- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 23, 2005

VIERA, Fla. — Before taking the field yesterday morning for the Washington Nationals’ first official full-squad workout, players sat in the clubhouse at Space Coast Stadium watching an interview on the subject of chemistry.

The chemist? Jose Canseco.

The use and abuse of steroids has been one lingering chemistry lesson as spring training gets under way, thanks to the textbook written by Professor Canseco, in nearly every team’s camp except Washington’s.

Here the chemistry lesson has been about team — how to mold one into a winner, and Hall of Fame Professor Frank Robinson led the class. He spoke to the first Washington baseball team since 1971 before it took the field yesterday morning, and let everyone know his simple message.

“Everybody here has to carry their own weight,” Robinson said.

The thing is, every player’s weight includes the weight of his teammates as well. Their weight is the weight of the team.

The Detroit Pistons and New England Patriots have brought back the old-school notion that success — the most gratifying and rewarding success — comes when the sum of a team is greater than its parts. It’s hardly a new concept, but it has been resurrected from being a tired, naive cliche to a blueprint for winning.

It’s old-school, all right, and right up Professor Robinson’s alley. He is baseball royalty, and his words have the weight of greatness behind them.

“We have good talent here,” said Robinson, when asked to size up his Nationals team at the start of spring training. “We don’t have the best in baseball. We don’t have the best in this league. We don’t have the best in our division.

“But that doesn’t always mean you can’t win ballgames. It’s the way you go about it, and the way you do things. We have to play as a team. Not that one or two individuals can’t get hot and help stoke the fire for you day in and day out for a while.

“But it is also about the veteran guy who draws a walk or gets hit by a pitch and helps you win ballgames over the course of time. That is what it is all about — a team effort, each player asking what can I do or what can I bring to the team today to help try to win this ballgame. That is the attitude we have to have each day.”

Robinson doesn’t know if he has that kind of team yet.

“You don’t really know the makeup of players until you have been with them for a while and seen them under fire, in bad times and good times,” he said.

But he believes he has the ingredients in place, thanks to the addition of veterans like Vinny Castilla along with some rising stars like Brad Wilkerson. And Professor Robinson began mixing those ingredients yesterday.

“What I do like is, there is a mixture of some veterans here in camp that we didn’t have last year with some younger veteran players who have been around a while but are still not in their prime yet and some young players trying to make their way,” he said. “It’s a good combination.”

He is right. The Nationals don’t have the most talented combination, at least on paper, and in the game’s most competitive division they might well end up the best last-place team in baseball. The Phillies, Marlins, Braves and Mets all are perceived to have a chance to win the National League East, and the Nationals have to play each of them 18 times this season.

But Robinson was talking winning yesterday, and he will use the expectation of failure as part of his mixture to create a winning chemistry.

“The so-called experts don’t expect much from us, and that’s OK,” he said. “Games are not won on paper. They are won on the field. The effort and the way you play on the field dictates how many games you win and where you finish.”

The focus on chemistry brought up the age-old argument about what comes first. Does chemistry create winning or does winning create chemistry, and how important is chemistry really? Robinson had perhaps the best explanation for how to stir up a winner.

“I think winning comes first,” Robinson said. “But I think why it is so important to have good chemistry is that it can carry you over in the tough times. When you are winning, everybody is upbeat and positive. But when you have that little rut or team slump, that is when the good chemistry comes into play because there is no finger-pointing then when things go wrong and you lose a tough ballgame. You stick together and get yourself out of it. That is what good chemistry does.”

If Professor Robinson can create that kind of chemistry on the Washington Nationals, it would be a healthy injection for the game of baseball — perhaps even an antidote to Professor Canseco’s damaging lectures.

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