Chad Tracy flew into Washington this week for the first time since leaving the Nationals after the 2013 season. The popular utility man was released by the Angels after spring training and retired not long after; he’s spent the past few weeks coaching his daughters in co-ed youth baseball, keeping up with his ownership stake in a summer wood-bat league, playing a lot of golf and trying to figure out his next step.
Washington will remain his final major league stop, and when Tracy came back for the first time this week, “it brought a few pretty good emotions back.”
Best memory? You could probably guess.
“That Jayson Werth home run in the playoffs,” Tracy told me in a phone conversation. “That moment was probably the highest moment in baseball that I had been a part of, at any time. The atmosphere, the excitement, the energy that was in the city and in the stands, and you could see it on everybody’s faces. That’s what I think these guys are trying to get back to. Because you’ve tasted it; it makes you want it that much more. At that point, we felt like we were going to win the World Series. I think we all felt we were going to win the World Series that year.”
Tracy was back in Washington to help unveil a renovated library at Tubman Elementary in Columbia Heights, as part of a school makeover program sponsored by the Target Corp. and the Heart of America Foundation. Tracy has been involved in reading programs before — he spoke to students as part of the Diamondbacks’ reading program about once every homestand during his six seasons in Arizona — and he said he was happy to come back to his last MLB home.
“I was up for being on board, coming up to D.C. and cutting this ribbon with these guys,” he said. “I feel like I’ve played all over the place, and hopefully I left a good impression everywhere I went.”
He has obviously watched this Nats team with curiosity, waiting to see whether they wind up closer to the 2012 division champs or the 2013 team that missed the playoffs. He still guesses it will be the former.
“It’s tough to do the same thing that you did the year before and just assume it will happen,” he said, when I asked about the 2013 disappointment. “There’s all kinds of variables. What looks right on paper doesn’t always show up on the field. Sometimes you catch a few lucky breaks here and there that get you over the hump. I don’t know if i can put a finger on it. It’s probably more so to do with other teams making adjustments and knowing that the Nationals are the team to beat in the East; bearing down and doing more scouting. It’s different when that ‘X’ is on your back and people are bringing their best effort every night.
“But I think they’ll wind up pulling away with this division later on in the year,” Tracy said. “I think they’re too good and too talented not to, if they stay healthy. If they can all get on the field at one time and get to playing good, this team — on paper — they should win the division.”
I asked Tracy about Bryce Harper, who has had difficulty staying on the field. “I think it’s up to him whether or not he stays healthy,” Tracy said. “If he can almost tone it down and pick and choose his spots a little bit better, when he wants to exert himself and take a chance. I think it’s gonna be on him. He just needs to be smart about when he decides to push it out there. If it takes him running into the wall to catch the ball and end a game, then certainly he has to do it. If it’s the first inning, maybe it’s one of those you pull up and play the ball off the wall. I think he’ll get better at that as he gets older, but he’s had a few run-ins with some bad luck lately. You can’t really fault him for that. I wouldn’t consider him an injury-prone player; it’s not body-breakdown type injuries.”
Tracy said he wishes the Nats well and would love to rejoin the organization at some point, but he also said he has made his peace with the end of his playing days.
“I would still like to be playing, but the opportunity goes away at some point and we all have to look in the mirror and figure out what we have to do from here,” he said. “When the phone didn’t ring I had to turn the page, so I went home and became the best father that I could. … I think I’ve turned the page. I’m a realist. I feel like that ship has sailed.”
In the meantime, he will be watching to see what happens with his former team.
“It was a good feeling just to see the city and be back in town,” he said. “Obviously I like to see the Nationals win baseball games, because I really care about the guys on the team. I would never pull against them.”