- - Thursday, April 12, 2018

The charter flight touched down around 11:30 p.m. Wednesday at Washington Dulles International Airport and the team bus carrying the Colorado Rockies made its way to the team hotel in downtown Washington.

On the way, the bus passed near the Arlington street where Ian Desmond used to live during part of his lengthy tenure with the Washington Nationals.

Desmond, who helped turn the Nationals from laughingstock to pennant contender, was back in very familiar territory. For the first time, he was in the starting lineup as a visitor Thursday night at Nationals Park as the center fielder for the Rockies.

“So many familiar memories. It is not a short drive” from Dulles into the city, Desmond said. “Stories would come up on the ride in” with his ex-Nationals teammates.

He still keeps in touch with current Washington players, including Bryce Harper and Anthony Rendon. Desmond checked on former Nationals teammate Jordan Zimmerman, now a pitcher for the Detroit Tigers who said he was fine after he was hit in the head with a line drive on Wednesday.



Desmond also crossed paths with another former Washington pitcher, Craig Stammen of the San Diego Padres, as the Rockies and Padres had a bench-clearing fight Wednesday in Denver. After the game Desmond sent a text to Stammen, joking that the two former teammates always find a way to have opposing views.

“He is one of my closest friends. We would get in debates in Class A (minor league ball). It was a good one,” Desmond said of the brawl.

So what are the best memories in Washington for Desmond, who played for the Nationals from 2009 to 2015?

“Just the whole journey; all of it,” said Desmond, standing by his locker in the visiting Rockies clubhouse Thursday. “I have a mind full of Washington Nationals memories. There are lots of people in the crowd that I know.”

As Desmond came to the plate in the top of the first Thursday, as the No. 5 hitter for the Rockies, he got a nice round of applause from Nationals fans who remember his time in Washington. Former teammate and Nats lefty Gio Gonzalez stepped back of the mound for several seconds to allow Desmond to enjoy the moment.

Desmond, 32, a solid family man and devout Christian, was a fan favorite during his time in Washington. He was very involved with the Nationals Youth Baseball Academy in southeast Washington, and Desmond made a quick visit to the academy Thursday.

That should come as no surprise to those who have written his name on the lineup card.

“He plays with passion and energy,” Rockies manager Bud Black said. “He is a contributor in a lot of different ways.”

Black noted Desmond is a versatile performer who has hit 20 homers four times in his career. He was an All-Star with the Nationals in 2012 and with the Texas Rangers in 2016.

Desmond became a free agent after his last season with the Nationals, in 2015. He signed a one-year deal with Rangers and then signed a five-year contract with the Rockies on Dec. 13, 2016.

His presence in the clubhouse and on the field has stood out for years.

“That is why we went and got him,” Black said.

But life is much different in many ways for Desmond, a former shortstop who has played outfield for Texas and Colorado since leaving D.C. He spends a lot of time as an outfielder chasing down long base hits at spacious Coors Field.

“You don’t notice (as much) as a visiting player since you are not there long,” Desmond said of the Denver altitude. “When you are there for weeks at a time you notice it.”

Desmond and his wife, Chelsey, have three sons: Grayson, who will soon turn 7, Cruz, 5, and Ashton, 3. They are homeschooling the oldest son while living in Colorado, while the Rockies have to fly several hours on nearly all of their road trips.

That is a big change from his days in Washington, as the Nationals make three trips a year to New York and Philadelphia and one to nearby Baltimore.

The Nationals spring training camp is in Florida, just a few hours from Desmond’s hometown in Sarasota. The Rockies spring training base is in Arizona.

“Obviously being a parent you want to be around the kids as much as you can,” he said. “Spring training in Arizona makes things difficult; it was a much easier commute in Florida. It is not all bad. There is a lot of good about it.”

Desmond is not sure if he will play once his current contract expires after the 2021 season.

“I put being a husband high on my priority list,” he said. “I want to be there for my kids and support them. We will cross that bridge when we get there.”

Injuries limited Desmond to 95 games last year and he was on the disabled list when the Rockies came to Washington last July. He was with the team but didn’t play.

“Last year was tough for Ian,” Black said of Desmond, who was hitting .202 with three homers in his first 43 at-bats this season.

Desmond, standing his locker Thursday, remembers the last time he was at Nationals Park. It was after the 2015 season and was early in the morning as he waited to get a flight home.

He recalls walking around center field and taking in the scene at an empty Nationals Park.

Thursday night he was back in center field, making a rare start there for the Rockies.

“It is kind of poetic,” he said.

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