John Lannan took another step this week in his evolution as a leader for the Washington Nationals.
Lannan, who started Tuesday night against Pedro Martinez, is the first Nationals player to have a section in the ballpark marked off for a worthy cause.
You’ve seen the banners through the years in various ballparks, hanging by seats donated by players to community and charity groups.
That particular charitable effort is a public relations staple for many well-paid players, especially those who have just signed big-time contracts.
The banner for “Lannan’s Cannons” went up Sunday at Nationals Park just below Section 235. The families of young children being treated for illnesses at the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda got free tickets, meals and drinks courtesy of the Nationals and Lannan.
The plan is for Lannan’s Cannons - 25 guests, all residents of the Children’s Inn at NIH - to be a fixture at the ballpark for Sunday home games.
Lannan also will lend his name and image to the Children’s Inn Sports Ambassadors program, which aims to raise funds and awareness for its $93-a-night campaign, a reference to the cost of housing families at the Inn.
This is a big commitment for a player who hardly ranks among the highest paid on the team. Lannan, in his third major league season, makes $424,000.
For you and me, that’s big money. In a major league clubhouse, it’s not. Fifteen Nationals will make more this year than Lannan.
“We make plenty of money to give back,” Lannan said. “The more money you make, the more you should give back. This is a start and a step in the right direction for me personally to give back to the community.”
At 24, the 6-foot-5 Lannan has evolved into the leader of this young pitching staff. He has a sense of responsibility and obligation that is as well defined as his sense of pitching, which, after 66 major league starts, has produced a solid 19-28 record and a 4.04 ERA for a team on its way to 100 losses for the second straight season.
“It’s not like I am going out there and trying to be a leader,” Lannan said. “I just go out there and do my job, and if I am looked at as a leader, that’s great. I’ll talk to anybody. This is only my second year. This is just the foundation of what I want to be as a baseball player.”
Lannan said the young pitchers are a tight-knit group. They hang out together and compete off the field, playing “Mario Kart” on the Wii.
“We’ve had some guys go in and out, but for the most part we’ve all gotten along, and we all push each other,” he said. “I think we are all learning. It’s great that we got Livo [Livan Hernandez] in here because he has a lot of experience. We help each other out, talk about each other’s starts and get along pretty well.”
An 11th-round pick out of Siena College in 2005, Lannan already has reached out to his polar opposite - the Nationals’ highly touted and highly paid pitching prospect, Stephen Strasburg, who is working out with the team during this homestand.
“Stras is a good kid,” Lannan said. “He is getting his feet wet. He seems like he has a good head on his shoulders and seems like a down-to-earth kid.”
It takes a down-to-earth kid to know one. Lannan, the first Nationals player to plant the community service flag at the ballpark, shows where his feet are planted.
“These kids who have life-threatening illnesses where normal treatment hasn’t worked,” Lannan said. “The goal with Lannan’s Cannons is to get these kids out here to enjoy a baseball game with their families. I think it’s a great program, and I’m really glad to be part of it.
“It would be good to get more players involved,” Lannan said. “You have to realize we are a new team here, and things like this are getting started. We are trying to reach out to the community.”
They will, if they follow the leader.
• Thom Loverro can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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