After Victor Robles launched a home run to left field against the Tampa Bay Rays on Tuesday night, he went to the dugout yelling, “I got the key, I got the key!”
Robles was then handed a key on a shoestring, which acts as a lanyard, and put it on. For Nationals manager Dave Martinez, the key symbolizes the way to unlock the batter’s box.
When a player “opens the batter’s box” with a home run, he’s awarded the team’s home run symbol. It stays with that player until another player “goes yard” and then it’s passed on to him.
“It’s giving them something else to think about going up there,” Martinez said last week. “I wanted them not to think so much. Just see the ball, hit it. Just go up there and open up the batter’s box and hit it.”
Robles’ first home run of the season allowed him to unlock the necklace, and he donned it in the dugout afterwards.
“I was finally able to get it,” Robles said last week through a team interpreter. “I waited a long time to get it put on me and I was able to do it tonight.”
The tradition began when the Nationals faced the San Francisco Giants in a doubleheader at home on June 12, and Martinez asked bench coach Tim Bogar for a key.
At first, Bogar was confused, but he went and found a key in the clubhouse. Martinez put it on a shoestring and called the team over in the dugout.
He showed the team the key, and it was met with puzzled faces. Once he explained it, the tradition hasn’t changed.
“It’s taken off, so now every time somebody hits a home run they pass the key around and they’ve had a lot of fun with it,” Martinez said.
The tradition was born from a prank Martinez and others would play on new bat boys in the dugout. Martinez said they’d ask the bat boy to go ask for the key to the batter’s box, sending the fresh face scrambling in a panic to find it. He added the bat boy eventually would figure out the key was non-existent and would laugh.
Now, the Nationals have a key to unlock the batter’s box. Since the key was introduced, the team found a way to create offense, winning 16 of the final 20 games in June. During that span, the team logged 31 home runs with a combined .280 batting average.
Kyle Schwarber, who’s hit 15 home runs since the key was introduced, said he looks forward to sharing it every time he gets the key.
“I’m happy to pass that thing off whenever I can,” Schwarber said last week after his seventh leadoff home run this season. “Obviously, I love to have it, but I’m looking forward to passing that thing off to the next person.”
For Martinez, the more the key is passed around among the players in the dugout, the better.
“As long as they keep passing that key along,” Martinez said, “I’m happy.”