The clubhouse manager wanted to know what size pants he wears. The hitting coach wanted to talk to him about his approach at the plate. And the general manager, excitement in his eyes and his voice, wanted to make sure that, in case anybody had missed it, he is willing to compare the Washington Nationals' first draft choice, Ryan Zimmerman, to Brooks Robinson and Cal Ripken.
"As a general manager," Jim Bowden said, "you're not going to make these comments unless you can back it up. I'm not going to be wrong [about] the player. You don't hear me making these great comments about too many players since I've been here, have you?"
No, Zimmerman -- who joined the Nationals from Class AA Harrisburg on Thursday -- is the only Washington prospect Bowden has compared to Hall of Famers. And on his first day in the majors, the 20-year-old third baseman from Virginia Beach, via the University of Virginia, seemed to have a handle on all the hype.
"You take it in, and it goes right out," Zimmerman said. "If you put a lot of pressure on yourself, you're not going to be able to perform as well as you like. It's an honor to have your name in the same sentences as those guys, but you got to put it behind you and remember what got you here."
Zimmerman is in the majors not only because of what he did at Class A Savannah and Class AA Harrisburg -- showing a sterling glove and hitting .350 in 240 professional at-bats -- but also because major league rosters expanded from 25 to as many as 40 players Thursday. Earlier this week, Bowden said he might call up 10 or 11 players, enough to give Manager Frank Robinson a plethora of options.
But Nationals President Tony Tavares nixed that plan for financial reasons.
"At the beginning of the year, we have a budget that provides for a call-up of 'X' amount of players," Tavares said by telephone. "We're going to be over budget on that as it is. You can't call up 30 guys."
Instead, the Nationals plan to bring up players gradually. They will start Friday by adding speedy outfielders Brandon Watson and Kenny Kelly -- addressing the team's sloth-like base running -- as well as infielder Rick Short, who flirted with hitting .400 for Class AAA New Orleans. Bowden said more players could arrive over the weekend.
Tavares was adamant that the restrictions weren't caused by the fact that Major League Baseball still owns the Nationals. At the beginning of the year, baseball allotted the Nationals $50 million for salaries. But they added players such as outfielder Preston Wilson and infielder Deivi Cruz, and because 20 players have landed on the disabled list, the Nats' payroll is approaching $54 million, Tavares said. He added that much of that new payroll will be offset by revenues that will be higher than projected.
"The average amount of guys to call up is something like five," Tavares said. "I pushed back on Jim and said, 'Make sure you're calling up people that are going to be used.' If you bring up 11 guys, you start talking about changing the size of the [chartered] airplane and all kinds of things. Everybody, including the Yankees, has to have some kind of budget."
Bowden said he would adjust to the parameters he has been given.
"I would rather wait three or four days on a couple of guys if that means saving money to get another player up here," he said. "From a manager and a GM's perspective, the more call-ups you can have, the more you want. Now, you have to make it work within the budget. It benefits you by waiting, because every day you wait, you won't have to pay salary, hotel, meal money, et cetera, et cetera. It's a lot of money."
Minor league call-ups are paid the major league minimum salary of $316,000 on a pro-rated basis. A call-up on the major league roster from Sept. 1 to the end of the season, 32 days, earns roughly $55,257. So 11 such players would cost the team $607,827.
The issue of call-ups is a sensitive one in the Nationals' clubhouse because the team still remembers the 2003 season, when MLB prohibited new additions even though the club, then the Montreal Expos, was in a pennant race.
"It was frustrating," catcher Brian Schneider said.
Told that additions to the roster were being delayed because of financial reasons, Schneider chose his words carefully.
"This team is making a lot of money right now," Schneider said. "Just put it like that. Revenues are higher than predicted. The good thing is if these guys come up a couple of days late, they still get the experience."