- The Washington Times - Monday, July 31, 2006

One of these days, the shock will completely wear off. That’s what Austin Kearns believes. It may take another week, perhaps a month, maybe even the rest of the season.

At some point, Kearns no longer will think of himself as the guy who got traded from Cincinnati to Washington. He just will think of himself as the Nationals’ starting right fielder.

But he’s not there quite yet.

“Each day, that’s what I’ve been telling people,” Kearns said. “Each day, I get more and more settled in. Coming into a clubhouse where you don’t know many people, you kind of need some time to feel your way around. But each day has been getting better.”

It has been more than two weeks since Kearns was included in a surprise eight-player deal between the Nationals and Reds, and there are times when the 26-year-old outfielder has to remind himself he doesn’t play for his hometown team anymore.

A native of Lexington, Ky., Kearns was living every major leaguer’s dream, playing for the team he grew up watching, hoping to spend his entire career with the same organization.

So upon learning he had been dealt — to a last-place club, of all things — he was admittedly a little stunned.

“It was a surprise,” Kearns said. “I think everybody was expecting a trade, but I hadn’t really heard my name thrown out there. But I think for any player, the first time you get traded is definitely a surprise.”

He spent his first week with the Nationals on the road, playing three games in Pittsburgh and two more in Miami (he sat one). He tried to put on a positive veneer, but inside he knew his life had been turned upside down.

Kearns had gone from a contender to a team in a self-declared rebuilding mode. Instead of playing an hour from his hometown, he was now moving to a new city with no time to look for housing or get acclimated.

Back in Lexington, Kearns’ wife, Abby, faced the challenge of packing up her husband’s belongings and finding a place for him to live in Washington, all the while taking care of their 10-month old son, Aubrey.

With all that on his mind, he got off to a horrible start with his new team: 2-for-17, no RBI.

These weren’t exactly the happiest days of his life, a fact Kearns made clear to his best friend on the Reds, fellow outfielder Adam Dunn, during their regular phone conversations in the week following the trade.

Dunn relayed the frequency and nature of their phone calls to the Dayton Daily News.

“Every day, every stinking day,” he told the paper. “And he tells me every day how miserable he is in Washington.”

Kearns insists that is not the case.

“I’ve talked to Adam a lot. There’s no miserable,” he said. “I just told him that it’s different being on a new team. I am by no means miserable. I’m happy here. I look at this trade as happening for a reason. This could be the best thing that’s ever happened to me.”

Kearns has felt more and more like that over the last week. He finally got to see Washington firsthand, got to move into his new apartment and got to see his wife and son during the Nationals’ last homestand. He still hasn’t unpacked all those boxes, but at least he knows where he will be sleeping every night for the rest of the season.

And as he has become more comfortable in his new surroundings, he has become more comfortable on the playing field. Following that 2-for-17 start to his Nationals career, Kearns hit .368 (7-for-19) with four RBI during his first RFK Stadium homestand.

He’s slowly but surely opening up to his new teammates as well. He’s still soft-spoken, preferring to take a cautious approach with the rest of the guys in the clubhouse, but he’s making strides and is starting to feel like an integral part of this ballclub.

The Nationals are banking on him seizing the opportunity, establishing himself as a primary piece to the franchise’s long-term plans. Kearns isn’t ready to think that far ahead. He’s just waiting for that day when he feels completely comfortable among this group of strangers.

It may take a week. It may take a month. It may take longer. One way or another, Kearns knows it will happen.

“I don’t think it will take long,” he said. “I’m easy to get along with. I like to have fun. I look forward to the future here.”

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