Base­ball part ofw­erth’s DNA

Love of the game was passed down through gen­er­a­tions

The Washington Times Daily - - Weather -

VIERA, FLA. | A bat­ting cage is set up in the back­yard of Jayson Werth’s North­ern Virginia manse, a cage much like one in his own yard dur­ing his Springfield, Ill., youth. If Werth’s two sons, ages 10 and 7, feel so in­clined, they can duck in­side the net­ting and take some hacks — and maybe be­come the gen­er­a­tion in the fam­ily to play in the ma­jor leagues.

“It’ll be up to them just like it was up to me,” the Washington Na­tion­als’ right fielder said af­ter Tues­day’s work­out at Space Coast Sta­dium. “My 10-year-old wants to play, loves the game. The 7-yearold, he’s com­ing around. If that’s what they want to do, great. If they want to do some­thing else, I’m fine with that, too.”

It’s Sea­son 2 for Werth in a Nats uni­form and, re­ally, who wants to talk any more about Sea­son 1? There’s been enough ob­sess­ing about his strug­gles at the plate af­ter sign­ing a seven-year, $126 mil­lion con­tract, enough anal­y­sis — and psy­chol­anal­y­sis — of his .230 av­er­age, .389 slug­ging per­cent­age and gen­eral un­com­mu­nica­tive­ness. Time to turn the page, maybe even go a few chap­ters, back to that bat­ting cage in Springfield, Ill.

Springfield is the home of the Schofield clan. It’s where his grand­fa­ther and un­cle, for­mer biglea­guers Ducky and Dick Schofield, were born and raised; where Werth’s mother, Kim, set­tled with her sec­ond hus­band, Den­nis Werth, the erst­while New York Yan­kee (from nearby Lin­coln, Ill.); and where Jayson be­gan the process of be­com­ing a Na­tional League All-star.

“My step­dad built me a bat­ting cage when I was 8 years old,” he said. “And I was told to hit. If I didn’t hit, I got in trou­ble. But they didn’t have to tell me to hit too of­ten. I’ve loved the game for as long as I can re­mem­ber. I was out there ev­ery day hit­ting.”

This is what it’s like to grow up among base­ball folk — or at least, how it was for Jayson. When he was even younger, he lived with his grand­par­ents for a time while his sin­gle mom went back to school. Ducky had one of those big ol’ satel­lite dishes, and ev­ery­body would gather in front of the TV set and watch game af­ter game — the ones Dick Schofield played for the (then) Cal­i­for­nia An­gels, of course, but also the Chicago Cubs’ ad­ven­tures on WGN.

Ducky is barely re­mem­bered to­day, but he was younger than Bryce Harper, a mere 18, when he broke into the bigs as a bonus baby with the St. Louis Car­di­nals in 1953. Though he hit just .227 for his ca­reer — and mostly was a bench player — he made him­self use­ful enough to last 19 sea­sons and play in two World Se­ries. (Ever see that clip of Bill Maze­roski belt­ing a homer to win the ’60 Se­ries for the Pitts­burgh Pi­rates? Lit­tle-known fact: The No. 11 tak­ing part in the cel­e­bra­tion at the plate is none other than Ducky Schofield.)

“Ev­ery time I see that, it makes me smile,” Jayson said. “My grand­fa­ther, he was a pisser. When I talk to all the old guys [who played with him], they laugh be­cause he was al­ways mad, al­ways in­tense.” Sound like any­body we know? Grandad never gave him much base­ball ad­vice, though. He left that to Den­nis Werth, who coached Jayson’s travel teams and taught them to play the right way, the big-league way. Look­ing back, Jayson said, “it was bril­liant” how Ducky left him to his own de­vices, “be­cause a lot of times when peo­ple tell you stuff [as a kid], it just gets in the way of you be­ing your­self. But he wouldn’t fill my head with any­thing. Just a con­stant, ‘Get in there and fight. Be tough.’ And grandma would add, ‘Kick the snot out of ’em.’ That was the men­tal­ity.”

What Ducky was telling him, though not in so many words, was that base­ball can beat you down. “It’s a daily grind,” was how Jayson put it. And in an en­vi­ron­ment like that, only the strong­est sur­vive, the guys who can fight off all the curve balls — lit­eral and fig­u­ra­tive — the game throws at you.

Last sea­son was an or­deal for Werth, one that tested his con­fi­dence, his met­tle and prob­a­bly his san­ity at cer­tain points. But he got through it be­cause, well, he’s a Schofield, be­cause he had a grand­fa­ther who never ceased telling him: —

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This spring, in his sec­ond gor­ound with the Na­tion­als, Werth is less of a me­dia fo­cal point, what with Stephen Stras­burg back at full strength fol­low­ing Tommy John surgery and Gio Gon­za­lez join­ing him in the ro­ta­tion af­ter the big trade with Oak­land. Not to get too Freudian, but maybe this suits Jayson’s per­son­al­ity bet­ter. He was never, af­ter all, the face of the fran­chise in Philadel­phia, just a very pro­duc­tive player on a cham­pi­onship team.

“I’m feel­ing good, feel­ing healthy,” he said. “It’s go­ing to be a big year.” One way Davey John­son hopes to fa­cil­i­tate that is by spar­ing Werth the rig­ors of cen­ter field, where he played 19 games last sea­son — and where John­son was think­ing about mov­ing him to make room for Harper in right.

But Davey has had a change of heart. He now sees who’s been sent to Triple-a for fur­ther ripen­ing, as the Nats’ cen­ter fielder of to­mor­row. As a re­sult, Jayson will re­main in right, where he’s more com­fort­able — and where he fig­ures to put up bet­ter num­bers. “I want his bat more than I want his de­fense,” the man­ager said.

Mean­while, in North­ern Virginia, the bat­ting cage in Werth’s back­yard pre­pares for some heavy use this sea­son by his two boys. “I’m such a late bloomer,” he says. “I played a lot of ball, but I wasn’t re­ally that good un­til I got older and more de­vel­oped. I was ath­letic, but skinny and gan­gly. My 10-year-old is the same way. We’ll see what he turns out to be.”

Clearly, the kid isn’t lack­ing in the genes depart­ment. It’s more a ques­tion, re­ally, of how badly he wants to “kick the snot out of ’em,” as his great-grandma might say.

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