I was reminded of this when I went to see the Nats play the Diamondbacks last night at Nats Field, and allowed for change. Earlier in the season, I had silently been boycotting Nats games, because of their poor play in the basics of the game. It was the longest I had gone into the season without seeing a major league baseball game.
I liked Manny Acta, the Nats manager, for his easygoing nature. I thought he might be good for the mix of young and older players, even though I did not think he made good strategic moves in the game situations. But under Acta, the less than mediocre Nats made many silly errors, and often missed or forgot hitting the cut off man. They would get down five or more runs and just seem to give up and lose ground, rather than fight back.
I could not bring myself to attend the loud mouth spectacle that has become live MLB baseball with all of the noisy and artificial cheer leading that goes on at today's high-def stadium. That is, I would not face it live until the level of the game got up to MLB standards.
Although I did not think that Acta was the real cause of the problems and should not take the fall for the poor team play, I was not really unhappy when the managerial change was made. Acta seemed to be an unnecessary sacrifice, but maybe some good would come out of it.
After interim manager Riggleman lost his four games and won one, I decided to be open to a change in the Nats fortunes and their state of play, and go to a game. But it was just like the earlier part of season. It was the opening game of a series with the Mets. The Mets were riddled with injuries, and their lineup was a patchwork of minor leaguers and well-travelled, itinerant veterans. The quality of the game was a disaster for even a pair of Triple AAA league teams. The fact that we sprung for seats right behind the Nats dugout, just made the experience that much closer and worse. Baseball is a business I am constantly reminded, but if this were a product I would get my money back.
Two weeks passed, and the Nats had won six in a row and in a few games, had even fought back from being down five or more runs to win. Maybe they had changed and it was safe to attend a game again. They were facing Haren (with a dominant 2.40 ERA or so) with Mock (with a 6.61 ERA). Could they beat those odds?
They could and did by a convincing 5-2. They got out to a one-run lead, and then let Arizona get ahead on a Reynolds two-run homer. But this was not the Nats of just a couple of weeks ago. They came right back with 3 runs and never looked back. Their quality of play was also outstanding in the field. Zimmerman made three Web Gem-level plays, and they all executed the basics perfectly--covering the right bases, hitting the cut off men, and doing all that a team should do and more.
So, what had changed? It was almost the same lineup with a little less, losing Nick Johnson to a late-season trade. So was it the no-nonsense interim manager? And were the players, embarrassed for how they contributed to the demise of nice-guy Manny?
Whatever it was, baseball seemed to be teaching me a few lessons of life--people deserve more chances; you can motivate and teach old players old tricks; do not stick to first impressions. It may also be teaching me that Leo Durocher may have had it right--Nice guys, unless they can be tough at times, will finish last.