- The Washington Times - Friday, June 6, 2008

In the interview room in the bowels of Nationals Park, the 2008 Washington Nationals did not exist Thursday.

There was no indication anywhere that there was a game going on outside between the Nationals and the St. Louis Cardinals. When Albert Pujols pinch-hit a home run off Joel Hanrahan on this woeful team’s way to another defeat, a 4-1 result in the first game of a day-night doubleheader, it might as well have happened on Mars instead of just outside on the field.

While that was going on, Nationals staffers were figuring out the right order of identifying name signs to place on the table where Jim Bowden, Dana Brown, Mike Rizzo and Bob Boone would sit to discuss not the 2008 Nationals but the future Nationals on this day of the major league baseball player draft.

I asked Bowden whether this was the best day to be a baseball general manager, and he didn’t bite. Instead, he answered, “The best day is when you are at the White House and they give you the World Series trophy.”

No kidding.

Draft Day, though, is the day that a general manager can talk about the players who will supposedly someday put the Nationals on the White House lawn - even if it never happens. It’s the day where you can talk about players that nearly none of your fans have ever heard of or seen and say how great they are - even if they never wear a major league uniform, and many do not.

Draft Day is job security for general managers because the decisions you make on this day won’t be judged for several years - and then you get to do it all over again a year later, with another highly touted player who will help put you at the White House someday.

It is a day of faith for baseball fans, and, given the disappointing performance of this year’s major league squad that fans are paying mucho dollars to see, the Nationals did all they could to divert attention from that team and promote that faith.

Behind the stage where the Nationals’ braintrust sat was a banner made just for Draft Day. Above that were poster-sized photos of three past Nationals draft picks - Ryan Zimmerman (on the disabled list) and Chris Marrero and Ross Detwiler (both at Class A Potomac).

On one television in the room, the live ESPN broadcast of the draft was being shown. On the other television was a video showing highlights of some of the team’s past draft picks - including those like Shawn Hill (consistently injured, pitching with pain) and Chad Cordero (on the disabled list) from the Expos era.

Next year on this day, we can likely expect to see a photo of the Nationals’ No. 1 draft choice Thursday - highly touted Aaron Crow, a 21-year-old right-hander out of the University of Missouri.

Will we see him in a major league uniform by this time next year? Boy, they were doing all they could Thursday to throw Nationals fans that bone.

“This is a particular pitcher who could come to the big leagues on a fast track,” Bowden said. “Aaron Crow is a college pitcher, and usually with a college pitcher command is the last thing to come. He has the command now. We think this is a pitcher, if he signs fast, that can get to the big leagues fairly quickly.

“I never put a timetable on it, except I can be very comfortable that the last game we all saw him pitch together, he would have pitched in the big leagues that particular night. We would start him at Potomac, give him a few starts if he signs right away, and from there we will see how he develops. Normally when you look at a pitcher, you can say he needs to improve his command or he needs to improve this pitch. This is a pitcher who should come fairly quickly.”

Not quickly enough.

Bowden said it has been an “exciting time for all of us,” but he didn’t mean everyone, of course. It was exciting for him and his staff to be thinking of what might be, but it is hardly an exciting time for those fans who have to live with what it is. When someone asked Bowden whether he had watched any of the day contest, he said, “We have watched it a little bit … unfortunately.”

No blessings out there, I guess.

Aaron Crow may indeed turn out to be David Cone someday - the pitcher Bowden compared him to for his competitiveness. And the Nationals braintrust may indeed be making the right decisions on personnel that could put them in the White House someday, trophy in hand.

All indications are that last year’s draft was a success, vaulting the farm system from 30th to ninth by the Baseball America ratings, but again, Nationals fans aren’t paying to see any of those players play right now, and the player development buzz is wearing thin - especially when you hear declarations like this from Bowden: “The Lerner family and Stan Kasten give us all the tools to be a first-class organization.”

Of course, as long as that organization doesn’t include the one product that all the other parts of the organization exist for - the major league team with the major league ticket prices.

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