This weekend’s Nationals Winterfest was the first time Washington’s roster — at least a chunk of it — had convened since the club’s latest Game 5 National League Division Series loss in mid-October, which means it was the first time they were together since former manager Dusty Baker and nearly his entire coaching staff were let go eight days after that.
For the players in attendance, Saturday and Sunday afforded them the opportunity to break the ice with new Manager Dave Martinez and most of their new coaches. It was also the first opportunity for most of them to comment on the Nationals’ decision to dismiss a popular manager who won consecutive National League East division titles in his two seasons and his inexperienced replacement.
The reactions to the overhaul ranged from shock to indifference. As Anthony Rendon pointed out, the Nationals are no strangers to managerial changes; Martinez will be the sixth person to manage a game for the Nationals since the start of the 2011 season. Continuity is almost always preferred, but the experience with constant upheaval likely will help players adapt to the new staff. Whether they do so remains to be seen.
Below is a collection of players’ responses when asked about Baker’s dismissal and the subsequent hiring of Martinez, who was the bench coach for the team that knocked them out of the postseason two months ago.
“I guess not too surprised. Just given the fact that I’ve only been here five, six seasons, and what is this, my third, fourth manager? So I don’t know any different. … It’s kind of like the same for me. So I don’t know. I don’t know any different.”
“Any time you don’t meet your expectations, that’s what can happen to your manager. It’s an unfortunate situation, but this is baseball. That’s what happens when you play the game at the highest level. Decisions like that can get made. But I think Mike [Rizzo] in what he was able to do and find a candidate in Dave, he feels like he’s assembled a staff that we can go out and compete and really continue to grow. I’ve said this a couple other times, but baseball players, we’ve always had changes at manager position, change at pitching coaches. I’ve been through several changes of manager and changes of pitching coaches throughout my entire career.
“This is just another opportunity to learn from a different set of eyes and a different mind-set. Someone who’s been across the diamond from me and has had to prepare against me can now share what he sees and what little ticks I do have. This is an opportunity to kind of learn about ourselves and get better. As much as it sucks to lose your manager and part of your coaching staff, you have to look at it as glass half-full and get better.”
“Man, I really, really enjoyed my time with Dusty. He was great. I truly enjoyed it. I thought he was great for our ballclub and for our clubhouse. I’d say my initial thoughts were, ‘I really wish I would’ve swung the bat better because I do feel to an extent that if we were possibly able to win that first series then things could’ve possibly been different. I don’t want to predict the future but I didn’t really play well in that division series so it kind of frustrated me a bit. But I think the organization has proven time and again while I’ve been here that they have our ballclub’s best interest in mind and they felt it was the right decision to move on.”
“I guess with Dusty, once it got to, I guess it was a week or two into our offseason, I thought there was a chance he was going to come back, but I think it kind of speaks to where this franchise is at. They wanted to mix it up. It’s the unfortunate nature of the business.
“And as far as Davey goes, I’ve talked to him several times and I love the passion, the energy that he has. I think his experiences, not just being a bench coach for a long time, but his playing career, playing so long in this league, there’s a lot that he has experience in, that he’s been through. And I think being both a player and a coach, winning a World Series a couple years ago with the Cubs. I know he’s chomping at the bit to get the reins and be the guy. That was the thing that I noticed about him, the energy that he had and kind of the vision he had as a team.”
“Unfortunate. I think I really enjoyed Dusty as a manager and just the everyday conversations. He’s a great guy and he did a great job for us. Won 95 games, I think, back-to-back, something like that. It stinks, but we’re trying to win a World Series and hopefully some of the experience that these new guys like Dave and Chip Hale and all those guys can bring us, can hopefully get us over that hump.”
“It was definitely a shock. We’re going to miss them. They were a great coaching staff and manager. It is what it is. That’s how baseball is. Unfortunately, that’s the way it went. We’re excited to have the new coaching staff in here and excited to have Davey as a manager and a great group of guys. It’s cool to finally meet them.”
“It’s a tough question. I wasn’t there with them all the time [Eaton tore his anterior cruciate ligament in late April and missed the remainder of the season]. I had a little different vantage point. I enjoyed my time with him, for sure. We had a lot of talks on the bench during the game that I wouldn’t have always had, from a managerial standpoint. I really enjoyed him. He’s a very smart man and thought five stages ahead of the game. I enjoyed my time with him.”
Michael A. Taylor
“I had a good time with Dusty. He’s a great coach. He taught me a lot, helped me out with a lot. I was sad to see him go. It’s part of the business. So far, Dave has been great. First time I got to meet him as our manager [on Saturday]. I talked to him on the phone a little bit. Had a good conversation with him. So I’m excited moving forward.”
“It’s tough, but I think we all kind of had that feeling in spring training like this team is a team that’s built for the World Series, and so I think we all kind of took that on as a challenge. We all wanted Dusty back because we wanted to be in the World Series and play for that. … And on top of that, I only played with him for one year but he was a fun manager to play for. So it’ll be different. It’s part of the game that as you come along, you kind of realize that changes are going to happen and they’ll start happening. But it’ll always be players playing and that’s how you win games.”
“I cried … No, I didn’t really cry, but I was upset. You kind of get close to guys like that. He has that personality where he just connects with people. So it’s almost like you lost a friend, somebody like that. He’s just a great guy. You hate to … kind of lose that presence in the clubhouse.”
“I understand that this is a business and you got to do what’s best for the organization. Me and Dusty had a great relationship. I learned a lot from that guy and I wish him the best.”
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