Tuesday night, roughly 24 hours after former Nationals first baseman Nick Johnson announced he would retire after a 10-year career, Brian Schneider did the same. The Nationals’ catcher from 2005-07 not only joined Johnson in the lineup on April 14, 2005 – the night baseball returned to Washington after a 33-year absence – but he had the honor of catching the ceremonial first pitch from President George W. Bush.
Schneider was traded to the New York Mets, along with Ryan Church – the Nationals’ starting center fielder in that first game at RFK Stadium – for outfielder Lastings Milledge following the 2007 season. But like other members of the 2005 team, he was embraced here – even with a pedestrian statistical output (.253/.325/.356 over his three seasons).
When baseball returned to Washington, Schneider was 28 and seemingly in the prime of his career. He was newly married that offseason. Now, he’s 36, has three kids, and is looking forward to his first summer off since high school. He told me, in an exchange of text messages the other day, that he’d like to coach at some point in the future, but there are no offers out there right now.
This whole exercise got me thinking about that 2005 roster. (Okay, okay, I think about that 2005 roster WAY too much.) Fifty-five players suited up for the Nationals that year. (Think about that for a minute.) Only 25 were on the active roster that night at RFK against Arizona, when Livan Hernandez took a one-hitter into the ninth and Vinny Castilla came up a single short of the cycle when Arizona’s Lance Cormier plunked him with a pitch in the eighth.
You know how many of those 25 players are on the rosters of major league teams headed into spring training? Two.
Can you guess who they are? First, let’s go through the entire roster from that night, eliminating guys one by one.
Carlos Baerga, INF – The veteran who had been an all-star in Cleveland was among the last cuts in spring training, but he resurfaced again when Wil Cordero went on the disabled list on the team’s season-opening, nine-game road trip. Baerga never played a major league game after 2005.
Gary Bennett, C – The backup catcher to Schneider, Bennett holds the distinction of being the only 2005 Nat to win a World Series afterward, which he did with the 2006 Cardinals. Played 2007 in St. Louis as well, then 2008 with the Dodgers. Now sells medical supplies in suburban Chicago, where he grew up.
Tony Blanco, INF/OF – A Rule 5 pick in the offseason, meaning he had to be kept on the major league roster or be offered back to the Cincinnati Reds, Blanco languished on the bench the entire season. He hit .177/.215/.274 and never played a major league game after 2005.
Vinny Castilla, 3B – The two-time all-star who led the National League in RBI in 2004 was supplanted by rookie Ryan Zimmerman in September, traded to San Diego for pitcher Brian Lawrence in the offseason and didn’t play after 2006.
Ryan Church, OF – Granted the starting center fielder job out of spring training, became a lightning rod in D.C. because of suspected talent too frequently held back by injury. Dealt to the Mets with Schneider, later played for Pittsburgh and Arizona but hasn’t been in the majors since 2010.
Chad Cordero, RP – A fan favorite and all-star in 2005, when he led the National League with 47 saves, Cordero saved 66 more games for Washington in 2006-07. His shoulder, though, gave way early in 2008, and though he briefly made it back to the majors in 2010 with Seattle, he hasn’t been back since. Dealt with the unspeakable tragedy of losing his daughter to SIDS two years ago, and has dabbled at a comeback since.
J.J. Davis, OF – Remember this guy? Barely, right? Former Pittsburgh prospect made opening-day roster, got 28 at-bats with Nationals, shipped to minors, then traded to Colorado as part of July deal for outfielder Preston Wilson. Tried to reinvent himself as a pitcher with the Rockies. Never again appeared in a major league game.
Zach Day, RHP – The fifth starter in 2005, Day was shipped, with Davis, to Colorado for Wilson. The Nats picked him up again off waivers in 2006, but granted him free agency after that season. He tried comebacks with Kansas City and Minnesota, but never again appeared in the majors.
Joey Eischen, RP – Wacky left-hander who might say anything at any time, he was the lefty specialist out of the bullpen in 2005. He returned for that role in 2006, but only lasted till May, when he got hurt, and he has never appeared in the majors since.
Jose Guillen, OF – Had an all-star caliber first half but imploded around the Fourth of July by getting into it with pitcher Esteban Loiaza. Injured most of 2006 with Washington. Later played for Seattle, Kansas City and San Francisco. Accused of using performance-enhancing drugs several times, he played 14 years with 10 different teams – none since 2010.
Cristian Guzman, SS – I bet more people remember that Guzman struggled through a historically bad offensive season in 2005 (.219/.260/.314) than remember the shortstop returned to become an all-star here in 2008. Traded to Texas in the middle of 2010 for two minor leaguers, he signed with Cleveland prior to 2012, but didn’t make the Indians roster and hasn’t played in the majors since 2010.
Livan Hernandez, RHP – The opening-day starter, 2005 all-star and one of the most beloved figures from that team, Livo finished last season with Milwaukee, but is unsigned as of right now. Hoping to play an 18th season, and has said he would love to work for the Nationals at some point.
Joe Horgan, RP – Lefty who didn’t make the team out of spring training but was called up when Antonio Osuna (!) went on the disabled list before the home opener at RFK. Allowed 14 runs in six innings over eight appearances, was demoted, and never made it back to the majors.
Nick Johnson, 1B – Oft-injured, sweet-swinging first baseman was traded to Florida in the middle of 2009 and later played for the Indians, Yankees and Orioles before announcing his retirement this week.
Esteban Loaiza, RHP – The second starter behind Hernandez, he went 12-10 with a 3.77 ERA for the Nationals, then signed with Oakland as a free agent. Pitched for the Dodgers and White Sox after that, but hasn’t been in the majors since 2008.
Gary Majewski, RP – Hard-throwing right-hander became an essential part of the back end of the bullpen, Majewski posted a 2.73 ERA in 79 appearances. Was part of the 2006 trade with Cincinnati that got infielder Felipe Lopez and outfielder Austin Kearns in return. Last made it to the majors for two games with Houston in 2010.
Tomo Ohka, RHP – Started the season 4-3 with a 3.33 ERA as a member of the rotation, but with starting second baseman Jose Vidro injured, he was traded in June to Milwaukee for infielder Junior Spivey. Later pitched for Toronto and Cleveland, but hasn’t been in majors since 2009.
John Patterson, RHP – So much potential, but couldn’t stay healthy. Patterson went 9-7 with a 3.13 ERA in 2005, but made just 15 starts over the next two seasons. He was cut before 2008, and never again made it to the majors. Did, however, marry a former Miss D.C., and now lives in his native Orange, Tex.
Brian Schneider, C – After leaving Washington following 2007, he was the starting catcher for the Mets for 2008, was hurt much of 2009 and played 59 games, then finished out as a backup for the Phillies from 2010-12. Retired this week.
Terrmel Sledge, OF – The answer to the trivia question, “Who hit the first homer in Nats history?”, Sledge was part of the trade with Texas after 2005 that brought Alfonso Soriano to Washington. He was dealt to San Diego again that offseason. He later played in Japan, but never appeared in a major league game after 2006.
T.J. Tucker, RP – Former Expos first-round pick was the long reliever on Opening Day, but blew out his arm in June and never pitched in the majors again.
Jose Vidro, 2B – Starting second baseman was somehow traded to Seattle following the 2006 season for reliever Emiliano Fruto (!) and outfielder Chris Snelling. Released by Seattle midway through 2008 and hasn’t played since.
Brad Wilkerson, OF/1B – Had to hit leadoff for much of the 2005 season, he was perhaps the biggest offensive disappointment of 2005, hitting only .248/.351/.405, though he did hit for the cycle in the Nationals’ first win. Dealt to Texas as part of the Soriano trade, last appeared in the majors in 2008 and retired while with Boston’s Class AAA affiliate in 2010.
That brings us to the answer to our trivia question. Drum roll, please.
Luis Ayala and Jamey Carroll!
Who would have guessed this in 2005? Ayala spent that season as Cordero’s reliable setup man, posting a 2.66 ERA in 68 appearances. But he blew out his elbow pitching for Mexico in the 2006 World Baseball Classic and missed all of that season. He was traded to the Mets for infielder Anderson Hernandez in August 2008, but will enter his second season with Baltimore – for whom he appeared in 66 games with a 2.64 ERA in 2011 – this year.
And that leaves Carroll. This guy was nearly out of baseball in 2002 when the Expos needed a September call-up just to fill out the roster, and he was the only one within driving distance. He became a beloved figure at RFK Stadium, filling in for Vidro and Guzman in the middle infield. Limited physically, the Nationals sold Carroll to Colorado for $300,000 prior to 2006. He has remained in the majors ever since – two years with the Rockies (and an NL pennant in 2007), two years with Cleveland, two years with the Dodgers. Now, he’s entering his second season in Minnesota, where he hit .268 in 138 games last year.
Thus ends today’s trip down memory lane. Thanks to Nick Johnson and Brian Schneider for spurring this moment. Appreciate it. Now I need to do some work.