Solved: The Nationals Park “Mysterious” Ground Rule

The line to the left of the foul pole is not a foul line.  We unlocked the "mystery" behind this line.
The line to the left of the foul pole is not a foul line. We unlocked the “mystery” behind this line on Saturday.

“Why are there two foul lines in left field?”

I’ve been asked that question two or three times over the last five years.  On each occasion, I posited two or three explanations before changing the subject.

The subject was unavoidable yesterday as I walked with my friend Scott along the warning track during the afternoon season plan holder appreciation event.  We were walking toward the corner.

Scott and I went to the Season Plan Holders event Saturday afternoon and asked about the line.
Scott and I went to the Season Plan Holders event Saturday afternoon and asked about the line.

“Why are there two foul lines in left field,” Scott said.

We brainstormed for a few minutes and then an opportunity presented itself.  Besides the umpires, who best knows the rules of the ballpark? A groundskeeper.

Scott and I called over a groundskeeper who smiled as if he had heard our question dozens of times this season and was about to explain a great mystery.

The line on to the left of the foul pole is not actually a foul line.  The line to the left simply demarcates where a gap between the wall and the outfield reserved seating begins.

If a bounding ball bounces to the left of that line, it is in play.  Look for players to try and leg out a triple.  But if a bounding ball bounces to the right of that line, the ball is dead and results in a ground-rule double.

Ground Rules

The groundskeeper said this unique ground rule has not resulted in any confusion this season, but we will be on the lookout and will update this post as soon as something happens.

Mystery solved.

Nationals Park Blood Drive Tour

The Washington Nationals partnered with INOVA Blood Donor Services to host a blood drive at Nationals Park on Saturday.
The Washington Nationals partnered with INOVA Blood Donor Services to host a blood drive at Nationals Park on Saturday.

The Washington Nationals partnered with INOVA Blood Donor Services to host a blood drive at Nationals Park on Saturday.  Today was my first time giving blood (I actually gave plasma) and I can confidently say that the Nationals made an otherwise stressful process quite enjoyable.

All donors received an exclusive 10-year anniversary t-shirt.
All donors received an exclusive 10-year anniversary t-shirt.

The blood drive took place in a large suite on the club level.  After fans finished their donations, they were given an exclusive 10-year anniversary t-shirt and two tickets to a future Nationals game.  The most exciting “thank you gift” was a ballpark tour.

Enjoy these photos from today’s tour.

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Top 10 Highlights of Nationals New Team Store

The Washington Nationals opened a new team store on Tuesday night.
The Washington Nationals opened a new team store on Tuesday night.

The Washington Nationals opened a new team store on Tuesday night.  It was a huge hit with Nationals fans.  Here are 10 reasons why:

1. A DJ creates an exciting atmosphere.

2. It sells Nationals merchandise in your school’s colors.

Get excited for rivalry night.  Shirts are offered in Virginia or Virginia Tech color schemes.
Get excited for rivalry night. Shirts are offered in Virginia or Virginia Tech color schemes.

3. You can personalize your own bat.

Why go to Louisville.  Personalize a mini bat for $33 or a full size bat for $77.
Why go to Louisville. Personalize a mini bat for $33 or a full size bat for $77.

4. The store offers limited edition merchandise.

Interleague shirts, pins and baseballs are available.
Interleague shirts, pins and baseballs are available at the new team store.

5. There is so much more space than the other team stores.

6. There is an extensive selection of New Era caps, jerseys and player T-Shirts.

7. The store offers signed memorabilia.

For $50 you can take home a baseball signed by Drew Storen, Danny Espinosa or Tyler Moore.
For $50 you can take home a baseball signed by Drew Storen, Danny Espinosa or Tyler Moore.

8. Your purse can look trendier with a Curly W.

9. Fans can take advantage of a $10 discount on any Under Armor T-Shirt.

You don't have to feel as bad about spending money at the new team store with this $10 discount.
You don’t have to feel as bad about spending money at the new team store with this $10 discount.

10. The Nationals are 1-0 on days that the store is open.

The Biggest “Curly W” of the Season: A Turning Point

Dan Uggla was the hero in Tuesday night's eight run comeback (John Bazemore/AP)
Dan Uggla was the hero in Tuesday night’s eight run comeback (John Bazemore/AP)

Fans watching the Washington Nationals try to avoid losing their seventh consecutive game had seven reasons to turn off the TV in the bottom of the second inning on Tuesday night.  The Atlanta Braves scored seven runs to expand their lead to 9-1 and they bounced A.J. Cole from his major league debut.  Cole allowed nine runs and nine hits in two innings of work.  Four of the runs he surrendered were unearned because of a fielding error in which Cole seemingly took his eye off the ball when he covered first base to receive a flip from Ryan Zimmerman.

Fans who turned off the game missed the largest comeback in Nationals history.  The Nationals, who trailed 9-1 after two innings, rallied in front of less than 15,000 fans in attendance at Turner Field to win the game 13-12.

The Nationals won their eighth game of the season and remain in last place in the National League East, but tonight is a game that fans will remember as a turning point of the season.  It will be remembered as the game where a struggling team remained resilient.  The images of the full team greeting Denard Span and Jayson Werth on the top step of the dugout in third inning after Werth hit a sacrifice fly to plate Span will be remembered not because they made it a 9-2 game.  Instead, fans will remember a gesture where the players demonstrated they were going to stay positive even in the midst of one of the worst blowouts of the season.

The Nationals bats were electric tonight.  The Nationals had 15 hits.  Span had five of those hits, he scored four runs and and was a triple shy of hitting for the the cycle.  The team also had three home runs.  They scored four runs in the top of the fifth inning to pull to within four runs of the Braves 10-6 lead.  Jose Lobaton, the Nationals backup catcher, played a major role in closing that gap when he hit a three run home run. The team, again, was on the top step of the dugout to celebrate.

Span, who only had 32 home runs in his eight year career, cut the deficit to three with his solo home run to right field, but the Braves answered in the bottom of the sixth inning.

The Nationals exploded again in the top of the seventh inning thanks to a quality at bat from Dan Uggla with runners on second and third.  Uggla’s hit bounced off the wall in right field for a two RBI triple.  The dugout showed their approval by cheering and applauding as the Braves lead was cut to only two runs.  Reed Johnson wasted no time driving in Uggla when he slapped the first pitch he saw to the warning track in right field and over the wall.  It was a one run game.

The Braves answered again in the bottom of the seventh inning to make it a 12-10 game, but the Nationals completed the comeback in dramatic style.  Uggla, who was practically booed out of Atlanta a year earlier, came up to bat in the top of the ninth inning with runners on first and second and a chance to take the lead.  Uggla hit a home run to right field and the Nationals did just that.  They went ahead 13-12 and Drew Storen shut the door.

The team’s celebratory progression was complete.  The Nationals dugout transformed from third inning high fives in the middle of a blowout to an absolute party.  The Nationals completed the largest comeback in the team’s history and Uggla hugged everyone in his sight.  The Nationals looked confident.  They looked like winners.

Uggla captured the crazy nature of the comeback eloquently in his post game interview.

“We just kept fightin’,” Uggla said.  “You never know what could happen.”

Bustin’ Loose or Bang Bang: The Home Run Song Should Be A Non-Issue

Nationals Park is home to 14 cherry blossom trees.  These trees are located in right field.
Nationals Park is home to 14 cherry blossom trees. These trees are located in right field.

When Bryce Harper hit his solo home run on Opening Day, I jumped to my feet and started dancing in my row.  I sang, “Feel like bustin’ loose, bustin’ loose.”  I quickly realized that a pop song–“Bang Bang” by Ariana Grande, Nicki Minaj and Jessie J–was playing as the fog horn sounded instead of Chuck Brown’s familiar song.  I nonchalantly transitioned my singing and dancing to the rhythm and lyrics of the pop song.  The Washington Nationals changed the home run celebration song and I had no issues or complaints.

I have read a half dozen articles and columns over the last few days where sports columnist have expressed outrage with the Nationals.  A Nationals spokeswoman responded to the blow-back and explained how Nationals fans wanted to hear “a broader genre of songs” incorporated into the game day experience.  The spokeswoman acknowledged Brown’s status as a “legendary Washingtonian” and said that his music still remains a part of the team’s rotation.

Clinton Yates jumped on the bandwagon of columnists and news agencies who criticized the Nationals.  He wrote an article for The Washington Post’s DC Sports Bog on April 21 with the title–Biggest error of the Nationals season? Dumping Chuck Brown’s Bustin’ Loose.  Yates argues that the Nationals decision to move Brown’s song into a larger rotation of music, which includes pop music, was motivated by a desire to pander to “people in high places.”  Yates also argues that the Nationals are playing a role in wiping the District’s culture “off the map.” He also suggests that the Nationals could potentially expect to experience “injurious effects” because of the negative public relations from this ephemeral “news story.”

Yates acknowledges in the quotation from the Nationals spokeswoman that Brown’s song will continue to be played in Nationals Park, but his argument is structured around the fallacious premise that Brown’s music will never be played again.  Even though his argument is not structurally sound, one can still dissect his three arguments.

It would be extremely difficult to prove or disprove Yates’ first argument that the Nationals capitulated to “friends in high places.”  Yates makes it seem like the Nationals colluded with a record label to only play certain songs or that the Nationals made a deal with a business to play their advertisements instead of playing a specific song because the business found its message offensive.  Both of those examples would justifiably be outrageous.  This, however, is not the case.  These “friends in high places” are probably just teenagers who want to dance to a quadruple platinum single.  Fans, or columnists for that matter, have no reason to be disappointed.  On some occasions the team will play Brown’s song and on other occasions they will not, but when they don’t play it, it is not because of some elaborate scheme.

Yates’ argument that the Washington Nationals are taking steps to wipe the District’s culture “off the map” is also misguided.  Such language is extreme and it perpetuates a misunderstanding that the Nationals are ashamed to call the District its home.  This cannot be further from the truth.  Yates acknowledges at some level the team embraces the regions’ culture through its concession stands at Nationals Park.  He ignores the other ways that the team embraces the District.  DC Washington often sings the Star-Spangled Banner at home games.  Iconic cherry blossoms can be found on the grounds of the stadium.  Statues of Walter Johnson, Josh Gibson and Frank Howard are all on display outside the stadium.  Yates’ even overlooks the fact that the “Curly W” on the Nationals uniform stands for “Washington” when he criticizes the team for de-emphasizing its DC roots by changing its uniforms from the interlocking DC.

Finally, the home run song rotation nor the “negative PR” will cause any “injurious effects” on the Washington sports fan’s perception of the team.  A weak starting pitching rotation can have “injurious effects” that can certainly be measured in empty seats in a ballpark, but not a home run celebration song.

The biggest errors will be on the field, Clinton.  They won’t be coming through the stadium speakers.

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What the Nationals bullpen may look like on Opening Day? (12 hours later)

James Wagner, the Washington Post beat reporter for the Washington Nationals, wrote an article this morning titled, “What the Nationals bullpen may look like on Opening Day.”

Wagner explained how the only competition for a position in the bullpen going into spring training was between Blake Treinen and Aaron Barrett.

That perspective changed over the weekend, Wagner posited, when it was announced that Casey Jansen, the presumed eighth inning pitcher, underwent an MRI on his shoulder after he had trouble getting loose.  The results of the MRI revealed rotator cuff tendonitis which Jansen shrugged off as not “a major concern.”  Jansen said he could, “hopefully get back to throwing again soon,” but realistically he will have to rest his shoulder before easing into a pitching routine.  Treinen and Barrett will likely both break camp with the Nationals.

The look of the bullpen changed again Monday afternoon when it was announced that the Nationals traded left handed pitcher Jerry Blevins to the New York Mets in exchange for Matt den Dekker—a much needed outfielder (some writers had first baseman Tyler Moore as an Opening Day starter).

Blevins will remembered for his strong September where he posted a 3.00 ERA and his perfect October which was punctuated by a base loaded strikeout of San Francisco Giants’ first baseman Brandon Belt.  His departure leaves a vacuum in the bullpen that Manager Matt Williams will want to fill with another left handed pitcher.

Xavier Cedeno, who has pitched with the Nationals in just 20 regular season games, over the last two years is an option.  He throws an effective slider, but he has had mixed success in his spring training outings.  In 9.0 innings of work he has 9 strikeouts, 7 walks, 7 hits and 5 earned runs.

The Nationals could also enlist the help of left handed pitcher Matt Grace.  Grace pitched in AA and AAA appearances last season.  Grace has been given many opportunities to pitch this spring.  He has not given up a hit in 7.2 innings pitched.

The Nationals bullpen was dealt another blow this afternoon when closer Drew Storen, who has made just three spring training appearances because of a broken hamate bone in his non-pitching hand, exited today’s game against the Cardinals.  Storen recorded two outs and surrendered a walk on 21 pitches in the bottom of the sixth when the training staff pulled him from the game after he tore a blister in his right big toe which he uses to push off the mound.

Storen’s exit and the healing process will put his chance of pitching in consecutive games in jeopardy before the regular season in jeopardy.  Williams suggested that Storen will make his first consecutive starts during the regular season if necessary.

Storen will, in all likelihood, be ready if he is needed on Opening Day when the Nationals host the New York Mets, but who would be next on the depth chart?

Another option that the Nationals skipper has is left handed pitcher Rafael Martin.  Martin, 30, is a non-roster invitee.  He has never pitched in the majors, but he had a very successful 2014 season in his appearances in A, AA and AAA competition.  Martin surrendered just 9 runs in 38 appearances and posted a 0.81 WHIP in his seasons with the three minor league teams.  Wagner recently profiled Martin’s slider which spins at an attention grabbing 3,000 RPM.  For comparisons sake, Wagner compares it to the curve ball that starting pitcher Gio Gonzalez throws which spins at 2,800 RPM.  Martin pitched 1.0 inning today and struck out St. Louis Cardinals major leaguers Kolten Wong and Pete Kozma.  He also got Stephen Piscotti to harmlessly ground out to end the inning.

The answer to Wagner’s question of who will pitch is bound to change again.

We will have an answer in just a week.

A “Strong Bid” for the All-Star Game

Enthusiasm from Nationals fans erupted on social media Wednesday afternoon when the official Washington Nationals Twitter account said, “The Nats are proud to have submitted a bid to host an MLB All-Star Game! We think #DCisREADY.”

The link disseminated in the Tweet directed followers to Curly W Live–the official blog of the Washington Nationals.  The post was intriguing for two reasons.  First, the blog post combined two major announcements.  It announced that Commissioner Rob Manfred, who succeeded Bud Selig as the tenth commissioner of Major League Baseball on January 25, would throw out the ceremonial first pitch on Opening Day.  It also announced that “the city submitted a strong bid” for the All-Star Game.

The second level of significance derives from the lack of additional information about the bidding process.  The post simply asks readers to Tweet about why they think Nationals Park should host the All-Star Game.  It does not explain why the bid was “strong” or how Nationals Park was presented in the bid.

Michael Teevan, a spokesperson for MLB, confirmed in an email that MLB received an All-Star Game bid from the Nationals.  He explained that bids are submitted to MLB and the ultimate decision to award the All-Star Game is at the discretion of the commissioner.

The locations for the next three All-Star games have already been announced.  Great American Ballpark in Cincinnati will host the All-Star Game in 2016 and Petco Park in San Diego will host Midsummer Classic in 2017.  Manfred announced on Friday that Marlins Park in Miami will host the All-Star Game in 2018.

The tradition of alternating hosts between National League and American League teams is therefore slated to be broken again for the third time in back-to-back-to back fashion.

Manfred explained at the Miami announcement that, “We have made a concerted effort to reward the most deserving cities that present the best bids, and that’s why Miami got this game.”  He explained that the tradition has not been observed because of the quality of bids from National League teams.

This explanation can be interpreted favorably by any Nationals fan–or Los Angeles Dodgers fan. Manfred told Mark Saxon, a writer for ESPNLosAngeles.com, that the Dodgers could potentially host the 2018 All-Star Game.

Manfred said, “I’m aware of what the facts are in terms of how long it’s been since there’s been a game there and, obviously, a market like L.A., you can’t ask for a better showcase for the game.”

There is no timetable for a decision regarding the 2018 All-Star Game.  Nats Gallery Blog will continue to follow the bidding process and will publish any materials it obtains from the District of Columbia or the Nationals.

Representatives from the District and the Nationals did not respond to emails requesting comments.