Wednesday, July 25, 1 p.m. ET

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Barry Svrluga
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, July 25, 2007; 1:00 PM

Washington Post staff writer Barry Svrluga was online Wednesday, July 25, at 1 p.m. ET to take your questions and comments about the 2007 Nationals.

The transcript follows.

Svrluga covers the Nationals beat for The Post and writes the Nationals Journal blog for washingtonpost.com. He's also the author of "National Pastime: Sports, Politics, and the Return of Baseball to Washington, D.C."

Full Coverage: Washington Nationals

Discussion Archive

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Barry Svrluga: Greetings, folks. It appears that it might be kind of an interesting week (if you're interested in such things) in NatsLand. If you read "Nationals Journal" this morning (and if you didn't, what in the world were you doing?), you know that my best info is that John Lannan, the 22-year-old lefty who has swiftly developed into one of the Nationals' top prospects, is likely to be called up to start Thursday's series finale in Philly.

So there's that. But there's lots of other things to discuss, too. Jason Bergmann's hamstring. The trade market. Whether Bonds's historic shot will come against the Nationals -- if it ever comes.

Thus, we begin.

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Cleveland Park: Why don't Kasten and Bowden seem interested in getting involved in the bidding war for Mark Timelier? It seems to me he might be a perfect fit for "The Plan." At 27, he's in his prime. He's a Gold Glove at first base and since the return of Nick Johnson seems progressively murkier and murkier, Timelier could certainly help to provide the big bat the Nats desperately need. Historically, he has also performed well playing outfield. Why don't the Nats just get The Plan rolling THIS year by getting a quality player like Timelier?

Barry Svrluga: An interesting way to get involved in the trade market discussion.

I have no information that the Nationals are in on Teixeira. What I do know is that his contract runs out after 2008. The Nationals expect to be much more competitive next season, and there are indications that they're trying to buy parts right now that will get them to that goal. But in terms of being ready to win a division title in '08, that'll have to wait.

Therefore, if they're interested in Teixeira -- who is, of course, from Severna Park, Md., I believe -- they could well wait until the 2008 free agency period. He's a Scott Boras client, so it's unlikely they'd be able to trade for him now, keep him in 2008 and sign him for some sort of loyalty thing or "hometown discount." Boras's clients don't do that kind of thing.

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Chevy Chase:1. In yesterday's chat, Dave Sheinin predicted that 756 will come in the Nats-Giants series in SF in two weeks. What is your prediction?

2. Saw your comment in the Nats Journal about your lower reader totals than some of the other sports blogs. For some reason, those appear on the list of updated blogs on the front page about halfway down underneath all the headlines, but Nats Journal does not.

Barry Svrluga: 1. I kinda think Sheinin's right, and I definitely, definitely had that date targeted before Bonds hit those two bombs at Wrigley Field last week. The Nationals are there from Aug. 6-9. Bonds doesn't look like he'll hit 756 in the five games he has remaining on this homestand, and it's unlikely the Giants will have him do it on the road. So ... that leaves the Nationals series as their next one at home.

2. I've heard this, but I never have tried to get to the Journal that way. I will try to let the folks over at the Web site know. Not sure what's up with that.

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D.C.: I know the team really likes Brian Schnieder, but have you heard his name mentioned in trade talks? I would think he is one of the more tradeable players on the team and Flores is already is 22. If they don't trade Schnieder, do you see Flores in AAA next year so he can play every day?

Barry Svrluga: The team really believes in Flores's potential, and they are really impressed with how he's handled himself this year. Schneider, though, is not as tradable as you'd think. He's got a back-loaded contract that will pay him $3.5 million this season and $4.9 million in both '08 and '09. I think if a contender had an injury to their starting catcher, they could make a desperation bid for him. But he's not hitting very much right now -- though that was a nice three-run double last night.

Flores: He needs to play every day somewhere next year. My bet is in the minors, but don't hold me to that.

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Glen Echo: Barry

Who is most likely to open the season at first base for the Nats next year?

a. Dimitri

b. Nick

c. Neither of the above

Dimitri's trade and free agent possibilities coupled with Nick's continuing and continuous health issues, make me think it might be c. What do you think? Thanks.

Barry Svrluga: This is an excellent question, and one I can't quite get my arms around. My mind says b., but then my gut tells me that I can't always rely on my mind. As much as a. has been helpful and uplifting and all that this year, I just don't see it. He told me yesterday it's a "possibility" he would come back next year, but he's clearly going to put himself on the market (as he should, considering he's earning $500,000 and appears to have undergone a transformation).

Gun to my head? I'll go with b. He'll have to be healed by then (won't he?), and he's untradable given the injuries.

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Easton, Md.: Barry, do you know if Frank is completely out of the baseball loop? Is he going to Cooperstown this weekend? I was at the Cal send off to Cooperstown event last night which, unlike the 10th anniversary of 2131 a couple years ago, was very moving and well attended. One could almost say magical. They brought back several O's Hall of Famers and others sent messages on the scoreboard, but Frank was not among them. I know they didn't play together, but Frank was his manager and also he was hanging out at the ballpark when Frank was a player. Or is there bad blood between Frank and the O's? I was just curious.

Also, while I know this is a Nationals chat, I think it should be known that the O's gave a cool $1 million to the Cal Ripken Foundation. That elicited gasps from the crowd, as well as, I'm sure, from Cal. While I and most other Orioles fans would still like to run Peter Angelos out of town, he does get some brownie points for this one.

Barry Svrluga: Be careful, Easton. There's some Nationals fans who don't like even the mention of the O's in such a forum.

I spoke with Frank Robinson Monday by phone. (Caught him on the golf course, which is hardly a shocker, then called him back later.) He is, in fact, headed to Cooperstown this weekend. I'm going as well (covering Nats-Mets Friday night, then driving up Saturday morning). I'm going to speak with him more there, and may even come back with a story.

And no, he's not out of the baseball loop. He's working in the Commissioner's office.

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Section 213, Row 12: Nats resigned Ronnie Belliard, it's my understanding under the current CBA that a player traded in the middle of a contract can declare free agency after a trade - during the offseason, of course - is this still the case, and does it apply here?

If so, it locks him in to the Nats and makes him less valuable in a trade, meaning that the Nats signed him to keep him. Agree or disagree?

Barry Svrluga: I do not believe that provision applies to Belliard. Any CBA experts out there? I believe -- and I could be wrong -- it applies to those who are traded twice in the middle of a contract.

The second part is easier: I do believe the Nationals signed him to keep him. "Peace of mind," is how Manny Acta described the feeling with Belliard around. He can be used as a bench player or a starter at second, and can play all four infield positions (though I wouldn't want to see him at short for an extended amount of time). Put it this way: I think he was easier to trade to a contender with just the remainder of his $750,000 contract this year than he would be with $3.5 million through 2009 on it. Contenders, for a utility guy, would likely want a short-term solution.

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Arlington, Va.: How does Bob Fick remain so pale? Doesn't he spend every work day out in the sun?

Should this be grouped with the RFK outfield distances as the great Nationals conspiracies?

Barry Svrluga: Ah, Robert Fick. Every single thing about that guy is intriguing, no?

He is remarkably pale. I have seen him take batting practice without a shirt on (prior to when the ballpark gates open), and yet he doesn't seem to burn.

Now that we've got the important topics covered, we'll move on.

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Middleburg, Va.: Barry who is the Nats best SS and 2nd base prospect? And how far away are they from the big leagues?

Barry Svrluga: Well, I guess you'd have to say that the best SS prospect is Esmailyn Gonzalez, the 17-year-old they signed last year from the Dominican Republic. I talked to Barry Larkin about him a couple weeks ago, and he said Gonzalez is just stunningly good in the field. Working on his footwork, "getting him to make the routine play routine," Larkin said, but he's good. It'll take some time with the bat. He's hitting .260 with an impressive .375 OBP for the rookie-level Gulf Coast League Nationals.

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Frank Robinson: The Nats would have a Frank Robinson Day but I am too grumpy to go. I still hold it against the Nats for not offering me a job last season and won't even speak with Stan Kasten. True or False.

Barry Svrluga: Oh, that's true. That would be quite true.

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Arlington, Va.: So Bowden is now pursuing Adam Dunn!?! Granted the new park will be more hitter friendly and he will hit fair number of HRs but his strikeout numbers are crazy. What is your take on A -- whether Dunn would be a good addition and B -- the likelihood of it happening (and who would we have to give up)?

Barry Svrluga: Let's start with B: I don't think it's likely to happen through a trade at the end of this season. Dunn is almost certainly a free agent after this year. If he's traded, his contract provides that he IS a free agent. If not, the Reds must commit to his $13 million option for next year. Seems unlikely.

I have talked with several players in the Nationals clubhouse -- a wide range -- about this, and they love the prospect of Dunn coming. Yes, you get the strikeouts. But this lineup absolutely needs someone that is a true threat to hit the ball out every single time he comes up.

Is that player necessarily going to be Dunn? No. But Jim Bowden loves him, and that will play a big role.

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Warrenton, Va.: What is the condition of the RFK field, with both baseball and soccer being played there?

Barry Svrluga: Not good. In left field for baseball, the tracks where they roll out the soccer stands make for uneven footing. And a soccer pitch has the grass cut a bit lower, so the outfield grass is sometimes slippery, Nats outfielders say.

At some point, we'll turn to Goff about what United players complain about regarding their beloved pitch, which is run all over by the Nationals.

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Not Lompoc, Calif.: Would you characterize today's notebook about Ryan Church as being a routine conversation you have with the manager about certain players? Did Manny come out, perhaps to send a message? Or was this something you were working on and used on a slow day?

Barry Svrluga: I went to the park thinking I'd talk to Church about his name coming up in trades and his assessment of his own season. I can't tell you how much other scouts and execs say the guy should probably be a fourth outfielder, but the Nats need him to be something else. So I chatted with him, then simply asked Acta what he thought of Church's season. The response is in the notebook.

I think that's a very good way for Acta to put it -- which is to say, it was frank. Why sugarcoat it? Why pretend that getting 70 RBI from a corner outfielder is the way this franchise is going to go about business in the future? I don't at all consider it calling out Church. I consider it an honest answer to a question about one of his players.

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Manassas, Va.:"And no, he's not out of the baseball loop. He's working in the Commissioner's office."

I don't believe in organized religion, I'm a Catholic.

When we finally rid ourselves of Bud, do you think some of the joy of baseball might be rediscovered? Any big changes you see happening?

Barry Svrluga: Wow, that's a toughy (and a good line about Catholicism).

Did Selig oversee, and turn his back on, the Steroid Era? Most people would say absolutely. But is the game prospering, drawing more fans and making more money and driving up salaries and payroll? Absolutely. It's a healthy game, and that certainly wasn't the case in, say, 1994.

The joy: Is Selig sucking it out, or is it the fact that the guy that's about to break the most hallowed mark in sports is a pariah just about everywhere but San Francisco? I think Bonds has more to do with this joyless pursuit than Selig.

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Minneapolis: I have to give credit where credit is due. A few weeks ago, I asked you the "Who's on second" question regarding what seemed to be a probable Belliard trade. You responded that you thought the Nats would keep him. Right now, that looks like a remarkably good call.

If you have any other hunches, we're listening...

Barry Svrluga: Hunch: John Lannan will start Thursday's game in Philly.

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MLB CBA: The new CBA took away the right to demand a trade for players traded in the middle of a multi-year deal.

Barry Svrluga: This could be true, and that seems to jog something in my memory. I'm trying to answer as many questions as I can in this chat, so I'm not going to look up the CBA right now.

Thanks for the response.

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Section 428: We've heard how bad RFK is inside and out ... anything about the place you'll miss next year?

Barry Svrluga: From a totally selfish perspective, I'll miss the press box's location. It's low and right behind home plate and provides a much better view than a lot of the newer parks. The new Nationals stadium will have one of the highest press boxes in baseball, nearly as high as Pittsburgh.

But the new park is not about the press, it's about the players and the fans. And I think for those two groups, it'll be better in almost every single way. (Of course, you'll have to get there and park your car, which is another matter, and not a trivial one.)

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Washington, D.C.: Barry,

I caught a bit of "Bronx is Burning" the other night. The segment where Martin pulls a new lineup out of a hat and the team finally starts hitting. Has Acta considered shuffling the lineup at all? He seems like a real "steady as she goes" kind of manager, but a new lineup might bring a little fresh air to the club.

Barry Svrluga: I haven't seen "Bronx is Burning," but am hearing good things.

Yes, your read on Acta is spot on. He doesn't like to rattle guys too much, jerking them around on a day-to-day basis. He has made lineup changes (moving Lopez to seventh, etc.), but he always tells the players beforehand and does it for a stretch of time, rather than just a day.

So don't get any crazy ideas. Of course, if the names Acta could pull out of a hat included Reggie Jackson and Thurmon Munson rather than Nook Logan and Ryan Langerhans, he might try it.

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S. Rockville, Md.: Re: F.Robby

He can be as mad as he wants with Lerner/Kasten and the Nats, but the guys who really owe him are Bud Selig and the rest of the owners. He took the Nats/Expos job and ran with it. He helped them all put more cash in their pockets by putting a decent product on the field that first year. Frank's working with MLB now, and I'm sure they'll take care of him for years to come.

Barry Svrluga: There is no question that that is why Robinson is working for MLB now. He was there for Bud for five years. Bud felt he needed to be there for Frank, too.

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Arlington, Va.: Barry,

Perhaps this is more of a Marc Fisher question, but with regards to the new stadium, who has the final say on selling naming rights? Since D.C. owns the stadium, do they get to oversee the bidding process, or do the Lerners?

And who gets the revenues from the naming rights...D.C. or the Nats?

Barry Svrluga: The Nats get to sell the naming rights and the revenue generated by them. It's a key source of cash that could be turned into payroll. The club is working on this right now, and I would expect a major local company -- Geico, Capitol One, Marriott -- would pay some big bucks.

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Bethesda, Md.: Goff won't answer my questions. Will you?

Barry Svrluga: Sure. Waddya got?

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Harrisburg, Pa.: Tim Donaghy says that Cole Hamels is a lock to win tonight against the Nats.

Barry Svrluga: Put your money down.

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Rosslyn, Va.: Any Josh Smoker updates?

Barry Svrluga: Smoker, the left-handed high school pitcher from Georgia who the Nationals took with the 31st pick in the draft, switched advisors last week, joining Octagon. But with the trade deadline, I'm not sure the Smoker negotiations are front-burner. They have till Aug. 15 to get it done. I believe it'll happen, and I believe it'll happen for about $950,000.

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Rockville, Md.: Barry -- on a recent Friday night I went with some friends to a bar for a beer and to watch the Nats game. There were two TVs in the bar -- one had on women's softball, the other soccer. No one behind or at the bar thought of putting on the Nats until we showed up. This is not the first time this has happened. In your travels, have you heard people agree with Peter Angelos's assessment -- that this is not a baseball town?

Barry Svrluga: I think Washington wants a winner, and right now, its baseball team isn't a winner. I have been out on off nights or after games, and I have occasionally heard some good old Nationals chat going on at a bar. But yes, it's not in the consciousness of the town to, at 7 p.m. at all bars, flip the TVs to MASN. I would argue that during the winning months of 2005, folks were more engaged.

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Leesburg, Va.:

Do you think Nats ownership is under the illusion that we won't notice the difference in talent level that even a mediocre team like the Phillies is fielding compared to the Nationals? I mean the lead off hitter (Rollins) has more homers and RBI than Zimmerman for crying out loud. Do they expect us to be satisfied long term with the talent level they are putting on the field?

Barry Svrluga: Uh, no, I think the ownership will notice. It notices that its attendance ranks 26th in baseball right now. That's a lot of empty orange and yellow seats.

But what I think they expect you'll also notice is an increased payroll next year which, if they make good evaluations, will mean an increased talent level. The plan, going forward, is not to roll out there the current lineup you're seeing every night. This team needs upgrades at countless positions, and Bowden/Kasten are pursuing them as we speak.

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Arlington, Va.: Are you reading Harry Potter?

Barry Svrluga: I am not. My wife has read them all, but she's being patient.

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Spotted last week at RFK....:....a fan wearing a #13 Fick jersey! I was floored. Can you even buy that in the store there, or do you think it was a special order? I really wanted to ask him who he was--maybe a relative of Fick's? It certainly gave us something to talk about during the game....

Barry Svrluga: Fick's a character, I tell ya. A prankster. Last week, memorabilia collector Brian Schneider had a Chase Utley jersey in his locker that he was going to have Utley sign this week. Fick, though, grabbed a Sharpie and signed a sarcastic message "from Chase" on one of the numbers, effectively ruining Schneider's jersey.

Schneider, though, thought it was hysterical. Fick knows no bounds.

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Penn Quarter, D.C.: Regarding Nats' prospects, we fans just hear about the pitchers and corner outfielders. Are there any middle infielders that the organization views as future major leaguers? Might that be an area to address as the Nats trade Young, etc.? I am wondering what will happen when Guzman becomes a free agent.

Barry Svrluga: You are correct. I mentioned Esmailyn Gonzalez earlier, and they have a choice from last year's draft -- Stephen King -- who struggled at low-Class A Hagerstown (.180) and was sent to the GCL. Shortstop Ian Desmond, who looked mature and promising in spring training of 2005, is struggling at high-Class A Potomac, hitting .226, and his prospect status is fading.

They have made large upgrades in their pitching depth in the minors. Look at the numbers I reported in my minor league notebook this morning in the $.35 edition for the starters at short-season Class A Vermont. But the hitting -- outside of Chris Marrero and maybe one or two others -- has a long way to go.

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The Argonaut: Baseball America had Chris Marrero No. 1 on their Prospect Hot Sheet. The kid is tearing High-A. Any chance he sniffs Harrisburg before the end of the year?

Barry Svrluga: Yes, absolutely a chance. And I predict that we see him in major league camp next spring. Not to win a job. But to get a look-see.

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Arlington, Va.: How much do you see the Nats' payroll going up next season? What free agents do you see them targeting? And since you're complaining about low hit counts, how's about giving us the link to your Nats Journal so we can bookmark it now?

washingtonpost.com: Nationals Journal. It's also at the top of the discussion.

Barry Svrluga: Thank you, discussion producer Paul.

My guess -- and I have been warned not to project specific numbers, because things are always fluid -- is that we're looking at between $70-$80 million in payroll for next year. That's an increase of at least $30 million.

Stan Kasten is not a huge proponent of free agency. But one reason I'm starting to think the Nationals are pursuing players such as Dunn -- again, I don't think there's much chance of this happening -- is because they're going to have to increase payroll/talent level somehow, and now might be a good time to do it, when cell phones are burning up talking about trades.

Just a thought. Remember what Bowden said the other day: "We're building up, not tearing down."

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Silver Spring, Md.:"this is not a baseball town".

Geez, not again. The only baseball town that I know about is Turrialba, Costa Rica where they actually manufacture the baseballs.

Barry Svrluga: There we go.

This is a growing process, I think. A true baseball town is one in which the vast majority or residents know if the team won or lost the night before and can name several of the players on the team. In Washington, that's not the case right now. Might be the case in the future.

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Penn Quarter: Not to sound like a jerk, but good baseball towns are good baseball towns whether the home nine is winning or not. Towns that only back winners are by definition "bad baseball towns."

Barry Svrluga: That is not sounding like a jerk. That is sounding like a realist.

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Bethesda, Md.: What happened to Brian Schneider? This guy could hit in 2005. He was the no. 2 catcher on the U.S. team at the World Baseball Classic. Where did he go?

Barry Svrluga: Schneider has not developed as the Nationals had hoped. They thought he would hit a bit more -- not .290, but .270. He has been praised for how he has handled the pitching staff this year, and I think that praise is genuine. But Acta wanted him to drive in 70 runs this year. He is on pace for 57.

He's a streaky player, so his current .233 average could definitely rise. He did the same last year, when he got hot over the last month to hit .256.

I would say this, too: I think these guys really miss Mitchell Page. Lenny Harris was thrown into the hitting coach role after being a minor league infield instructor. He appeared over his head from the start. Page, who left because of personal problems, was a professional tactician who could break down the swing for these guys. I think that's affected everyone -- Kearns, Schneider, Church, Zimmerman, the whole lot.

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Just who we need:"... they have a choice from last year's draft -- Stephen King -- who struggled at low-Class A Hagerstown ..."

How appropriate for a team that sometimes makes me scream in horror !

Barry Svrluga: I was going to say that if he would just stop writing thrillers, he might improve his hitting, but resisted.

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Dunn trade: What do think the Reds would want for Adam Dunn? Is this price increased because of the previous trade?

Barry Svrluga: The issue surrounding the previous trade (Lopez/Kearns for Majewski/Bray) makes dealing with the Reds murky. But Reds GM Wayne Krivsky told me at the winter meetings last year -- when this was all still hot -- that he wouldn't rule out dealing with the Nationals in the future.

The Reds would need to like some of the Nationals prospects in order to get this done. Not sure that's the case.

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N. Bethesda, Md.: Any updates on Escobar?

Barry Svrluga: Escobar was sent from Class AAA Columbus last week down to Viera because he wasn't throwing well enough to be activated. His shoulder just isn't strong enough. The players in the clubhouse aren't even thinking about his return, because they don't have any evidence that it'll happen.

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Princeton, W.V.:

Barry

I just found out about Zimmerman's MS foundation quite by accident. I was diagnosed myself with MS on March 29 of this year. My "previous life" prior to March 29 revolved around minor league baseball, especially at the rookie level, specifically action shots and baseball cards. My life as I know/knew it was pretty much ripped out from under me because, as you know from meeting Cheryl, it is a day-to-day sometimes hour-to-hour rapidly changing disease. My first "doctor recognized symptom" was the loss of my eyesight in my left eye -- a one-eyed photographer with baseball season approaching is NOT A GOOD THING! I had had symptoms for years but did not know what was wrong with me and no doctor here n Southern WV had picked up on it! I was not diagnosed until I was 41.

I am wondering if there is anyway you could put me in touch with Cheryl. In WV I have yet to find anyone who has MS and is into baseball as much as I have been the last 15 years of my life and I hate to give it up even a little it! It is all I have left now. But I am fast having to accept my years of minor league photography as a JOB may be coming to an end. As a hobby -- I maybe can still enjoy it -- but on a "wobbly day" -- those days when you resemble a drunk just walking -- it is not a good idea to be where broken bats or missed catches can get you. I don't move as fast as I did this time last year -- much less in spring training.

I have tried to "bulldog " my way though it so far but the fatigue and frustration of it has has caught up! My thinking and remembering skills are going faster then was originally projected. I have always been able to, until this point in my life, WILL my self to get through. This time my will is not as strong as the illness.

I am just trying to find kindred BASEBALL souls who are also on this life altering path I now must follow. MS and baseball do not seem to be a mixing point.

Samantha Craig

Princeton, W.V.

Appalachian League

Barry Svrluga: Interesting story, and we wish you the best. You could go to the ZiMS Foundation Web site at zimsfoundation.org, and there's probably a way to get in touch with the folks there, who could put you in touch with Keith and Cheryl Zimmerman.

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re: baseball town:"But yes, it's not in the consciousness of the town to, at 7 p.m. at all bars, flip the TVs to MASN. I would argue that during the winning months of 2005, folks were more engaged."

Right - when the habit could have been formed there WAS NO CHANNEL TO CHANGE TO...

Barry Svrluga: A perfect reminder, no question.

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Barry Svrluga: Folks, lots of great questions today -- both that I was able to answer and that were left behind. My apologies for not getting to all of them.

Enjoy the rest of the day and tonight's game, and then look for Lannan to start tomorrow. Could be interesting. I'll talk to you next week from back at RFK Stadium, by which time the deadline will have come and gone.

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