Good morning, NatsTown. After a relaxing week of vacation, I'm back to work today, trying to get caught up on all the major news events that transpired in my absence. And what a week it was for the Nationals, who signed several prominent free agents, pulled off a gargantuan trade and were embroiled in too many controversies to count.
Oh wait. These are the Nationals we're talking about here. Hardly anything of consequence took place last week. My mistake.
Let's review, though, what few scraps of news did emerge...
ADAM LaROCHE INTRODUCED
Ten days after coming to terms on his two-year contract, Adam LaRoche finally got his introductory press conference at Nationals Park, complete with curly W cap and (oversized) jersey.
The 31-year-old first baseman appeared to say all the right things Friday afternoon, including a strong desire to sign with this particular franchise.
"There were obviously a few teams out there in the mix," said LaRoche, who was also courted by the Orioles. "I can remember telling my agent if this is at all possible, let's get this done in Washington."
While exploring his options over the last month, LaRoche sought advice from friends who had previously played in the District, including Adam Dunn and Matt Capps. Both gave strong endorsements, which tells you a bit about each player's sincerity and quality of character. Dunn and Capps easily could have trashed a Nationals club that allowed each to leave (Dunn via free agency, Capps via trade). But these guys genuinely enjoyed their time here, and they aren't holding grudges against the franchise.
As for LaRoche's role with the Nationals ... Jim Riggleman said he'll hit either fourth or fifth. Ryan Zimmerman will bat in his customary No. 3 spot. LaRoche and Jayson Werth will follow Zim in one order or another.
WILLIE HARRIS SIGNS WITH METS
If you can't beat him, might as well sign him. Harris had developed such a habit for robbing the Mets of victories over the last three years, they decided to bring him over to their side at last.
It's only a minor-league contract with an invitation to spring training, but it sounds like Harris is likely to win an Opening Day roster spot and serve as New York's fourth outfielder. This could be a good landing spot for the veteran utilityman, who has always been at his best when he was starting two or three games per week in a variety of positions.
With plenty of injury risks in the Mets' outfield (Jason Bay and Carlos Beltran) and an unclear picture at second base, Harris figures to get playing time. And he should excel covering Citi Field's spacious outfield.
Just hope he doesn't make a game-saving catch at Nationals Park, returning the favor and prompting the marketing folks at SNY to create a commerical in which a Mets fan declares that "the Nats must HATE Willie Harris!"
FRANK ROBINSON HOSPITALIZED
The Hall of Famer and former Nationals manager had a brief health scare Thursday while attending the owners meetings in Phoenix when his heart rate shot up to 190 and he experienced dizziness.
Robinson was taken in an ambulance to a nearby hospital where his heart rate returned to normal numbers and doctors found no signs of any serious problems. He was back at the meetings later the day and flew home to Los Angeles to consult his regular doctors.
It would appear the 75-year-old is doing fine now. He was in attendance Saturday night at a fundraising dinner in L.A. for the Professional Baseball Scouts Foundation.
STRASBURG WAITS FOR GREEN LIGHT
Stephen Strasburg's rehab continues in his hometown of San Diego, where on Saturday he hosted a charity 5K race to raise money for the San Diego State baseball program. The right-hander told reporters he's in "the best shape of my life" thanks to a rigorous rehab regimen that has him building up strength in his legs and body core.
He has not, however, been given the green light to begin throwing again. He's hoping that threshold is crossed sometime in the next few weeks, before he reports to Viera for spring training, but look for the Nationals to remain cautious with his recovery process.
"Stephen will throw off the mound when the doctors tell him he's going to throw off the mound, and not a moment sooner," Mike Rizzo told reporters after the LaRoche press conference on Friday.
NATSFEST TO BE HELD MARCH 30
Since arriving in town, the Nationals have held a winter caravan in which players and members of the coaching staff travel around to several area locations to meet fans and drum up excitement for the upcoming season. And the last two years, they've held a full-fledged fan fest at Nationals Park in late-January.
This year, though, the club has decided to hold its "NatsFest" on March 30, the day before Opening Day. According to the team's press release, the change was made "so that more fans than ever before can celebrate the beginning of baseball alongside Nationals players, coaches and team personnel at Nationals Park."
I'm not sure I agree with that line of thinking. In the past, the event was held on a mid-winter weekend. Now it will be held on a Wednesday. The club hasn't revealed any specifics, including times, but it's hard to believe more fans will attend this year's event than the previous two.
If it's held during the day, how many fans are going to get out of work to attend? How many parents are going to let their kids skip school for this? Don't forget that 40,000 people are going to have to skip work/school the following day for the 1:05 p.m. season opener against the Braves.
Seems to me the change in dates practically ensures fewer fans will be able to attend, not "more fans than ever."
Now, there is one significant benefit of holding the event in late-March instead of late-January: The entire team will be there. In the past, only a handful of players attended. Now, everyone who makes the Opening Day roster has to be there, because they'll be conducting a mandatory workout at the ballpark (open to the public). So you should have an opportunity meet every player on the roster, not only the select few who attended in previous years.
That said, it should be noted the Nationals stand to save money with this change of dates. When the event is held in the winter, the club foots the bill to fly players in and put them up for several nights (one possible reason why only a handful of players generally attend). By holding the event on the day before the season opener, when the entire roster was already scheduled to be in D.C., there's no extra cost to the organization to set up player appearances.
Many of you have been asking about my coverage plan for 2011. I was hoping to announce details by now, but there's still one last thing holding this up. Fortunately, that will be cleared up in the next couple of days, so I'll finally be able to share details later this week.