The Washington Nationals’ run of good fortune is still running.
Nationals Winterfest, the team’s annual offseason fan festival, reaped the rewards over the weekend of two days of 60-plus degree weather in January.
It felt like baseball at Nationals Park, though Opening Day is four months away, and, judging from the crowds, fans still want to bask in the glow of their team’s World Series championship.
Thousands flocked to the ballpark for an event that, when the count and the amount is completed, likely drew a record of more than 20,000 attendees — many of whom left with bags full of hats, jackets, shirts and other souvenirs stamped with the World Series image.
Yes, a lot of money changed hands at Nationals Park this past weekend. The money, though, that many fans seemed interested in was in the pockets of the Half Billion Ballplayers — the one who was there and the other who was gone.
Stephen Strasburg, the World Series MVP who last month signed a $245 million contract extension, had a crowd following everywhere he went. Washington fans love him because he showed he loves Washington back, taking the Lerner family’s offer to finish his career with the Nationals.
Those who weren’t following Strasburg may have been searching Nationals Park for the replacement for MVP candidate Anthony Rendon, who also signed a $245 million deal last month — this one to leave Washington behind and play baseball, the game that mildly interests him, with the Los Angeles Angels.
Strasburg shared this story with me appearing on my Saturday morning show with co-host Nick Ashooh on 106.7 The Fan: “I texted him (Rendon) the other day and asked if he got a house yet. One of my best friends who I played college ball with is a realtor in Orange County, he helped the Rendons get a house and get settled.”
Money recognizes money.
I asked Strasburg about the car he got — a Chevy Corvette Stingray — for being named World Series MVP. “I don’t have it in my possession yet,” he said. “It is currently in production. I don’t even know if I’ll be able to fit in it. It’s going to be interesting.”
And the Willie Mays World Series MVP trophy? “I think that is in the clubhouse still, I don’t know,” he said. “I kind of check out once the season is over. I am back training and focusing on next year. I am looking forward to the 2020 season. We’ve got some more work to do.”
This guy is in a different zone these days. Gone is the morose, reluctant superstar pitcher. In his stead is this philosophical, introspective teammate. He is the Washington Nationals Wise Man.
“I am only speaking for myself, but when you get into that environment and you get into the thick of it, you are fighting for each pitch and out with a group of guys who you know care for each other, that is something that is so much more important than however many World Series rings you get,” Strasburg said. “That is the reason why I play the game. That team aspect is so huge.”
The team aspect is as huge as Mike Rizzo is allowed to make it by the Lerner family.
The Nationals’ general manager joined our show and delivered the eulogy on Rendon.
“When you are good enough and lucky enough and have a good enough process that you have to worry about a lot of $250 million to $300 million players, you’re doing a pretty good job,” Rizzo said. “When these guys become stars, you’ve got to make decisions. It is asset allocation and what you feel is your best chance to build a winning team. Certain things go into it, one guy is here, one guy is not, but those are our guys.
“In my mind, Anthony Rendon will always be a Washington National,” Rizzo said. “We scouted him, drafted him, signed him, developed him, watched him turn into a superstar … there’s no replacing Anthony Rendon, not only what he does on the field, but what he has done in the community and the clubhouse and everything else. But life goes on. When I’m gone, life will go on without me and that is just the circle of life in baseball. He will forever be remembered here and we need to move on and try to win the World Series in 2020 without him.”
When I’m gone? Rizzo is going into the final year of his contract. Gulp.
OK, let’s move on — with the departure of Rendon, who is playing third base for the Nationals? Newcomer Starlin Castro? Rookie Carter Kieboom? The returning Asdrubal Cabrera? Free agent Josh Donaldson? (If the Nationals go over the luxury tax threshold to sign Donaldson after refusing to do so for Rendon, that would be a crime).
“We have a lot of options there,” Rizzo said. “We’re versatile … but it’s Jan. 11, so I’m not sure who is going to play third base. If Opening Day was today I could tell you who I think would be playing third base. But Opening Day is three months away.”
I don’t know. It felt like Opening Day was tomorrow.
⦁ Hear Thom Loverro on 106.7 The Fan Wednesday afternoons and Saturday mornings and on the Kevin Sheehan podcast Tuesdays and Thursdays.
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