Na­tion­als’ Dusty Baker shares sea­son re­grets, hope for next year.

Baker shares post­sea­son re­grets, looks to next sea­son

The Washington Times Daily - - FRONT PAGE - BY TODD DYBAS

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.

AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

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.”

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