“They are grinders. They work hard, actually too hard,” Manager Davey Johnson said. “They have one of the best makeups of any team I’ve seen. Their mind-set is that every day is a big game and every pitch is a big pitch . . . and a season is a long war with 162 of those battles.”
In an itinerant mercenary sports world, the Nats are recreating something from a previous age — as much as the era permits. They want to be a club that stays intact year to year in its core personnel. That way, they accumulate knowledge as a group from season to season. More important, they want to embed a clubhouse culture in which everyone aspires to ferocious focus.
That has always been a baseball ideal, yet it seldom comes to pass. The Nats may be an exception. If they keep their heads out of the glory-gazing clouds, they might do dazzling things in the game’s mundane dirt and grass.
When they are asked, and they are asked often, the Nats will talk about their World Series chances. But in four days I have heard just two players bring up the Big Picture unsolicited. That is probably two too many. But a dozen players have redirected gaudy conversations, about talent or depth, back toward the primacy of the repetitive aggravating details of the game.
For example, this week Job One for pitchers was to work to remedy their almost unprofessional inability to hold runners on base last season. Stephen Strasburg hasn’t been patted on the back, but rather told how much he needs to vary his time to the plate so thieves can’t get a running jump.
Luckily for the Nats, that’s just what Strasburg prefers.
“A coach at San Diego State always told us, ‘You’re just another donkey,’ ” he said. “I really believe in ‘just another donkey.’ There’s not one guy in here that thinks they are better than the others. That’s the reason we get along so well.”
In no other sport is greatness so closely linked to daily-ness.
“Everybody wants to talk about ‘the season,’ ” said Drew Storen, probably one of the team’s handful of extroverts. “That’s understandable. But I’m stealing a line Jim Thome used in an interview: ‘Stay in your lane.’ That’s perfect. That’s what we need to do: Pay attention to your job, hone in on the next pitch.”