WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. — Dave Martinez has constantly heard about the hump impeding the Washington Nationals since he became the latest manager tasked to scale it last November. You can’t see the hump, of course, but it’s there, waiting in October, and it keeps coming up, and it annoys him. So on Wednesday — Hump Day, for those with weekends off — Martinez had his team confront that hump. Three humps, actually. In the form of camels.
“My intentions were to bring the hump to us — the proverbial hump question that we all try to answer,” Martinez said. “I want these guys out there. I want it out there. For me, as I thought about it, the hump is every day. And I want them to embrace it, not fear it. And have fun with it. We all know why we’re here.”
The three animals crashed the Nationals’ daily Circle of Trust meeting just after 9 a.m. at the Ballpark of the Palm Beaches. Third base coach Bobby Henley rode Lawrence. First base coach Tim Bogar mounted Blondie. Attempts to persuade bullpen catcher Henry Blanco to climb on Brownie failed.
A prerecorded message from Henley, in which he claimed he was late to the meeting because he took a wrong turn, was played before they appeared. Then they rode in wearing hats and some sort of scarf underneath them because apparently that’s camel rider attire. Henley kept yelling “Hump Day!”
“Bobby’s the leader,” said Bogar, whose camel later left a deposit on Field 3. “He’s got the energy.”
The Black Eyed Peas’ “My Humps” played on the portable speaker on the field. Players clapped to the beat after some initial confusion and bewilderment. A couple of minutes later, they were funneled to exit the half-football-field-sized agility field between Henley’s and Bogar’s camels. Henley and Bogar held swords out while the players walked under. It wasn’t necessarily getting over the hump, but the metaphor remained.
The show was another example of the tone Martinez has tried to instill in camp. He keeps things light and loose. He demands energy. Monotony is avoided. The philosophy comes from Martinez’s 16 years in the major leagues. He said he learned later in his playing career about the importance of making things fun and enjoyable. He wants to have players look forward to work.
A couple of weeks into camp, the Nationals clubhouse, filled with veterans who have seen every kind of managerial style out there, has been receptive.
“It’s fun to mix it up a little bit,” said first baseman Ryan Zimmerman, who is playing under his seventh full-time manager in his 14th season with Washington. “Camp can get boring every day. Same with the season. So someone who kind of keeps you loose and keeps things loose is definitely better. I think it’s better to have someone like that than the other way.”
Bringing in camels, though, is taking it to another level. Martinez said he thought of the idea a while ago, but it took some time to pull off because he wasn’t sure if he could get camels. Turns out, a South Florida company called Pet N Parties Interactive Animal Park raises them. “They’re well tamed,” Martinez noted.
Martinez isn’t new to these kinds of oddities. He spent 10 seasons as bench coach under Joe Maddon, the most eccentric manager in the majors, with the Tampa Bay Rays and Chicago Cubs. Martinez saw Maddon bring snakes, a merengue band and a magician to the clubhouse.
The relationship has followed Martinez. The rookie skipper has had to answer countless questions about his time with Maddon and the effect it could have on his managerial style. He has acknowledged Maddon will be a significant influence, but he has maintained he isn’t a replica. So when a fan asked Martinez on Wednesday morning whether he was channeling Maddon, Martinez didn’t hesitate to respond.
“No,” Martinez said, “this is me channeling me.”