Many of the Nationals who take the field this week at Nationals Park — a group that sits in first place despite an unsettling weekend sweep in Atlanta — understand what the franchise has been through in its most recent seasons. They lost 100 games in 2008 and again in 2009. They haven’t had a winning campaign until this one. Times have seemed tough.
But only a scant few people — some front-and-center, others behind the scenes — truly comprehend what the franchise has endured going back a decade. These Nationals were, at one point, the Montreal Expos.
By now, that fact is noted from Capitol Hill to Cooperstown almost as an afterthought. Unless you lived it.
“We knew in some ways that it was kind of like an us-against-the-world-type thing,” Wallace said. “It’s kind of like us band of brothers.”
Since moving to Washington from Montreal over the winter of 2004-05, the Nationals have had two owners, Major League Baseball and the Lerner family.
Those owners have employed two general managers, four managers, 17 shortstops and four racing presidents. They have played in one 45-year-old ballpark that had to be overhauled just to make it borderline presentable and another $611-million palace with views of the Capitol dome. In that time, Montreal slipped further into the past, and the chance to field a winner developed, however slowly, in the District.
But only a handful of people have a sense of what it was like then, and the journey to get to this point. Shortstop Ian Desmond, drafted by the Expos in 2004, and outfielder Roger Bernadina, signed by the club in 2001, are the only members of this year’s team who were in the Expos system. And they have only a scant understanding of the uncertainty around it all, because they were minor leaguers then, chasing their chance to get to the majors, no matter the city.
“They basically said, ‘We’re going to draft you,’” Desmond said. “‘You may not be an Expo, but you will be with us.’ ”
The group that has been with the franchise, from the Montreal days to now without interruption, is tiny: Wallace, the clubhouse manager, and Matt Rosenthal, who manages the visiting clubhouse; John Dever, the senior director of baseball information, who runs day-to-day media and public relations for the players, coaches and baseball operations staff; Rob McDonald, the vice president of clubhouse operations and team travel; Mike McGowan, the assistant athletic trainer; and Randy Knorr, who serves as Manager Davey Johnson’s bench coach and has managed the team’s minor league affiliates at Class A, AA and AAA. Troy Gingrich, the hitting coach at Class AAA Syracuse, has also served in the Nationals’ minor league system since the Montreal days.