- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 7, 2007

VIERA, Fla. — The maturation process of Brian Schneider the man began Saturday when his daughter, Tatum, was born. The maturation process of Brian Schneider the baseball player began Feb. 13 when the Washington Nationals’ pitchers and catchers reported to spring training.

More is being asked — both on and off the field — of the first-time father, who is expected to be one of the clubhouse leaders. He’s ready to accept the challenge.

“It’s an important year for baseball and personal, obviously,” Schneider said. “Personal? It speaks for itself. But on the field here, it’s an important year not just for myself but for the team, the Nationals. There’s times now that I’m going out there looking for ways that I can do extra than what I did in the past. If it’s talking to a guy or going to the mound or doing something, I’m trying to go the extra mile this year and do it. On and off the field, it’s an important year, no doubt about it.”

Yesterday’s matchup with the Atlanta Braves was Schneider’s first game after missing three on paternity leave. Schneider certainly led his young team by example, driving in four runs with a two-run homer off Braves left-hander Macay McBride and a two-run double off starter Kyle Davies.

Nationals manager Manny Acta said Schneider is picking up where he left off last season, when he batted .324 with nine doubles, one homer and 21 RBI in 42 games after Aug. 4.

“He finished the season real well last year, and as soon as I got to see him in spring training he looks like a different guy to me because I’ve been around Schneider a lot,” Acta said. “He’s using his lower half so much better, and he’s hitting the ball the other way instead of trying to pull everything. He’s looked real good to me. I talked to you guys the other day about the [career-high] 55 RBI. … We need him to get 70 RBI, which would be a fair amount for me the way he’s swinging.”

The first day of Schneider’s new era began at approximately 12:15 a.m. Saturday when he received a call from the hospital in West Palm Beach, Fla., telling him his wife’s water had broken. The hospital in West Palm Beach is about two hours by car south of Viera along Interstate 95.

“I waited about 15 or 20 minutes until [Jordan] confirmed everything that was going on, and then I high-tailed it to West Palm, and I went straight to the hospital, and she was already admitted to the hospital,” Schneider said. “It took me an hour-and-a-half or so. I was speeding a little bit. I got there a little quicker than I was supposed to. I got there about 2 a.m. or 2:15 a.m., and at 10:03 a.m. the baby was born.”

After two sleepless nights with his new family, Schneider returned to Viera on Monday and rejoined the Nationals. He said he had been concentrating on baseball even though he wondered when that phone call was going to come.

“I think with practices and stuff going on, it took my mind away from her and the baby a little bit, which in a way is a good thing because I didn’t worry too much,” Schneider said. “Now, everything is a lot simplified.”

Defensively, Schneider has been one of baseball’s best catchers. Last season was the first time since 2002 Schneider did not lead at least the NL in throwing out would-be basestealers. Schneider, who went on the disabled list last season with a strained left hamstring that caused him to miss 14 games, hit .256 last season.

“I think last year he was a little banged up. Nothing serious to wherever he was hurt, but it’s hard to play that position when you’re not,” third baseman Ryan Zimmerman said. “No one is completely healthy, but I think he was a little more banged up than a lot of people claim. We needed him back there, and he played through it. Unfortunately, some of his numbers went down a little bit because of him playing a little hurt. This year, he’s healthy and worked real hard in the offseason. He looks good in spring. I think he’s going to do a lot better this year.”

Schneider is one of a small handful of players 30 or older in the Nationals clubhouse. He enters his sixth full season in the majors and represented the United States in last year’s inaugural World Baseball Classic. He also was part of an MLB All-Star team that toured Japan during the offseason and has served as the franchise’s player representative for four seasons.

Given Schneider’s extensive baseball portfolio, it’s no wonder Acta tabbed his backstop to be one of the club’s leaders.

“I look forward to the challenge,” Schneider said. “The reason I say that is there’s a chance that I might be hitting a little higher up in the lineup this year, so hopefully there will be more opportunities for me to drive guys in and be there for the team. Obviously, if I leave off where I did last year, I’ll have a shot at doing all that. Obviously, my goal is to do exactly what Manny says.”

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