June 27, 2011
This time last month the Nats were at the bottom of their division, playing below .500, and beginning to annoy ex-Phillie Jayson Werth, who was outspoken about their need to start winning games. Today, they’re in third place, trailing only the Phillies and the Braves, and boasting a .513 record (40-38). Since June 10, they’ve lost only two games – one to beltway rival Baltimore and a Saturday shutout against the Chicago White Sox. Nevertheless, the past two plus weeks have provided the most impressive baseball the franchise has provided since its relocation to the District in 2005. A perennial last place team, the Nationals have shown that they’re more than just somewhere to go to fill up a Sunday afternoon; they can actually play baseball.
Aside from the surprising and sudden winning ways of the Nationals, they’re in the spotlight for another reason: the midseason resignation of their manager, Jim Riggleman. Coaching the Nats from the dugout since 2009, Riggleman decided to call it quits shortly after a dramatic 1-0 win against the Seattle Mariners on June 23. Though there is some speculation as to why the manager chose to resign now — at a time when the team is doing so well — it’s on the record that he left due to a contract dispute with the franchise. He reportedly was unhappy that the organization had yet to pick up his contract option for 2012, especially considering that he felt responsible for much of the positive upturn of the team. Of his resignation, Riggleman stated, “I’m 58, I’m too old to be disrespected.” While some sports commentators believe Riggleman had a right to leave, many considered it unprofessional and tantamount to abandonment of his players. The players themselves seem fine, winning 2 of their 3 games under the interim management.
The Nationals have signed 68-year old Davey Johnson as the team’s new manager, a man who last held that position 11 years ago with the L.A. Dodgers. This will be the fifth major league team Johnson has coached in his career. Aside from the Dodgers, he has also had stints with the Mets, Reds and the Orioles in the mid-90s. Johnson will debut as manager during tonight’s game against the Angels, who are managed by Johnson’s old friend and ex-colleague Mike Scioscia. Over the span of his coaching career, Johnson has managed 2,038 games and has a winning record of .564 (1,148-888). Let’s hope he can keep the Nationals’ hot streak, well, hot.
There was lukewarm anticipation going into last week’s NBA draft, with many considering it bland in comparison to the years LeBron James, Blake Griffin or even John Wall were drafted. One team that isn’t lacking excitement about their newest team additions is the Wizards, who are thrilled with the three players they picked up this year.
Their first pick, the sixth overall, was 21-year old Jan Vesely, an explosive power forward who towers over those around him at just under 7-feet tall. Vesely was visibly excited when his name was called, embracing his girlfriend and sharing a passionate kiss. Despite the now semi-famous lip lock, no one seems to be more excited about the new forward than owner Ted Leonsis, who took to his blog. He stated that Sports Illustrated gave his team’s draft appearance an “A plus” and reminded fans to tune into the press conference, where Vesely will be formally introduced as a Wizard. Despite the initial excitement, Vesely needs to truly prove himself on the NBA court. The first logical step is for the European transplant to forge strong relationships with the Wizards’ current 1-2 punch, John Wall and Javale McGee. Perhaps together they can form a trifecta reminiscent of one down in Miami.
The draft produced another forward for the team, Chris Singleton from Florida, as well as point guard Shelvin Mack from Butler in the second round. Singleton was considered one of the best defenders in the draft, which the Wizards need to keep their games close. Mack, whose draft stock rose after leading the Butler Bulldogs to two consecutive NCAA championship game appearances, burst into tears when his name was called. He could provide a solid backup for Wall, which the team struggled with last year.