Summer Reading 2013, Part II: Or How the Nats Lost Their Way

Way of BasballTechnically, I read Shawn Green’s unique little memoir/meditation The Way of Baseball before summer began, but after a night at the ballpark watching our Nats utterly fold in a three-game series sweep by the division leading Braves and reading Tom Boswell’s insightful (as always) column about how this year’s season went so wrong, I was reminded of how much I enjoyed this book.

Let’s begin with Boswell and the Nats.

For two-thirds of a season we’ve been told that the Nats had “too much talent” to keep playing this poorly, and that they would switch it on in time to get back in the pennant race.  But the Braves put an end to that kind of talk, with as utterly dominating a three-game series as you could have where the total run differential was only 5 runs for the three games.  Boswell put it best when he described the sweep as “an execution by proper execution.”

Amen.

The Nats played so effortlessly last year that it is easy to forget how difficult baseball can be if your head is just a little bit out-of-whack.  And with the Nats, these heads are more than a little out-of-whack. They are head cases, but as a friend says, “They are our head cases.” The equilibrium on the team was changed when Michael Morse’s big bat and free spirit was traded away and Denard Span’s terrific defense but anemic offense was put in its place. Drew Storen…well, let’s don’t go there…but his problems are emblematic of the bullpen as a whole.  And Davey Johnson, after his infamous “World Series or Bust” mantra for 2013, too often looks clueless and old, and very much not in control of his clubhouse and especially his hot-headed, talented but not perfect 20-year-old left fielder.  Boswell nails it all much more eloquently than I ever would, so I’ll direct you to his column.  But these Nats have played horrible fundamental baseball all season long, and that’s just inexcusable for a team with this type of talent.

Boswell sums it up with the following:

The Nats really are a talented, hard-working team with a good clubhouse and decent people. But they’ve been rattled, pressing, joyless and awful at fundamentals since April. They should reduce their season to a manageable goal: Play smart, focused baseball as a group, work to improve individually and have a reasonably loose and enjoyable time while you’re doing it. That actually can be done. The rest always takes care of itself.

And that brings me to Shawn Green’s book.

Green, a former Dodger (along with three other teams), has written a short memoir on his baseball career and the art of hitting that is really a meditation on how to approach life. A Jewish ballplayer drawing on Buddhist principles, Green describes the art of hitting as “finding stillness at 95 miles per hour.”  The chapter titles fit a baseball book (“The Zone”) as well as a handbook on eastern philosophy (“Awareness” and “Stillness.”)

In the chapter entitled “Ego,” Green has a quote that fits this Nats team to a T.  He says,

“…it’s not uncommon to make the mistake of comparing where we are in our lives to where we should be. The truth is that there is no such thing as where we should be; we are where we are, period.”

The Nats need to realize they are where they are and just start to enjoy the game today.  And for us fans, a long-time Red Sox fan and friend of mine reminded me that we really are “short-suffering Nats fans.”  Wait until we go 80+ years without a title before we bring out the poison.

Let’s all chill.  See you at Nationals Park on Sunday evening.  I still believe in the Church of Baseball.

More to come…

DJB

3 Responses

  1. Thank you for pointing out the effect of trading Michael Morse, David. One more favorite quotation from the Boswell article: If you pack it in because you think the only choices are “World Series” or “bust,” you’ve fallen for a false dichotomy. Baseball isn’t about grand goals. It’s just about playing every day as properly as you can, as close to that elusive blend of “relaxed, but concentrated” as you’re able.

    See you at the park on Sunday.

    • Thanks, Day. I liked that quote as well. Mike Wise has a column in today’s Post where he tries to debunk the Michael Morse effect, but I’ve found that what Mike Wise knows about baseball (or any sport, for that matter) wouldn’t come close to what Tom Boswell has forgotten about baseball in the last week. So what if Morse had a great regular season last year and a bad post-season…we could use a few more guys with good – if not great – regular seasons on this team before we worry about post-season baseball. I miss the good old days when the Post had Boswell, Tony K, and Wilbon writing for them all the time. Smart AND funny. Now, the only two I read on any regular basis are Boswell and Sally Jenkins – and she simply doesn’t write often enough. See you at the park…we’re in Section 313 (the N-A-T-S, Nats, Nats, Nats, Wooo! folks).

  2. […] Summer Reading 2013, Part II: Or How the Nats Lost Their Way […]

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