- The Washington Times - Saturday, December 16, 2006

It appears baseball in Washington will finally get some attention this winter, instead of the typical D.C. Council soap opera. What’s happening on the field will be the focus, as baseball officials promise there will be some sort of winter caravan and meetings with players and a host of baseball-related festivities for the upcoming season.

You may want to avert your eyes.

It may be worth your while to attend the events, though, because they might reveal the new logo for the Washington Crawfish.

Maybe you didn’t notice it, but during the winter meetings last week, general manager Jim Bowden let the cat out of the bag. Everyone figured the team would eventually change the name from Nationals to Senators. My personal preference is the Washington Misfits.

But in Florida, Bowden revealed this team will be known as the Washington Crawfish.

“If we have to be a crawfish and take a step back to take two steps forward, we’ll be a crawfish,” Bowden said, referring to the team’s reluctance to cast their line into the free agent pool. “We’re open to that. We’re not going to lose focus of the long-term plan.”

Now, this opens all sorts of possibilities. In some places, crawfish are also referred to as crawdads, and I really like the Washington Crawdads. In case you have forgotten the cultural significance of crawdads, they were the focus of a “Beverly Hillbillies” episode called “The Great Crawdad Hunt,” when a couple of stock investors overheard Jed Clampett telling Mr. Drysdale that he would like to share his crawdad shipment from back home, and they assumed it was a hot commodity or stock.

So the Washington Crawdads puts Stan Kasten and the Lerner family two degrees of separation from the “Beverly Hillbillies.” Vittles could be the hot new food item at RFK next season.

A more accurate name for the team’s pitching staff, as it is constituted now, might be guppies, a bunch of kids who haven’t learned how to swim yet, let alone navigate the waters of the major leagues.

(I love this marine theme. Most new owners want to make a big splash, which isn’t always good. But the Lerner/Kasten group wants to take all the water out of the pool.)

But the guppies are going to need at least one or more full grown fish — veteran pitchers — who can show them how to be major leaguers. Someone to teach them how things are done in a major league clubhouse. Someone to teach them about preparing for a game, dealing with errors behind them, facing tough questions after giving up the home run that cost the Crawdads a win. It’s not something the pitching coach or management can always do. Sometimes it has to come from a peer — someone like Livan Hernandez, who did some of those things in his own unique way.

In 1992, the Baltimore Orioles had two young pitchers with enormous potential: Mike Mussina and Ben McDonald. So they brought in a veteran presence — Rick Sutcliffe — and he had a huge impact on their development. They felt compelled to work harder because they saw how hard Sutcliffe worked. They saw how he prepared for games. They learned how to be major leaguers.

Now, a presence like Sutcliffe is rare, but a veteran presence nonetheless would serve an important purpose among this group of guppies beyond wins and losses. It would be an investment in the future, which is the mantra of the Kasten/Lerner ownership.

Management cut loose a whale by persuading the Seattle Mariners to take Jose Vidro and $12 million of the remaining $16 million on his contract over the next two seasons in exchange for a few more Crawdads. Vidro hasn’t been healthy in three seasons, his body is breaking down and his power numbers are down; what does that scouting report tell you? Bowden deserves major league kudos for dumping that contract and acquiring two prospects in the process.

One of those prospects is a pitcher named Fruto, who will join the group of guppies that includes another young pitcher named Chico. Unless they can land a pitcher or two with some major league track record of note, the Washington Crawdads might resemble a Marx Brothers movie next year — and beyond.

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