What comes next for vet­eran Ug­gla?

The Washington Post Sunday - - SPORTS - Ex­cerpted from wash­ing­ton­post.com/ na­tion­al­sjour­nal — Chelsea Janes

When Dan Ug­gla ar­rived at Space Coast Sta­dium in late Fe­bru­ary, he car­ried doubts— his own and those of oth­ers.

Could he still play? Could he still see? Had age or in­jury or some other uniden­ti­fi­able force stolen his abil­ity to hit home runs like few in field­ers of the last decade have? Could he ac­tu­ally make the ros­ter?

The 35-year-old did not have much chance to an­swer those ques­tions, with 119 spo­radic at-bats and 23 starts en­ter­ing Satur­day’s dou­ble­header. But af­ter his 2014 sea­son ended in­glo­ri­ously— cut by the Braves, then the Giants— Ug­gla earned an un­likely spot on the Na­tion­als’ open­ing day ros­ter and never gave it up.

“I would have loved to have got­ten to play more, but at the same time, that’s not the way that worked out and I’m still happy to be a part of this team and a part of this or­ga­ni­za­tion,” Ug­gla said. “Re­gard­less of what hap­pens, this is an awe­some team with all the guys we have. It’s just been fun to be a part of that.”

In 139 plate ap­pear­ances, Ug­gla hit .176 with a home run and 15 RBI. That home run was one of the big­gest of the Na­tion­als’ sea­son— the goa­head home run in At­lanta that capped an eight-run come­back in April.

What he did or didn’t con­trib­ute on the field was less im­por­tant to these Na­tion­als than his pres­ence in the club­house, where he was a per­pet­u­ally chip­per fig­ure, jok­ing with team­mates, dol­ing out hugs, even when things went wrong.

Mem­o­rable scenes in­clude him skip­ping into the dugout singing a Tay­lor Swift song, jok­ing with Trea Turner— 14 years his ju­nior— about an er­ror, and his re­lent­less club­house prac­tice of giv­ing hugs to al­most any­one who came close enough to re­ceive one. Never a full-time bench player be­fore, Ug­gla’s at­ti­tude did not fluc­tu­ate.

“Watch­ing the game from the bench, watch­ing on TV and stuff, you start to dis­sect the game more than you nor­mally would,” Ug­gla said. “I’ve been mak­ing a con­scious ef­fort not to do that and to re­mem­ber, man this game’s hard.

“It’s easy to be like ‘man, why didn’t you go to third on that?’ When at the same time, I’ve been in that sit­u­a­tion a thou­sand times and you just gotta re­mem­ber that this game’s a lot harder than what it looks like. It’s given me an op­por­tu­nity to talk to other guys about the game.

“Maybe stuff I wasn’t so good at or didn’t know, cer­tain way I’ve been able to talk to other guys about it and get it men­tally. It’s been dif­fer­ent, but it’s been good.”

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