Before Sunday afternoon, Jose Lobaton may have been most famous in Washington for creating amazing works of art out of Gatorade cups.
I mean that with no disrespect. Lobaton’s biggest moment as a National is now undoubtedly his three-run homer that gave the Nationals their first lead of the playoffs and propelled them to a Game 2 win over the Dodgers. With Lobaton filling in for injured slugger Wilson Ramos, and with fans panicked, and with the team in desperate need of a clutch hit, and with Lobaton having failed to come through in his first chance, this was as sweet a moment as early October can provide.
But the thing that first made Lobaton famous was also sweet: something that showed the fun and joy and silliness that makes pro sports our refuge, even when it’s July and not October and the stakes are considerably lower.
The homer also made me realize that I had a longish conversation with Lobaton about his amazing dugout artwork earlier this season, and I forgot to write it up. Better late than never.
So what is the deal here?
While sitting in the dugout last season, Lobaton began messing around with the bottom of a Gatorade cup. He opened up the bottom of the cup to turn it into … well, something … “and then I was like ‘Oh, this is cool!’ ” Lobaton told me. “And then I tried to figure out all the time how to make a good one.”
What happened next?
Well, fans loved this, because it’s lovable.
“I didn’t know [that]; I just tried to do it,” Lobaton said. “After the game I was checking my Twitter and stuff [and saw the positive reaction]. I didn’t try to do that. I thought it was fun for us, for our team. Then after that one, I figured out if I do that, I’ve got a chance for people to see it on TV, and maybe it can be fun for them too. It’s whatever is comfortable for us.”
“He’s got to get his GIF on the internet somehow,” as teammate Clint Robinson put it.
And so Lobaton did it again, this time with even more awesome.
“I never did it in the minor leagues,” Lobaton said. “I just did it here, and I thought it was fun. I didn’t really try; I was sitting in the dugout and I opened the cup up and I just did it.”
Indeed, fans loved it so much that many called for a Jose Lobaton Gatorade-goggle bobblehead this season, and one fan even made that bobblehead himself.
What are the goggles called? When does he make them? How much does he practice?
No name. He just makes them whenever. There is less thought to this than you might imagine.
“I just make fun for us,” he said. “We’re sitting in the bench, cheering for the team, and sometimes you get a little lazy, so it’s a good moment for us to enjoy.”
Have players seen this before?
“Not that I can remember,” Robinson said.
“Not in my 11 years I haven’t,” Stephen Drew added. “I mean, I’ve seen goggles, but not to the extent of his.”
“I’m sure there are guys who have goofed around, but Loby is that guy on our team,” Robinson said. “He keeps it loose, he’s funny, the stuff he says in the dugout, everybody laughs every time he says it. He’s that guy.”
And what of the amazing creations this year with the temples and the bridge and the fake eyeballs?
Well, Lobaton saw Jorge Soler make binoculars out of multiple cups, and he got kind of jealous.
“Somebody else told me, ‘Hey, somebody make it better than you,’ ” Lobaton recalled. He asked them to explain. They showed him Soler’s creation. “I’m like, ‘Well, I don’t know what to do. I don’t know,’ ” Lobaton recalled.
Lobaton tried to figure out what he could do that would be next-level. He had no ideas.
“I was like, I got to make a good one,” he said. “I was thinking like this, like that.”
Chris Heisey saw him pondering this. “You want a good one?” Heisey asked. “Just give me a chance.”
“He took one inning, and he was like, ‘Look at this,’ and I’m like, ‘Oh! That’s the one!’ ” Lobaton said. “Then he teach me how, so I kind of know how to make that one.”
Heisey wanted to use scissors, but Lobaton told him that was against the rules, “because you’re supposed to do something with your hands; you’re watching the game and working; watching, working. That’s why I did it.”
And the deluxe models were a hit. Just look at this!
“Everybody was laughing, because they’re pretty cool,” Lobaton said. “I told him,’That’s pretty good. That’s unbelievable.’ ”
“Winning will do that,” Robinson noted.
What does this have to do with playoff baseball?
I mean, nothing. Nothing at all. But the basic conceit of pro sports is that there is something happy and pure in seeing grown men run around and play games like we all used to do, and it’s nice to be reminded of that. And then when you like a guy for his dugout goggles, maybe you feel a little happier when he becomes an unexpected playoff hero.