Nationals’ Dusty Baker shares season regrets, hope for next year.
Baker shares postseason regrets, looks to next season
OXON HILL, MD. | Feet up and surrounded by silence just hours after his first season ended in Washington, Dusty Baker wondered how the National League Division Series would have gone if Wilson Ramos had played.
Ramos tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee Sept. 27 when he came down straight-legged after leaping for a throw. Writhing on the ground was a .307 hitter who became a first-time all-star and stretched the Nationals’ lineup by providing potency from the catcher position. Ramos was out for the season, rearranging the bottom of the Nationals’ lineup in the postseason against the Los Angeles Dodgers. They lost in five games despite a 2-1 lead, a third first-round departure in five seasons. The loss also shut down another chance for Baker to win a World Series as a manager, the final trek that continues to elude him in a 50-year baseball career.
“I wasn’t ready to go home,” Baker told The Washington Times on Tuesday. “I didn’t go home for eight months. I was ready to go home, but I wasn’t ready for the season to end, if that makes sense.
“I even stuck around probably for a week. Took my time packing. Watched games on TV and I really imagined what it was going to be like this year, when everybody else is watching us. You have to have forethought on things. I was grateful for what happened. Just thinking about what could have happened. Thinking about [Wilson] Ramos, to tell you the truth and [Stephen Strasburg]. But, particularly, Ramos, a guy who was having a great year and what it would have been like to have Ramos. Just thinking about some of my guys and their futures. That’s what I was thinking about, really. And just dreaming of getting back there one more
time next year.”
Baker’s first season in Washington started with him telling reporters in spring training to point out certain minor leaguers when they showed up, since Baker didn’t know the fringe players of the organization yet. He tried to learn names, habits, demeanor. He worked on trust with the veterans and provided tips to the youngsters. Toothpicks were manipulated. There was a lot to learn in a short period.
Sitting inside the Gaylord National Resort and Convention Center at the Winter Meetings, Baker joked that he still had a lot to learn about the organization. The District is his fourth stop as a manager. The change for him from spring training to the end of the season was one based in relationships. Washington’s players checked-in with personal sources to figure out who their new manager was after Baker was hired. But dealing with each other day-to-day is not the same as text from a friend. This, like most things, makes Baker optimistic. The same night in his office, he said that things will get better. Why?
“I think it will get better simply because I know who I’m dealing with and they know who they’re dealing with,” Baker said. “Because they didn’t know me. They had heard about me through their friends or agent or whatever, and I didn’t know them like I know them now. Once you’re familiar with somebody, then they know what I require. Also, I have a better idea of when to insert a guy in this situation, then insert a guy in that situation.”
Similar to last season, he would like more speed on the team. Baker wants to maintain the quality defense and improve the baserunning. Also, he harped on hitting with runners in scoring position, a topic brought up throughout the season, then again in the postseason. Washington was fifth with runners in scoring position during the regular season. That dipped to eighth when there were two outs. In the postseason, Washington led the teams in batting average with runners in scoring position, yet the small sample-size left Baker feeling the team was just a hit away in the NLDS against the Dodgers. There, the specter of Ramos re-emerges.
“We had that opportunity four or five times, but that’s baseball,” Baker said. “That’s what baseball is all about. One hit away. One play away. One pitch away. One call away. It’s a game of single events; positively or negatively. Like I said, I was thinking about Ramos bigtime or if we had Stras, I would like to take my chances, but sometimes things happen for a reason you can’t really understand or really with no explanation.
“I think it’s going to make my team hungrier. I think it’s going to make the city hungrier and more behind us. I’m getting a lot of positive feedback from people in the area and fans across the country. So, they want us to go to spring training right now but I’m not ready to go quite right now.”
He laughed at the last part. Baker is looking forward to showing up at the Nationals’ new spring training facility in West Palm Beach, Florida. Not just because it pulls the team out of a mediocre situation in Viera, Florida. But because it’s the completion of a circle for him. His first spring training with the Atlanta Braves, when he was a hotshot 19-yearold in 1968, was in West Palm Beach. He will be back in February, trying to close another journey.
When the Washington Nationals were eliminated from the postseason, manager Dusty Baker said he “wasn’t ready to go home. I didn’t go home for eight months. I was ready to go home, but I wasn’t ready for the season to end, if that makes sense. I even stuck around probably for a week.”