This Sunday’s “Coach’s Corner” headline, however, caught my eye in a negative way ("Pretty much a National disaster). Referring to the Washington Nationals as a “National Disaster” was definitely a bit harsh. Yes, the Nationals have not lived up to the hype and “World Series or bust!” attitude they brought onto themselves during Spring Training, and yes, they’re still 8 games out of the final Wild Card slot, and no, they probably won’t make it to the playoffs this year… but calling them a “disaster” was a little much. I know Mr. Grau was probably going for some sort of play-on-words catchy headline, but “National Disappointment” or “National Deficit” would have been a little nicer.
Don’t get me wrong – as an avid Nationals fan I am definitely not happy with the inconsistency and lack of cohesiveness within the team, but the word “disaster” is usually used when everything has gone terribly wrong, like when a tornado wipes out an entire town or a space shuttle blows up or your teenage daughter’s bedroom looks like a war zone and you can’t find the floor. Despite the Nationals’ sub-.500 record, they do have some positives going for them, like the much-improved bat of Jayson Werth, the good pitching from rookies like Ross Ohlendorf and Taylor Jordan, and the smooth transition that Anthony Rendón has made by moving from third base to second. (Look at me – I was one of the first to complain about how the Nats were playing such lackluster baseball, yet when someone agrees with me, I get all defensive, like if someone said that my kid did something wrong or that my mother’s potato salad recipe wasn’t the best. I’m not contradicting myself; I’m just trying to lick my wounds and justify why the Nationals’ season hasn’t been a total “disaster.”)
First of all, Mr. Grau, “From the penthouse to the outhouse?” Really? Talk about harsh! Have you seen how the 2012 World-Champion San Francisco Giants are doing? They’re in last place in their division and have a worse record than the Nationals (who are in second place in the NL East). And how about the Toronto Blue Jays? With all their off-season acquisitions (including José Reyes and 2012 Cy Young winner R.A. Dickey), everyone had them winning the World Series. Where are they now? Dead last in the AL East. I know you mentioned them in your column, but you failed to mention how worse-than-the-Nats these teams currently are.
Then there’s your criticism of 2012 Rookie of the Year Bryce Harper, who failed to run out a pop-up recently. The usually all-out, all-the-time Harper makes one lackadaisical move and all of a sudden he’s frustrated. Well we’re all frustrated – the players, the coaching staff, and the fans – but Harper will continue to give it his all and play like every game is his last one (and I’m old enough to be his mother, so don’t be surprised if I get all “mama bear” on you if you try to say bad things about him again!). He must feel some frustration after being on the Disabled List for a month in only his second season in the Majors. Stephen Strasburg must be frustrated knowing he has one of the lowest ERAs in the National League yet has a losing record because of the lack of run support. Franchise player Ryan Zimmerman must be frustrated knowing that he no longer has Gold Glove talent at third base and his bat has been pretty silent. But these guys are still managing to stay afloat despite having an old has-been for a manager and despite the Braves having won 14 games in a row (including a sweep of the Nats).
You do mention that you will be a better person in sports and in life if you are always well-prepared and always give it your best, but these guys play 162 games a year (WAY more than any high school season); they’re bound to have a game or two in which they just don’t feel like playing their best. Yes, they do get paid millions of dollars to play a kids’ game, but they’re not paid to be perfect (because no one is), and if they make a mistake or two during a game (not outside of the game, like using PEDs - that's a whole other topic!), it’s fine. I mean, if I were a coach, I would expect nothing but the best from my athletes, and I would get mad if they didn't give it their all. But regardless of how good they were or how hard they tried, they're more than likely not going to win every game nor will they win the state championship each year - that's just a reality. I know I've said before that if I were Commissioner of baseball, I would fine players for every error they made. But just because I'm a hard-ass doesn't mean that I don't realize that errors do happen and expecting perfection is unrealistic. The Nationals have not had any Billy Buckner moments this year – their botched plays and decline in pitching quality are not the end of the world. And they are definitely not worth referring to their season as a “disaster.”