Five Questions: Washington Nationals

The Expos are dead. Long live the Expos. As for the Nationals…

1. Is “Nationals” the lamest name ever in the history of baseball?

It’s certainly up there. “Nationals” is long (four syllables), hard to say, generic, completely non-distinctive, and confers no identity on a brand new team that sorely needs one. It’s made worse by being unoriginal; several Washington ballclubs in the 19th-century NL, AA, and Union Association have (retrospectively) been nicknamed “Nationals”.

Is it the lamest, though? I think we should start off by eliminating from consideration all the retrospective nicknames. It was common, in days of yore, for ballclubs not to have nicknames, but just be “St. Louis” or “Boston” or “Washington”. All those teams have retroactively been given nicknames, to make them easier to identify. Some of these nicknames are pretty bad, like the 1901 “Boston Americans”, or the “Washington Nationals” I referred to earlier.

Some candidates:

Brooklyn Bridegrooms. From 1888 through 1898 (when they became the Superbas), the team that had been known as the Brooklyn Grays and was to become the Dodgers, was known as the Brooklyn Bridegrooms. Sadly, they did not play in top hats and tails.

Toledo Maumees. During the last death throes of the American Association, a team was put in Toledo which was called the Maumees. After much searching, I finally figured out what a Maumee is. No, I’m not going to tell you. You have to guess.

Tampa Bay Devil Rays. All that needs to be said has been said. It’s a bad, dumb name.

Cleveland Infants. The Cleveland entry in the short-lived Player’s League in 1890 was known as the Infants. Yup. But even that’s not as pathetic as…

Chicago Orphans. From 1898 to 1902, the Chicago Cubs (who had been known as the Colts) were known as the Chicago Orphans. More than lame, “Orphans” is pathetic, making it the worst nickname of all time. Even worse than “Nationals”.

2. OK, this is a new team, I’m in the area, I’m taking an interest now. Where can I go to read about this team?

There’s the Post, of course, and even the Times (and I’m not even going to bother linking to them). And the team’s official site, like all the mlb.com sites, always has good and up-to-date news. But I always find it more enjoyable to go straight to the blogs. Nats fever hasn’t reached Avian Flu levels of panic down at the Center For Disease Control, but it does seem to be infecting the internet population pretty effectively.

Here are some links to get you started. I want to emphasize that ALL of these sites deserve a lot more traffic, and comments, than seems to be getting to them. I’d hang around myself, but when you’re trying to stay on the wagon with a team, you can’t get too close. If I start caring about the Expos again, it’ll get ugly. Anyway, without further ado…

District of Baseball. Jeff’s got one of the better one-man team blogs out there already. He’s a strong writer, does his homework around the web gathering good links. Like a lot of good baseball bloggers, he’s at his best when he’s a touch flippant:

It was a jaunty piece, almost a fight song, that sounds like it had been hermetically sealed since at least 1955. While the announcers claimed that “you won’t be able to get that song out of your head today”, I did, in fact, get rid of the song within an hour or so; it seemed vulnerable to mild doses of Pink Floyd and Metallica. The only lyrics I remember are from the refrain, where the singers proclaim that they are “crazy about the Nationals” and “nuts about the Nats.” (Perhaps you can understand how it was defenseless against even the most minor onslaught of Dark Side of the Moon.)

I think District of Baseball is the best choice for the top of your Bookmarks for Nats fans. He’s even got some of the other prominent Nats blogs linked, with links to all their recent stories (via the magic of RSS, no doubt) on his left-hand menu bar. DoB is one-stop Nationals shopping. Without the shopping.

William World News. With a fresh (if jangling) approach to design, William Yurasko’s site isn’t all about the Nationals, but it’s chock-full of Nationals content. William does an excellent job of collecting links, and I expect a lot of good stuff coming from him once the games begin.

Distinguished Senators. I was only introduced to this blog today, but I immediately went back to look at the archives. I’m already a sucker for Ryan’s takes on things. This entry has two great riffs – first on a Gammons vs. Rosenthal Great Rumourmongering Faceoff, and then on the NIMBYs who are making life difficult for the Nats at RFK. This is one blog that’s staying in my Bookmarks.

Capitol Punishment. A good title (at least it will be for a couple years) for a Nationals blog. Chris relies heavily on the mainstream media for his blog, but he has real good commentary.

Most Valuable Network – Nationals. Jean-Pierre (who I’m guessing is an Expos die-hard who’s making the spiritual move to the Capitol city) and Harper seem to have a good thing going here. A recent analysis of Jim Bowden’s historical performance in the draft was a strong piece of work.

3. What’s the status of the new ballpark?

The status of the new old park is pretty good. It looks as if RFK is going to be ready for the season opener, though just in time, if this article from the Post is anything to go by.

As for the new new ballpark, financing is still being worked out, but things look to be moving along fairly well when all is considered. There are a couple of private financing options that have already been approved by the city, so it seems that there are currently no important obstacles remaining. The new new park is scheduled to open in 2008, meaning that anyone who needs to add RFK to their list of ballparks visited will have three full seasons to do so. (I was hoping to get down there myself this season, but I think it’s going to have to wait now until 2006). The site has now been agreed upon, and in my opinion (as someone who loves walking the streets of D.C.), it’s a pretty cool location – on the Anacostia River, near the Navy Yard. It’s not that far from the Capitol, and it’s in an area with a lot of residential development. The plan is for a small park and some interesting designs are already being bandied about. See this recent Post article for more.

For a long time, I was skeptical about the ability of D.C. to get a ballpark built. No longer. I’m convinced it’s happening, and D.C. fans may even end up with a gem. A gem of a park, anyway.

4. Anyone worth watching on this team?

I’m not going to lie to you. This is a bad team (though with nice caps – the caps are the one good thing to come out of the Nationals so far). That being said, Washington baseball fans may not even care very much, happy as they will be to have a team back.

But there are some players on this team who are worth every penny of your ticket price. OK, at least worth every penny of the Montreal ticket prices.

Jose Vidro, though, is the man. Vidro is my chubby little second base hero. I’ve loved this guy ever since he’s come into the league, and while it pains me to see a favourite player in a “DC” cap, I wish him well in the move. Vidro’s been hurt more often recently, with an elbow injury this spring (a hyperextension – I wouldn’t worry about it affecting his season at all) coming on top of the more serious condition, a right knee that required surgery to correct tendinitis under his kneecap. The knee sapped both Vidro’s playing time and effectiveness last season.

Vidro’s one of those guys whose success is founded on outworking and outhustling the next guy. He’s not an all-world talent; rather he gets by on his understanding of the game, especially in the batter’s box. At second, he survives on minimal abilities and a bit more skill; his defense at second has never been good but he throws his body around pretty well. I wouldn’t expect him to play at second for much past this season though. His defensive skills were never great, and age erodes second basemen pretty fast. In addition, as he gets bulkier (he’s pretty rotund now) he’s been slowing down. He must be one of the ten slowest middle infielders in the majors, and his knee isn’t going to help.

None of that matters, though. Anyone who gets a chance to watch Vidro on a regular basis comes to appreciate him. He’s the opposite of Vinny Castilla. While Castilla is all about flash, Vidro is all substance. While Castilla is all about Castilla, Vidro is all about baseball. That’s nice to see.

5. Why are you so darned negative?

Look, I’ll level with you. I grew up as a fan of the Montreal Expos. To see this team that put down 35 years of mostly good history in Montreal ripped up and moved was bad enough. Seeing them try to blot out every memory that the Expos ever existed is really, really painful. (Though for a limited time only, the Expos website is still operational, hidden behind the Nationals’ site.)

They stole our Precious. We hates them.

It’s too bad for the fans. Baseball fans in Washington, who certainly merited having a team all these years (and lost two teams themselves, no doubt also quite painfully) didn’t do anything to deserve to have someone else’s team (a bad team with organizational problems, to boot) foisted on them. I certainly don’t blame for cheering for their new ballclub; I just wish it wasn’t my old club. I’m glad, now, that once MLB bought the team I began distancing myself from the Expos. I can’t imagine how painful it would have been for this to have been sudden.

And I suppose that Washington, one of my very favourite North American cities, will make the team a good home. But still, I’ll conclude by wishing the Nationals many, many, many years of bad luck. But for the fans, take heart: you’ll have really, really nice baseball caps. I like the “W” caps a lot, but the “DC” ones are even better. Enjoy them!

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