- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 9, 2005

VIERA, Fla. — As far as spring training outings go, it was about as uneventful as it gets.

Yet there was Joey Eischen, bounding into the Washington Nationals’ dugout Monday afternoon with all the enthusiasm and intensity of someone who just pitched a 1-2-3 inning in October in the Bronx, not in March in Lakeland, Fla.

If you’re not familiar with Eischen, you might think the left-hander is putting on a show every time he takes the field. Talk to those who know Eischen well, though, and it becomes obvious this is no act. He’s like this 365 days a year.

“He’s a genuinely odd person,” fellow Nationals reliever Dan Smith said. “He wears his emotions on his sleeve. I’ve been around him four years now, and he is the same guy every single day. And that’s refreshing. He’s unique, but he’s consistently unique. He is not trying to put on an act. He’s just a different guy.”

It’s doubtful you will find a more intense player inside Washington’s clubhouse this season than Eischen. The 34-year-old veteran pitcher easily has the most well-defined upper body of anyone on the roster, the result of a vigorous daily weight-lifting regimen. His nearly shaved head and the steely look in his eyes tell you he’s all business.

And when he starts talking about his approach to the game of baseball, well, don’t be surprised if you’re so geeked that you want to grab the first Louisville Slugger you can find and head straight for the plate.

“Every time I get on that field it means something, whether I’m playing or not,” Eischen said. “I feel fortunate every day to come here and put a uniform on. Every time I step on the field, it’s something I cherish. I give it everything I’ve got. I approach it the same way every time, whether it’s spring training, whether it’s live [batting practice], whatever. It doesn’t matter. If I’m toeing the rubber, I’m going to toe it the same way every single time.”

Now you’re starting to understand why the Montreal Expos missed this guy so much last year.

One of baseball’s premier left-handed relievers, Eischen spent much of the 2004 season on the disabled list after undergoing surgery to remove bone chips and shave bone spurs in his elbow. By the time he returned to the bullpen in August, the Expos already were 22 games under .500.

Eischen’s elbow troubles should be a thing of the past now. He returned to pitch in 21 games last fall and finished 0-1 with a 3.93 ERA.

Those were respectable numbers given the situation, but the Nationals are expecting plenty more from Eischen now that he’s healthy. This is, after all, a guy who posted a 3.06 ERA in 70 appearances in 2003 and a stunning 1.34 ERA in 59 appearances in 2002.

“Joey’s a very important part of the ballcub, not only on the field but off the field, too,” manager Frank Robinson said. “He’s the live wire. He keeps people on their toes. He pumps you up. He wants the ball every day, and he’ll give you all he’s got. That’s what we really missed. We missed him on and off the field last year.”

Eischen’s on-the-field impact is obvious. His importance to the club off it, though, shouldn’t be underestimated. He is one of the most-respected players in the Nationals’ clubhouse, one willing to do just about anything to help keep his teammates’ morale high.

It’s Eischen who serves as clubhouse DJ (he has more than 1,000 songs in MP3 format stored in his computer, each ready to be pumped into the big stereo in the center of the room). It’s Eischen who offers rousing pregame speeches to teammates and pushes everyone around him to work harder. It’s Eischen who helped motivate Smith while the two spent last summer rehabbing their respective arm injuries together in Viera.

“That uniqueness that he brings to the table every day makes it a little more interesting to come to the ballpark,” said Smith, who is trying to come back from major shoulder surgery. “Missing him on the field is obvious. Off the field, I think over the course of a season, might even be bigger. The days get long, and you kind of need a guy to help keep things fresh.”

Eischen understands his role on the team extends beyond the bullpen.

“Not that I think I’m some savior or anything,” he said, “but I think I help pick up the team’s intensity and energy level.”

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