And Johnson demonstrates how your shoulders have to be square to first base, and your left leg straight under you, to make “the pirouette” pivot, “like a bull making a pass at a matador, but missing him.” That, multiplied by a million, is baseball, a game handed down for generations with many of the basic aptitudes largely unchanged, but requiring years to polish. The double play may really be Maz to Johnson to Desmond to Lombardozzi.
Are Derek Jeter and Robinson Cano learning such basics this spring?
Grasping the details that define the game is the daily routine of the Nats here in Florida. In practice, Storen, goofing around, mimicked Zimmerman’s underhand scoop-and-throw of a dribbler. Storen fired submarine toward first base. His throw bounced at least 15 times and barely got there. “It’s harder than it looks,” Storen said to Zimmerman as teammates laughed.
Everything is. In baseball, there’s a trick, a big-league technique, a tip, on how to do absolutely everything. Of all the major sports, baseball takes, by far, the longest to master. Why? Because raw talent and acquired skills are almost equally important.
And fewer of those skills are unique to individuals. In baseball, “do it your own way” seldom works. There’s room for flair, but only if the fundamentals beneath it are sound. Great NFL running backs or NBA guards are learning their moves, or inventing new ones that the sport has never seen, when they are still just big kids. Perhaps you can refine Adrian Peterson’s running, but most of his methods were in place the day he hit the NFL.
So, the Nats learn the old ways first before refining them to suit their own skills. Zimmermann has added a change-up. Ramos got three hits in one game, all to the opposite field. Desmond, Johnson and hitting coach Rick Eckstein are implementing an even more drastic pull-for-power approach with Desmond. Strasburg says he’s learning to use the slope of the mound more advantageously for better leverage when he’s in the stretch.
It’s endless, and veterans aren’t exempt. Zimmerman, after shoulder surgery, has had to reinvent his throwing motion. Not tweak it. Start from zero and figure out how he wants to do it the rest of his career. It’s still scary to watch his anxious crow hops toward first base, but it’s working so far.
The oldest Nat, Jayson Werth (just 33) has to figure out how to hit again with a left wrist that was broken last year and now has screws, everything but a hubcap, in it.
“It may come back. Or it may never be the same,” he says. “It’s a good thing I’m a baseball player.”
By that, he means a student of the whole game, one who, over many years, constantly learns and adapts.
Can the kiddy-corps Nats become complete baseball players? Eighty percent of their roster has not even reached the beginning of its peak years. Despite that talent, the moment they stop being students, their ascent up the games ranks will stop.
But who knows what they might accomplish if their education is still in its early innings?
For previous columns by Thomas Boswell, visit washingtonpost.com/