VIERA, Fla. — By now, Washington Nationals fans are used to seeing Ian Desmond and Danny Espinosa up the middle on defense. They’ll still be seeing them there this year but with different numbers on their backs.
Espinosa swapped out his team-issued No. 18 this season in favor of No. 8, the number he’s always worn, and Desmond is changing from No. 6 to No. 20, the number Frank Robinson used to wear as manager.
Desmond’s switch also holds some sentimental value for one of the lone remaining former Expos in the organization. Desmond decided to change to No. 20 for two reasons, he said: to honor Robinson, the first manager he really interacted with as a young prospect, and also in honor of Barry Sanders, the longtime Detroit Lions running back, whom Desmond always admired.
“As a kid, I came in here and (Robinson) was like the first one, really, to guide me,” Desmond said. “I still stay in touch with him today. He was a good player. He handled himself well and he was a player-manager. That just goes to show the type of guy that he was, not only all the records and all that stuff, he was a good mentor to me.”
Desmond was issued No. 6 when he was put on the Nationals’ 40-man roster back in 2008 and wanted to wait until he felt like he had both of his feet fully into the big leagues before changing his number to the one he really wanted, as long as it hadn’t been retired by the Nationals.
To that end, Desmond said he wouldn’t mind seeing the Nationals honor Robinson — as well as keep alive their connection to the Expos a bit more.
“He was the first manager as a National,” Desmond said. “I think that kind of means something.
“My personal opinion is that they don’t do enough to pay a little bit of respect to the Expos. (I know) it’s not the same but I came up as an Expo and I’m still a National. I’m one of the longest-tenured guys in the organization so it did kind of carry over from Expos to Nationals. I’m living proof.”
Roger Bernadina, Atahualpa Severino and Seth Bynum are the only three other remaining Expos still with the Nationals today.