Mark DeRosa knows the words well. He’s read them to himself on many occasions. Before a big game. Before a big moment. When he needed to get himself psyched up and steeled for the challenge ahead.
He’d never ready them publicly until Thursday afternoon inside the Nationals’ clubhouse.
“It is not the critic who counts,” Teddy Roosevelt once said. “Not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”
DeRosa read the speech, the excerpt from Roosevelt’s “Citizenship In A Republic” known to most as “The Man in the Arena,” over the boom box microphone in his locker. He read the words slowly, and with sincerity, as the Nationals prepared for Game 4 of their National League Division Series against the St. Louis Cardinals.
They needed to win to keep their season alive. DeRosa wanted to do his part to make sure they knew how important it was.
“That’s a quote I’ve always gone back to,” he said after their 2-1 walk-off victory. “I go to that a lot, I really do. I’ve done it since college. I like it because people think they know, but they have no idea what we’re thinking from pitch to pitch.
“With our backs against the wall I wanted to say something that brought us together, a little band of brothers. Go out and fight. See what happens. I felt it was fitting. It fires me up when I read it.”
Players weren’t gathered around as he read it. They were at their lockers or in the training room or in the dining room. They were getting dressed, or preparing mentally for the game ahead. DeRosa read the words. They all listened.
“I was in the training room,” said Thursday’s hero, Jayson Werth. “I could barely hear it but the bits and pieces I did hear, I know that speech rather well. I think it’s a good one. I think it’s kind of very parallel to the world we live in today.
“Not only that but the fact that Teddy gets disrespected for however many straight years it was here. When I did some research on Teddy last year, I ran across that and I found that to be a very powerful segment of that speech. When I heard DeRo say some of the stuff I was like ‘Finally. Someone is finally reading this aloud in our clubhouse.’”
Gio Gonzalez, Friday’s starter in the winner-take-all Game 5, bounced around trying to raise the adrenaline level. AC/DC played over the sound system. But it was DeRosa’s words a lot of the players pointed to after their thrilling win.
“It was really loose,” said closer Drew Storen. “It was loose but we had a fire, I think. We were strapping on for battle. It was a lot of fun — and we weren’t worrying about losing.
“(The Man in the Arena) was actually beyond fitting. And I think it shows you the attitude we’ve had. We took some pretty good punches the last couple games but nothing in here changed.”
The Nationals players largely ignore the mid-game mascot race that, for the all but one regular-season game in the organization’s first eight years made a joke out of “Teddy” losing the race. But Teddy won in Game 162, and he’s won in both playoff games as well. DeRosa didn’t read the speech because of that Teddy, but the real one. Still, it seemed to fit.
“It’s perfect,” he said with a laugh. “The guy’s 3-0, I mean, 3-800. After I read it, I said, ‘You know who spoke these words? Teddy Effing Roosevelt.’”