirling around Frank Robinson. (Actually, there are a couple of minor controversies, but it's late and I must focus.) Capitol Punishment provides the full backstory, and an insightful analysis of Cap'n Hook's apparently limitless sense of entitlement.

The short form: Last week Frank gave an interview to Nationals.com in which he discussed, among other things, his time in Montreal and unpopularity with Expos fans. He contrasted it with the reception he's received since returning to the Washington-Baltimore area, saying: "I did nothing [as a player] in Montreal, and the Montreal fans are not baseball savvy like the people in the D.C./Baltimore area." Nationals.com beat writer Bill Ladson touched on the topic again in his weekly mailbag (before engaging in another round of subtle yet gratuitous Ryan Church-bashing.)

Leaving aside the smear of an entire metropolitan area's worth of baseball fans, (and we know how well-received those are,) Robinson's comments, and the Nationals impending return to the Great White North, got me thinking about something. What does this franchise, in its current incarnation, owes to the city of its birth, and the history of Nos Amours?

The easy answer is that the Nationals should do everything possible to honor their Expos roots, including retiring significant Expos jersey numbers, donning Expos unis for throwback games, and generally behaving as the lineal descendents of the Montreal baseball club, which of course is what they are.

The downside of this approach is that it unintentionally but inevitably shortchanges Washington, DC's own baseball history. Another complicating factor arises when you consider that much of that history is the legal if not spiritual property of two other teams, the Minnesota Twins (aka Washington Senators I) and the Texas Rangers (Washington Senators Part Duex.) True, the Nats did sport Homestead Grays throwback uniforms for one road game earlier this season, but that's just one small part of a rich baseball legacy.

No team can serve two masters, and I'm of the opinion that the Nats ought to be a Washington baseball franchise first and foremost. After all, most professional sports franchises have migratory pasts, and that's certainly true of DC's beloved teams. The Redskins were once the Boston Braves. The Wizards, formerly the Baltimore Bullets. The Capitals, near as I can tell used to form the core of a traveling production of Snoopy on Ice.

And the phenomenon is hardly limited to Washington. The Los Angeles Lakers, one of the NBA's iconic franchises, were born in Minnesota where their nickname made infinitely more sense. Ditto for the Utah (once New Orleans) Jazz. And you could ruin many a map of the continental United States trying to trace the overlapping paths of teams like the St. Louis Rams, Arizona Cardinals, Indianapolis Colts, Baltimore Ravens and Cleveland Browns. Closer to the current state of affairs, baseball's Milwaukee Brewers have their own split lineage, geographic heirs of the Braves, lineal descendents of the Seattle Pilots.

The teams that matter are the ones that become woven into the social fabric of their places, becoming an inextricable part of their city, state or province. When a professional sports team abandons a city its history remains behind in the hearts and minds of the fans. And fans, by and large, are not migratory. They remain in place, waiting for the next itennerate franchise to come along. Then the process begins again, as the new arrivals are enriched with instant history that they may not immediately appreciate, but which bonds them to their supporters.

Washington DC's long-suffering, much maligned fans deserve a team they can call their own. A team that evokes memories of Griffith Stadium and white-painted seats in the upper decks at RFK. The Nats ought to be able to invoke the pitching of Walter "Big Train" Johnson, the slugging of Frank Howard and the managerial skill of Ted Williams. What do any of these memories have to do with Minneapolis or Arlington, Texas?

Unfortunately Montreal's long-suffering, much maligned fans deserve the same thing. But the appropriate solution is to work towards restoring major league baseball to Montreal, not providing a pale reminder of what used to be. After all, we have so much in common. We both dislike Frank's managerial style, we both think Omar Minaya ruined a jewel of a farm system, we both heartily endorse the proposition that Phillies phans simultaneously suck and blow. We are natural allies.

And hey, aren't the Marlins looking for new digs?

June 25, 2006

Can't Anybody Here Play This Game?

When Casey Stengel said it, he was talking about the '62 Mets. But, with the All-Star break approaching, the question is equally relevant to the '06 Nats. Sadly, after having been swept by the Red Sox and losing consecutive 1-run games to the woeful Orioles the answer would appear to be, "No, not really."

Right now this team is a mess. Our best power hitter can only hit out of the leadoff spot. The team leader in on-base percentage hits fourth. The 7-8-9 hitters might as well just concede their outs to move the game along. Our most reliable starting pitcher is a rookie who averages 1 strikeout a game. Everybody in the bullpen seems to be expected to work every day, except for one guy who never works.

Everyone associated with the team has been careful to say that "building for the future" is not a synonym for "fire sale." The unfortunate truth is that the Nationals don't have enough premium talent to conduct a fire sale even if that was the plan. The clubs most attractive bargaining chips are Alfonso Soriano, Livan Hernandez, Jose Vidro and Jose Guillen. Let's look at each of them in turn:

  • Soriano - Fonzie is the one guy likely to generate solid returns in a trade, but he seems bound and determined to test the free agent market after the season. So how much can we reasonably expect a team to give up in return for a half season of Soriano's bat?

  • Livan - Coming into the season everybody had Hernandez pegged as a perfect workhorse starter. An ace by default on a bad team like the Nationals, but an ideal 3rd starter on a contending club. Then his (charitably named) fastball lost 2-3 MPH. Now he's had several bad outings in a row, games where he hasn't even been able to eat up innings. And if Livan can't give you 7+ innings every time out, what exactly is he good for?

  • Jose #1 - Let's see, a singles-hitting second baseman with no speed, no range and no evidence of gap-to-gap power... just what every playoff bound club needs. Unless fond memories of former glory can convince Mets GM Omar Minaya to take Vidro and Livan in a package deal, do you see much of a market for a player with Jose's unique skill set?

  • Jose #2 - A mercurial quasi-power hitter with a recent string of injuries and a well-documented distaste for authority. Oh, and a .398 slugging percentage to go with his .210 average. Not exactly the line that's going to entice a club to make him their everyday right fielder. How do you think coming off the bench would sit with Jose?

Folks, those are our premium trade prospects. Behind them are guys like Matt LeCroy (the invaluable 4th 1B/emergency "catcher"), Tony Armas, Ramon Ortiz (much sought after 6th starting pitchers), Damian Jackson (designated whiner) and Mike Stanton ("veteran" lefty reliever.) These guys should be moved just to clear their roster spots and payroll space. Any functioning ballplayers obtained in return would just be gravy.

The most tradeable player on the team (aside from untouchable "Dutch" Zimmerman?) Probably 1B Nick Johnson. Sure, he could land on the DL at any second, but when he plays you're more or less guaranteed a .300 average/.400 OBP and 15-20 homers to go along with an above-average glove at first. He's youngish, reasonably priced, and blocking one of the Nationals few remaining legitimate power prospects, Zephyrs 1B Larry Broadway, who's quietly hitting .321 with 8 HRs and an .857 OPS down in New Orleans.

Assuming we could get rid of everyone on this list, here's an idea what the 2nd half 2006 Washington Nationals might look like:

C Brian Schneider

1B Larry Broadway

2B Brendan Harris

3B Ryan Zimmerman

SS Royce Clayton

LF Mike Vento

CF Marlon Byrd

RF Ryan Church

SP John Patterson; Pedro Astacio; Mike O'Connor; Shawn Hill; Billy Traber

RP Jon Rauch; Jason Bergmann; Saul Rivera; Bill Bray; Gary Majewski; Chad Cordero

Bench: Marlon Anderson; Robert Fick; Daryle Ward; Alberto Castillo; Alex Escobar; Bernie Castro.

This is a glorified Triple-A team, don't get we wrong. But it's not terrible (or at least not much worse than what we have now) and it's younger and cheaper. Give Broadway, Harris and Church an uninterrupted half season to prove they can hack it in the big leagues. At least we'll know one way or another. See if guys like Hill, Traber, Kyle Denney or Steve Watkins might be workable 5th starters/long relievers or at least spot starters. They're all more promising than the Lawrence/Drese/Day combo that would replace them.

The Nats have a lot of options as we approach the midway point of the season. Gearing up for a stretch run isn't one of them. Retooling for 2007 doesn't look too promising either. If there really is going to be an organizational commitment to restocking the farm system, developing home grown players, and focusing on being competitive when the new stadium opens in 2009 (yes, 2009, I said it) then even a solid contributing player like Nick Johnson has to be considered expendable.

June 19, 2006


I was interviewed for an article in the Washington Business Journal, which is now available online.

The topic is the ballpark district and comparisons to San Diego, which I visited in April. My comments in this blog led to the interview.

Sorry Nate, they used last names. :)


June 18, 2006

For Shirley

June 18, 2006

Nationals 3, Yankees 2. Walk-off 2-run home run by Nats rookie third baseman Ryan "Dutch" Zimmerman. Nationals win the season series, two games to one.

June 17, 2006

You Gotta Have Heart

Douglass Wallop is smiling. Bet you anything that Shirley Povich had a prime seat in the Great Press Box in the Sky for this one. Thirty five years ago the Yankees presided over the end of professional baseball in Washington, DC. Saturday afternoon DC's newest baseballers exacted a small measure of revenge.

I know the players don't see it that way. Frank Robinson, a fair student of baseball history and lore, would probably ascribe no special significance to this win. As for me, I wasn't even around (geographically or metaphysically) when the onrushing fans forced the Senators to forfeit the final game in franchise history 9-0. But some games are milestones in spite of themselves. For the first time since September 28, 1971, a Washington baseball team beat the New York Yankees at RFK Stadium. On days like today I'm glad the Nationals didn't have a gleaming, antiseptic new stadium waiting for them on their arrival from Montreal. Washington still has baseball scores to settle, and old ghosts to quiet. Those ghosts belong to RFK.

The storybook ending would have been to have the Nats win the first game of the series, karmic justice for 1971. But a full-fledged
bullpen implosion resulted in a 7-5 Yankee victory, which matched the 7-5 advantage the Senators had before forfeiting that last game. Spooky, no?

Instead of Cinderella, we got Damn Yankees. Playing the role of Joe Hardy? Well, that would be
Daryle Ward, who certainly looks more like your average baseball fan than any other National not named Matt LeCroy. But damn, Daryle can lay into a baseball when he sets his mind to it. And if you've never seen Daryle Ward score from first, chugging around third like The Little Engine That Could Drop Dead Any Second Now, then I pity you, because that show might not come this way again. So was it a deal with the Devil that powered the Nats comeback from a 7-run deficit, resulting in a thrilling 11-9 win? If so, I hope it was Damian "I've Got a Plane to Catch" Jackson's soul on the auction block.

What are we to make of this? The end of a 5-game losing streak, a come-from-behind win against the best closer in the history of the game, and one more loose end tied up for baseball in Washington. Not bad for a Saturday afternoon's work. Now let's see about winning the series. For Doug and Shirley.

June 11, 2006

Nats on the Radio

Someone over at XM Radio may be a Nats Fan.

As Nate already mentioned today, I didn't make the Picnic or today's game. I'll admit, I'm kinda disappointed in that, and am really looking forward to Watson's pictures and getting back to DC to hear the stories. I was at yesterday's game with Watson, but others have covered that mess.

Instead, I'm spending the week in Beantown for a Microsoft conference. I tend to go to a lot of these, as they are always good for business. This time, I elected to drive up, since I'm here a week and it wasn't that bad a drive.

From 1pm to 4pm, I listened to channel 183 on XM. XM has the contract with MLB for the game broadcasts, and for those who don't know, they broadcast the home team's broadcast. Thus, I was able to listen to Charlie Slowes and Dave Jageler

I briefly reviewed the broadcasts last year, but thought I would spend a little more time on it this year, particularly since I have some time here in the hotel. :)

I think this year's radio team is actually really strong. Their game coverage was tight, and included good side stories on minor league ball (and clubhouses), and a particularly good sense of the game. They dwelled some on a foul ball that landed in the booth yesterday, but you can't blame them. Apparently it almost took out Dave's head.

They had plenty of information (as you would expect), but also used it well. It was good situational descriptions. They even went into great detail on player placement, uniforms, and the like -- I got a good sense of the game as it was played.

Watson and I were talking about the MASN crew yesterday, so it led me to think about this for tonight.

Compliments also go out to XM -- they add text on every out, so your display (my dash, in this case), was displaying both the score and the current situation -- "Top 7th, 1 Out" for example. Someone is adding that -- and doing a good job too. Since I was stuck in traffic when the game ended, I snapped that picture of my dash display, which amused me to no end. The fact it has two exclamation points at the end is part of the fun. I think their coverage is worth it.

Just some thoughts on today's radio broadcast. I don't think it was as good as the picnic.... but then again, Microsoft has rented Fenway for Thursday, with a private concert with Train. That should make this week a little extra fun.

King of the Hill

The Washington Nationals have a problem. This is not in and of itself an unusual state of affairs. But for once, the club has a good problem, an embarrassment of riches (as opposed to the embarrassment of having 4 back-up first basemen and no back-up catcher.) The Nats problem is fifth starter Shawn Hill.

Hill pitched a gem today, a 7 inning, 2 hit shutout performance against one of the better lineups in the National League. After 3 starts he's sporting a 1.80 ERA and a WHIP of 1.05. And he's averaging more than 6 innings per start, so the bullpen usually gets a break when he's pitching. Yes, he still walks too many guys (7 in 20 innings) and he's not a dominating strikeout pitcher, but as of this afternoon, right-handed batters are hitting .100 off him. That's right, 1 for 10. In spite of all this Shawn is first in line for a demotion if staff ace John Patterson comes off the DL at the end of the week as anticipated.

On the surface this seems blatantly unfair. Hill has done everything that you could ask of a young pitcher. He has taken the ball every 5th day and pitched effectively. He's more than made up for the loss of Zach Day. Surely the Nats could reward him by keeping him around and letting him pitch out of the bullpen in long relief. But I'd much rather see him starting in New Orleans than coming out of the pen in Washington.

If this team is serious about building for the long haul guys like Hill ought to be groomed as starters. We already have 3 effective young relievers in Cordero, Majewski and Bray. Jon Rauch has been good in long relief when used properly, and 6th relievers like Saul Rivera are a dime a dozen (though Saul has been a pleasant surprise in limited action.) I don't have anything nice to say about Mike Stanton, so I won't say anything at all. But Shawn Hill would add very little to the bullpen right now.

The only starting pitchers who are reasonably assured of being with the Nats in 2007 are Livan, J-Patt and "Irish Mike" O'Connor. Ortiz, Armas, Lawrence, Astacio, Drese and Day are all potential free agents, and Hill is younger and cheaper than the lot of them. Send him down to New Orleans or Harrisburg, let him start, stretch him out, have him focus on getting back the command to go with his velocity. If Livan, Armas or Ortiz get traded in July bring Shawn back to DC. Otherwise, be sure he knows he's in the mix for a starting spot next spring, when he'll be all of 26 years old and two full years removed from Tommy John surgery.

It's a shame to have a major league-ready hurler languishing in the minors waiting for a callup, but it sure beats not having one to call up.

Chipwiches for All!

Sunday was also the Nationals first-ever "Picnic at the Park," an on-field meet & greet event for Nats season ticket holders and anyone else cagey enough to snag an invitation. Watson and I attended, along with Watson's S.O. (Dave was on the road to Boston for a Microsoft conference. Once again, Dave chose poorly, though rumor has it he will get to wander the field at Fenway, so that's alright.)

Several other Nats bloggers, including social butterfly MissChatter were in the house, though we didn't cross paths. Watson took a ton of pictures, which will be posted here in the days, weeks and months to come. I shook hands with Frank Robinson, who isn't nearly as crusty in person. Nick Johnson autographed a hat for us in the player's parking lot, where he stood and signed for nearly 2o minutes, making him the inaugural member of the Nats Triple Play "Good Guy Hall of Fame." Nice to know he's locked up to a long-term deal.

Notable no-shows included Alfonso Soriano, who cruised out of the parking lot just as fans were making their way to the field. Certainly didn't seem like a guy anxious to endear himself to his newest fans.

June 10, 2006

I Love a Rainy Night

"Best. Game. Ever." That was the 3-word text message that I left for Dave as Watson & I exited RFK at 12:50 am. Dave, in the interest of preserving marital harmony, opted out of last night's game in favor of attending a Fighting Gravity concert in Reston. Dave chose poorly.

In retrospect I'm not sure it was the best Nats game I've ever attended. That distinction might permanently belong to Opening Day 2005. I was also in the stands when J-Patt pitched a complete game shutout and Wilkie hit the first Nats grand slam against the Dodgers. And I was in da house for A-Sor's 3-HR game earlier this season. But in the immediate aftermath, with the adrenaline pumping and the Philly phans slumping, it certainly felt like the best game ever. And Curly W concurs.

I love rain delay games. It throws a wildcard into the mix. All the (literally) fairweather fans get bored and leave, I get more time to eat and drink in peace without worrying about missing the action on the field. And it completely throws the starting pitchers off their routines, in this case turning Phillies starter Brett Myers into Poison frontman Bret Michaels. Sure, Tony Armas looked a little rusty too, but that's a small price to pay for hanging a 7-spot on the other team's ace.

Best of all, it was all done without any contribution from Alfonso Soriano. Don't get me wrong, I would have been happy to see Fonzie flick a few dingers into the upper decks. I'm also not thrilled that he managed to strand roughly 42 baserunners. But he deserves a night off (which he hasn't had in a while,) a night where he doesn't have to be the sum total of the Nats offense. And the team needs to know that it can put together a win without him.

After last night's heroics Robert Fick gets a free pass from now until the All-Star break. He can co-host a puppy BBQ with Fred Malek and Mike "Girl Burner" DeFelice, and he'd still be okay in my book. Fick came through after every big name player in the lineup, from Fonzie to Dutch choked and spit the bit.

Damian Jackson, on the other hand, needs to go. Apparently D.J. got a little upset after a fan heckled him for his half-a**ed effort on a Jimmy Rollins double Thursday night. Said Jackson:

I went after it kind of nice and easy because I just did crash into the wall and we just got in at three o'clock in the morning. But these are
things that people don't know and they are never are going to know. So
therefore, I'm going to lose that battle if I even try to take that on. Jimmy Rollins just didn't stop. He made me look stupid.

Tell it to the long-haul truckers, Damian. And how exactly does soreness and lack of sleep impact your inability to lay down a bunt in the second consecutive key situation? We've got Brendan Harris to play the infield. Jose Guillen's coming back to take over the outfield. I'd say it's about time to explore putting Mr. Jackson in the Crappy Utility Player Relocation Program.

June 7, 2006

The Future is... Later

The 2006 MLB Draft has come and gone, concluding with the 529th round selection of junior college utility infielder Slappy McPigtickler by the St. Louis Cardinals with the 15,869th overall pick, or some such foolishness. For a sports fan raised on the over-the-top pageantry of the NFL Draft, or even the quirkiness of the NBA Draft (Ooh, a lottery... how very Shirley Jackson!) Major League Baseball's amateur selection process leaves something to be desired.

First of all, nobody has ever heard of these guys. OK, some people follow high school and college baseball, but some people keep showing up on Dateline undercover specials too, that doesn't mean the rest of us should do it. Second, more than half these guys won't even sign with the club that selected them. Instead they'll A) go to college; B) hold out for more money; or C) embark on an exciting career as a junior pecan twirler at the Stuckey's down by the interstate. Third, even if they do sign on the dotted line they'll promptly disappear to places like Viera or Savannah or Vermont, and the only time we'll hear about them is when they blow out an elbow or take indecent liberties with the bullpen coach's mistress.

Nevertheless, the draft is a time for renewed optimism and dreaming big dreams. If you're inclined to do that, the Natosphere offers many fine draft recaps. First and foremost, Nationals Farm Authority has excellent posts here and here. Prefer less analysis and more snark? Consider CapPun or the Extinguished Senators. Blog snob? Try the Federalist. (He's nationally syndicated, you know.) Want to know BallWonk's take? Tough.

If you insist on hanging around, we'll be taking a 1-year anniversary look at the Nationals 2005 draft class. Trust me, it'll knock the optimism right out of you. Last year the Nats lost their 2nd and 3rd round draft picks as compensation for signing Cristian Guzman and Vinny Castilla ('nuff said.) So after making Ryan Zimmerman the fourth overall pick the Nats brain trust had time for an extended happy hour until the 4th round. Here's a look at the Nats Top 8 draft picks, encompassing rounds 1-10 of last year's draft.

Where Are They Now? 2005 Edition

1. Ryan Zimmerman - 3B, Washington Nationals

Okay, we all agree this one worked out. Dutch is the real deal, and barring accident, illness or freak injury a staple at the hot corner for the next decade. Job well done.

4. Justin Maxwell - OF, Savannah Sand Gnats

Remember Alex Escobar? Meet his physiological twin. Maxwell had first-round talent, but a series of freak injuries cost him the better part of two years in college. Currently on the DL after batting a less than robust .163/.293/.347 for Low Class-A Savannah.

5. Ryan Delaughter - OF, GCL Nationals

A power prospect high school outfielder, the 19-year old is currently with the rookie-level Gulf Coast League Nationals in extended Spring Training. Chris Marerro, this is your immediate future.

6. Marco Estrada - SP, Vermont Lake Monsters

This 22-year old RHP started six games for Vermont in 2005, going 1-3 with a 5.08 ERA, but gave up less than 1 hit per inning and posted an encouraging 37/16 K/BB ratio. He'll start 2006 with the Lake Monsters.

7. Michael Daniel - OF, Savannah Sand Gnats

21-year old UNC product is currently batting .193/.301/.306 in his second season of pro ball. Posted a .260 average with Vermont in 2005.

8. Jack Spradlin - RP, Savannah Sand Gnats

Lefty reliever has appeared in 17 games for the Sand Gnats, with a 4.70 ERA, and a 29/13 K/BB ratio. Played college ball at Southern Cal.

9. John Michael Howell - 1B, Savannah Sand Gnats

Currently competing with Justin Maxwell for DL space, hitting .190/.252/.257 in Savannah. A converted college outfielder, Howell hit .363 with 3 HRs in 29 games for Vermont in 2005.

10. Dee Brown - OF, Savannah Sand Gnats

College teammate of John Michael Howell. Following up his productive .284, 8 HR, 32 RBI season in 2005 with a .258/.308/.382 start this year in Savannah. At age 23 he's old for this level.

So what does all this prove? Nothing really. All of these guys are still young and talented enough to be impact players at the major league level. Or they could all be out of baseball next spring. It's impossible to tell. And these are predominantly college players, theoretically much more developed and polished than high schoolers. Just something to keep in mind.

June 5, 2006

Named by Nate: What is Failure and Abject Humiliation?

DM over at the Nats Blog wants to be optimistic. DM, I'm right there with you. I want to enjoy this change of fate, and I want it to be a sign of better things. (I looked for a link, and the WaPost article on upcoming potential player sales isn't quite cheery, but I choose to look at it this way -- we have ownership with a PLAN.)

This is where my perspective on baseball makes things more fun -- you can enjoy a ride and say, "hey, they're winning. Woo hoo!", and the statement ends there. You kick back, smile, and it's a good thing. Add beer and friends, and you've hit the core pieces of my enjoyment of baseball.

So let's take a look at my success criteria. If you don't have your own, even with us in the season, I highly encourage it. As I've been putting together this post, I've felt much better about the team, as we're looking somewhat good against these criteria.

For the team....

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

We have four strung together -- twice. This is cause for celebration. Since Friday, May 19, we're 11-5. Livian has won all three of his starts since then. So has Ortiz. (Ortiz even won the game before that, on the 18th). Six is possible.

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

I believe this is still a true statement -- while Nate and Chris and others are leveled in reality, I can still say we're not mathematically eliminated. I don't mind concentrating on .500 ball for a while, but the team is heating up nicely, and while I'll agree we're not taking the World Series, teams also shouldn't be viewing us as an easy win on their own road. It's looking like it's more likely we'll win a game than lose one.

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

So far, so good. He's also batting .294 with an OPS of .948, so not only is he on the field (and not on the DL, he's doing pretty well.

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

Cordero has had 5 saves in that same game series that I quoted earlier. That's 9 so far this year. When he's coming in, things are looking good -- and he's had more chances to do so.

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

Well, he certainly has the run support. Let's look at it from that angle. He's also looking to be on his rehab assignment shortly, so we may be seeing the red glove soon again.

6. Guzmania retired for 2006

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

Dutch has the second most AB for the twam, playing in 55 games so far. He's batting .268, and an OPS of .790. Discussions are afoot for Rookie of the Year. I think we're seeing a solid ball player.

For Dave

8. Attendance at 15 games.

So far, 6 games. I've got the itch, and I'm working to change my Friday plans and join Nate on Friday. I'm on the road next week, so I miss the long homestand. That would put me at seven.

9. Chipwich's at at least 5 games.

I think I may be replacing Chipwich's with Soft Serve. That ice cream is damn good, and one of the things I can look forward to at a game.

10. One entry into Coyote Ugly after a game

Well, no love on this so far. I need to find a Wednesday night game, I think.

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

I had a half night, and the Baltimore weekend was a high point, but so far I haven't quite done this. Not this weekend either -- maybe July.

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.

Still TBD.

So here we are. Jun 5, heating up. Coming into a tougher stretch -- Braves and Phils, pause for the Rockies, and then the Yanks. I'm focusing on momentum, as this is a better place to be coming into a harder part of the schedule. I'm feeling good.

June 4, 2006

Of Brays, Brooms and Bang Zooms

Well, that's alright then. Maybe it was a 3-game sweep of the current front-runner for worst team in the National League, but it was a 3-game sweep all the same. These are the Milwaukee Brewers who were the fashionable dark horse pick to win the NL wildcard? But... but... they suck! Even without Nicky, Dutch and the Byrd in the starting lineup the Nationals managed 8 runs, including two homers by Alfonso "$15 M/year sounds reasonable" Soriano, giving him 21 in two months. With Albert Pujols on the shelf, guess who's the active NL leader in HRs and slugging percentage?

Fonzie's two dingers overshadowed another fine performance by Tony Armas, who gave up 1 run on 2 hits over 6 innings to corral his sixth win of the year. All season long Nats fans, including yours truly, have (justifably) bemoaned the team's lack of pitching depth. But really, have you seen what some other teams have been tossing out there on the mound in the past few weeks?
Fernando Nieve, Eude Brito, Dana Eveland?! These guys make "Irish Mike" O'Connor seem like a household name. If J-Patt comes back in anything like his pre-injury form, and Pedro Astacio comes back at all, the Nats might be in the rare position of having too much major league-ready starting pitching. But that's getting way ahead of ourselves. First things first:

Welcome aboard,
Bill Bray! The Nat's hotly-anticipated rookie lefty appeared in two games this weekend, pitching 1 1/3 innings of hitless relief. Sure, he didn't have to do too much Saturday night, throwing one pitch before Brian Schneider gunned down a would-be base stealer to end the inning. But hey, it was good enough to earn Billy his first major league win. And he followed it up with a 1-2-3 ninth inning this afternoon, so I think we'll keep him. Also making a cameo appearance in today's game: Brendan Harris, who managed to score two runs despite going hitless, and gave Dutch a much deserved break at the hot corner. Now if only we could find some playing time for Larry Broadway...

Housekeeping Notes: It's been a good long while since I fiddled with the Nats Triple Play sidebar, and things were starting to go a little stale over there. For example, Banks of the Anacostia, which has apparently decided to take a break until that new Anacostia-side stadium is ready, has been removed. In its place I've added Thurdl Sports, home of the NIH (Nationals Institute of Health.) NIH provides one-stop shopping for all your Nats injury news, and Lord knows there's plenty of it. Having Thurdl on board means I don't have to mention Santiago Ramirez's trip to the DL ever again.

Reappearing on the sidebar is the Gameday Chat. I took it down a few months ago when it was briefly on hiatus for retooling, and neglected to ever put it up again. If you're looking for an excuse to waste hours of your time (and your boss's money) talking Nats baseball, current events, technology, and really anything else you want, Gameday Chat is the place for you.

As always, if anyone out there knows of anything we've missed that I ought to have linked to, feel free to drop it into a comment and we'll take a look at it. As Triple Play approaches its 1-year anniversary of unnecessary, redundant Nats commentary I'm more convinced than ever that we are part of the best internet fanbase in baseball.