ATLANTA — As the Nationals get set to open a three-game series in Atlanta Tuesday night, the end of a long, difficult road trip, they had their first off day after 16 straight games.
With no game, I wrote a story for Tuesday’s paper about shortstop Ian Desmond and his season — and life — to this point in 2011.
But, as is usually the case, there were a lot of interesting tidbits that couldn’t fit into the newspaper story so, without further ado, here are some of Desmond’s thoughts on various topics, as well as what other people had to say about the Nationals shortstop as he embarks on this sophomore year in the major leagues.
On if he, now, in his second year, feels on completely firm ground as the Nationals shortstop:
I don’t feel like that and I really don’t think I ever want to feel like that. I had a good manager, Randy Knorr, in the minor leagues. Early, early, early on in my career, he taught me, don’t ever get comfortable. The minute you get comfortable, somebody’s going to come and take your job.
You’ve got to play everyday like you’re trying to impress somebody and you’re trying to win a job. I just wanted to make sure, everyday I go out there and I play as hard as I can because I want the job the next day. I don’t want to take anything for granted.
I want to go out there and work as hard as I can and if somebody comes and takes my job or baseball ends tomorrow, I want to know that I gave it everything I got everyday and I did the best I could and it just wasn’t meant to be.
On what being a part of the Nationals as a winning franchise would mean to him, as a player drafted by the Expos in 2004:
It would be unbelievable. This is no disrespect to the Montreal Expos and no disrespect to anybody, but when I got drafted into this organization, it was like nothing. It was honestly, really like nothing.
It was being built. Every single year I was here it got better and better and better. That was what pushed me to keep on going. I knew. Randy Knorr embedded in me as a young kid, 18, 19 years old, ‘Hey, you go out and play as hard as you can, people are going to feed off you and soon people are going to be playing the style of baseball that you play,’ so I did that everyday.
I’d get after it everyday, everyday, everyday and it seemed like the organization got better and better and better — not because of me, but because we were moving in the right direction. I just completely bought in from day one when I signed that this organization was going to be good and we were going to be champions one day. Even still now, I have no doubt in my mind that this organization is going to be at the top of the pack one day. It may be a little further down the line, but it could be this year, you never know.
Being a huge baseball fan and a No. 1 supporter of the Washington Nationals/Montreal Expos, I watched every game. I looked at every single box score coming up. I knew exactly what the team was doing. I could have told you everybody’s average, I could have told you who did what, who’s pitching well, I knew it. I knew the team. I think that’s what prepared me when I got called up because I knew the team. I’d been in spring training with all these guys, I knew them.
When I got called up I didn’t feel like a rookie. No one treated me like a rookie, I felt like I was a part of the group because I got to know them when I had the opportunity to. They didnt know I was watching them but I was following them the whole way.
On why he gets to the park to get to work so early everyday:
I like to watch video, I record all my at-bats and chart them in a log, and I do that, but mostly I just like being in the clubhouse, being around the guys.
Being around the guys as much as you can, that’s how you build that chemistry, that’s how you get to know your teammates, because when we’re out here 162 games a year, we’re on the buses, it’s a family. If I see a guy with his head down, I want to be able to know, ‘Hey, this guy, he isn’t normal today.’ I think that’s one of the things that is important. Chemistry is knowing your teammates.
I guarantee you I know one little thing about every player on the team that somebody else doesn’t know and that just comes from being early, being at the clubhouse, talking to your teammates, and not being afraid to interact with everybody, pitchers, relievers, everybody.
On why, even as a rookie last year, manager Jim Riggleman relied on him as a leader both in the clubhouse and on the field and he embraced that role:
This is another huge part about playing in the minor leagues and watching them and following the team for so long. There was never really a voice to the team. I felt like you never got the story. There was never any optimism. You watched the game and the game was over and it was kind of like a humdrum type of thing.
I remember when I got called up, I’d be sitting by my locker in the clubhouse and everybody would be gone. Everyone would leave right after the game and I’d be like, ‘Man, where is everybody?’ This isn’t what I thought playing in the big leagues would be like. In the minor leagues, it’s all about being with your boys and hanging out and everyone’s so tight, you spend so much time together and I was like ‘Man, this is not what I expected.’ I was disappointed.
Last year, I just felt like the team just needed some optimism. I felt like the fans watching, everything they heard on the commentary and all that was all negative. I just wanted to give a fair voice to the team. This year, I feel like everything is getting better and everything is more positive than it was last year so I don’t really need to tell that story every single night when I take an interview.
– Nationals manager Jim Riggleman on Desmond’s importance to the team:
What (critics) don’t know is how impactful he is on the team. Probably more than anybody on the ballclub last year as we went through some tough times, he stayed just right there. He never wavered. He never quit on me. He never made excuses. He took responsibility — and he played pretty good. He had a pretty nice year but he’s a guy that no matter whether it was hitting or not hitting, what’s happening defensively, if I’m trying to get the attention of somebody on the field – whether it’s an outfielder or an infielder who might have their head down, kicking around or something — I can look to him and point to that other guy and say move him, that other player’s not looking at me, he’s just a very reliable guy out there.
He’s a smart player so you can trust him to do some things out there, switching coverages on running situations, infield depths, it’s very subtle things. There are players like that throughout the league that managers become very close to because that player, that’s the way he’s played. You didn’t walk in the door going, ‘Boy, I’m going to really rely on this guy.’ You walk in the door and his play makes you realize, ‘I can trust this guy.’
– Triple-A manager Randy Knorr, who managed Desmond for parts of several years in low and high Single-A:
He would get to balls that I’d never seen anybody get to. When Ian would make plays, I’d just go, ‘Wow, I can’t believe he went and got to the ball and made the play.’ I remember once in Savannah he was playing short and there was a pop up hit down the right field line where the first baseman, second baseman and right fielder went to get it and they lost the ball in the twilight and he came up with the ball.
I said to my pitching coach, ‘Look at this, he’s going to go get it.’ It was amazing.
One thing Ian’s always done, the way he plays the game, I’ve not had a player play as hard as he plays the game. Everything he hits, he runs hard. He plays hard, that alone will keep him in the big leagues. It’s just fun to watch a guy play like that. Even if he’s going through any type of struggle, you don’t hesitate putting him out there.
I was up there when he got his first call up and it was like, I don’t want to say it (was to this extent), but it was like having my son come up to the big leagues, I was so happy for him. He had some struggles (in the minor leagues going through two hand surgeries). He really thought people were down on him but the people that mattered were never down on him. They were just waiting for him to get healthy and play.
I think he’s done a tremendous job. I think one day you’re going to have an all-star shortstop there.
– Nationals utility man Jerry Hairston Jr. on what it’s been like to play with and get to know Desmond:
I’m a middle infielder really by trade, and I’ve gotten a chance to play with guys like Robinson Cano, Brandon Phillips, Derek Jeter, guys who — whether they’re starting to establish themselves or have been established for years — watching (Desmond and second baseman Danny Espinosa) play they definitely have the talent like those guys.
Robinson Cano may be the best second baseman in the game overall and Brandon Phillips, outside of Roberto Alomar, is the best second baseman I’ve ever seen defensively. These guys have that type of talent. They really do.