Mark DeRosa played only one season for the Washington Nationals yet was among the most beloved teammates in recent team history. At the time, the utility man was 37 years old, in his 15th major league season and spent most of the year on the disabled list. He played a major role behind the scenes, though.
He was seen as the team dad, mentor, an additional hitting coach, team comedian and a friend. He disagreed with Stephen Strasburg’s shutdown but understood the reasoning and consoled the right-handed pitcher after his season ended. He often commandeered the karaoke machine in the clubhouse and sang or told jokes. He was the veteran who served as a sounding board for his teammates. He may be remembered most for reading an inspirational speech from Theodore Roosevelt to teammates before 2012 NLDS Game 4.
But now, after spending the 2013 season with the Toronto Blue Jays, DeRosa has called his playing career quits and is embarking on a new challenge. A day after retiring despite having his 2014 option picked up by the Blue Jays, DeRosa joined MLB Network as an analyst. The 38-year-old will appear on the show “MLB Tonight” throughout the season and make his debut as a regular analyst at 3 p.m. Monday at the winter meetings in Lake Buena Vista.
After playing for eight teams over 16 years and winning a World Series title with the 2010 San Francisco Giants, DeRosa decided that he wanted to be around more for his wife and his children, ages 4 and 10. Flying home to Atlanta on offdays to spend time with the family was tiring for everyone.
“And, I wanted to be great at something again,” he said in a telephone interview Wednesday. “I was going to be 39 years old and going to be a backup again in Toronto. I love being in the big leagues and wouldn’t trade that for anything, but at the same time, not necessarily the opportunity to be great anymore.”
People in baseball and even his teammates always felt that DeRosa, who has a lighthearted demeanor and sharp baseball eye, would make a great coach, manager or television analyst one day. He was a guest analyst for MLB Network during the 2011 and 2013 postseasons and loved the experience. The MLB Network studios are in Secaucus, N.J., “walking distance” from where DeRosa grew up, and his new job will allow him to spend more time with family there, too. He is also a graduate of the University of Pennsylvania.
“I just loved being in the studio,” DeRosa said. “I love being around that guy. I felt [MLB Network analysts] knew what they were talking about, they knew how to pinpoint it. It’s not like the players listening in the clubhouse are going, ‘These guys have no clue.’ This is 100 percent accurate. They love the game, they are passionate, they love what they do and I thought I could be a part of that.”
DeRosa admits still feeling nervous whenever he is about to go on television. He finds comfort in his ability to talk about the game because he has been “on so many different teams and been taught under so many different coaching philosophies and hitting philosophies,” he said. “I kinda know what every guy is thinking.”
DeRosa said his retirement from the game is final, and he isn’t coming back. He has thought about trying his hand at coaching, but not in the near future because of the time commitment. “I feel like the coaches spend more time at the field than the players do,” he said.
DeRosa said he will miss playing baseball in the majors and the camaraderie with teammates. Much like the Nationals, his last team, the Blue Jays, began the season with sky-high expectations as a World Series contender after high-profile winter acquisitions but missed the playoffs after a disappointing season. DeRosa didn’t keep up with the Nationals’ 2013 season as much as he would have liked but still stays in frequent touch with many of the team’s players. Even after only one season in Washington, his name came up often during the 2013 season.
“I stay in touch with a lot of the guys,” DeRosa said. “I talk to [Jayson] Werth constantly, [Ryan] Zimmerman, Adam LaRoche and me shoot texts, and [Ian] Desmond. I probably stay as close to Desmond as anyone on the team. And just had a nice conversation with Danny Espinosa and a nice conversation with Steve Lombardozzi after he got traded the other night. I had a blast in Washington. I love that team. They were a few good bounces away from getting to the World Series and winning it. They’re that talented of a team.”
DeRosa said he talked with Espinosa recently, after the season, to “see where his head was at, how he feels, healthy, confident, all that stuff,” he said. “I’ve been in those shoes.” DeRosa sent Lombardozzi a text message to check on him after the Doug Fister trade was announced and the two talked.
“I got the feeling from the same way I reacted when I was first traded,” DeRosa said of his conversation with Lombardozzi. “You’re kind of in shock. You always watch trades from afar and you never really concern yourself with it and then you’re involved in it and it changes your entire mind. I just told him that I wanted to see if he was happy with the move, if he was disappointed, what did he think about it and sometimes the grass isn’t always greener for everybody. For me, it was. For me, getting out of Atlanta was the best thing that could have ever happened to my career.”
Despite a disappointing season, DeRosa believes the Nationals will be a serious contender in 2014.
“They’re as good as it gets. Mike Rizzo might as well go sign Robinson Cano and end this thing,” said DeRosa with a laugh. “Their starting rotation, if [Ross] Detwiler can get back to where he was in 2012, I love Fister and I say that because I totally just hated facing him. He has one of the better sinkers in the game. Five quality starters in the rotation. Guys are hungry. Zimmerman looks like he finally feels good over at third base, which will help. I personally think they’re a team that can win the whole thing. Certain things just have to go their way.
Many observers, even former Manager Davey Johnson, felt the Nationals and their young players struggled with the pressure and attention of being a preseason World Series favorite. DeRosa didn’t agree that pressure like that can undermine a season.
“I felt like in Toronto there was a lot of media pressure and exposure away from the inner sanctum of the clubhouse,” DeRosa said. “I felt like [when] Davey kinda came out and said, ‘World Series or bust,’ that put the pressure solely on the players. Obviously they feel like they let people down but I don’t think they’re thinking like that. Things didn’t go their way. In talking to Desmond he seemed to say to me throughout the year that they’re not trying to make excuses but every blooper is falling and every line bullet at somebody is being caught.”
DeRosa spoke highly of the Nationals’ new acquisition, Fister. He faced Fister six times in his career and managed only one hit. Despite being 6-foot-8, Fister has a quick windup and works quickly, DeRosa said. While Fister has a unique arm angle, DeRosa said Fister thrives with a strong sinker and great command of it.
“He’s got one of those sinkers that obliterates the inner half of the plate,” DeRosa said. “It’s got so much movement on it that half the time to three-quarters of the time the ball, if you take, it ends up being a ball but it looks so appetizing for 55 feet that you go after it. I would assume that Ryan Zimmerman is going to be getting a heck of a lot of groundballs when he’s on the mound.”