Strasburg’s injury hurts more than Nationals

Strasburg It’s no fun celebrating cautionary tales or being a cynic. No one with any semblance of tact or class wants to be the “told-you-so” guy or the jackass always pointing out the mistakes of others. There’s too much of that as it is.

It would have been fun to witness greatness for a change. No, not the drug-fueled superhuman feats of strength that defined baseball just a short time ago, but instead we long for pure, unbridled skill and talent. A right arm touched by the gods, for lack of better hyperbole.

So with the news that Stephen Strasburg, the once-in-a-lifetime pitching phenom for the Washington Nationals, would likely have to undergo Tommy John surgery to fix that right arm, well, the cynicism rang hollow.

No one wanted the kid to get hurt. Not the players on the Phillies, manager Charlie Manuel or any real fans of the game. Yeah, the Phillies have six games remaining against the Nationals and will likely be fighting for a playoff spot in those games, so not having to face a pitcher like Strasburg is key. In his lone appearance against the Phillies, which was also the game where the “significant tear” of the ligament holding his elbow together was too much to bear, the pitcher dominated. He allowed two hits in 4 1/3 innings without a walk to go with six strikeouts. Noting that he had three mediocre outings in a row leading up to the game against the Phillies, the first four innings of the game were promising.

Manuel, who said he was looking forward to seeing the kid pitch against his team in the days leading up to the game, was pleased to report that the hype matched the skill. Even Ryan Howard, who got one of the hits against Strasburg, walked away impressed.

“He has an easy 98-mph fastball and a great hammer. He’s really good, though it’s like some of us said — the media took it and ran with it,” Howard said. “To his credit, he’s handled it all pretty well.”

Easy. That was the word a lot of players used when talking about Strasburg’s pitching motion. It seemed as if he wasted very little energy before throwing the ball 100-mph. He also had that hammer—the curve ball from hell—that had the makings of becoming the best pitch in the game.

That is if it wasn’t already.

Then he reportedly heard a “pop” in his elbow and got scared. Obviously, that pop resonated pretty loudly because it conjured up names and tales of haunted glory and unfilled promise. As quickly as one of those fastballs old names were bandied about. And as skewed as the angle on his curve, opinion came from mouth breathers of satellite radio and the floor of Congress. Actually, you could set your watch to it. Todd Van Poppel, David Clyde, Brien Taylor, Mark Prior and Kerry Wood should be starring in beer commercials any day for as much as they have been talked about lately. Talk about a Q rating…

Or maybe we should say, gentlemen, start your second-guessing. Based on watching Strasburg pitch in the minors, his major league debut and his final big league start, the kid was treated as if he were a Ming vase since signing with the Nats last year. Even in the minors Strasburg had an entourage of major league public relations people setting up the velvet ropes around the meal ticket. Moreover, his outings were monitored as if they were science experiments with strict pitch counts and plenty of rest.

If there was one pitcher who should not have gotten hurt it was Strasburg. After all, there were all those ex-big leaguers who said the kid was being babied too much. He needed to toughen up and pitch more.

Oops.

“It's frustrating, because this happens to people you think it shouldn't happen to,” Nats GM Mike Rizzo told The Washington Post. “This player was developed and cared for the correct way. Things like this happen. Pitchers break down. Pitchers get hurt. We're satisfied with the way he was developed. I know [Strasburg's agent] Scott Boras was satisfied with the way he's been treated, and Stephen is also. We're good with that. Frustrated, yes. Second-guessing ourselves, no.”

The silver lining is that Tommy John surgery is very common. There are plenty of players on every team in the big leagues that have undergone the operation, which more and more seems like one of those milestones pitchers have to cross…

The minors, a big league debut, arbitration, free agency and Tommy John. Not necessarily in that order.

There’s also a chance that when Strasburg returns in April of 2012 that his fastball will be faster than it was before. The drawback is it will take him some time to regain the feel for his curveball, but the fastball will be OK. Besides, there were nine players in the All-Star Game that had Tommy John surgery: Chris Carpenter, Tim Hudson, Josh Johnson, Arthur Rhodes, Brian Wilson, Joakim Soria, Hong-Chih Kuo, Rafael Soriano and Billy Wagner.

Is baseball doomed in D.C.?
The problem isn’t the surgery, it’s the recovery. It’s not the process, either, but the time. In baseball, like any other corporate structure, time is money. Considering that Strasburg wasn’t just the ace of the Nats, but also The Franchise, it’s fair to ask if baseball in Washington can weather this storm. Yes, Adam Dunn and Ryan Zimmerman are good ballplayers, and Josh Willingham is having a tremendous season while Nyjer Morgan could become a solid leadoff man. But those guys weren’t putting the butts in the seats.

Only the Pirates and Marlins averaged fewer fans per game than the Nationals amongst National League teams, and even in Strasburg’s last home start just 21,695 fans turned out—a good 2,000 below the team’s average per game.

So even with Strasburg was baseball viable in Washington?

Think about it… Washington is a two-time loser in baseball, yet when the Expos where no longer right for Montreal, MLB insisted on giving the city a third shot. Worse, they stuck it to the overburdened taxpayers of D.C. and forced them to build a ballpark that no one goes to.

Now it could be a career-threatening arm injury to cause a section of Southeast D.C. to go back to its pre-Nationals Park form, while the franchise moves on to Portland, Charlotte, Las Vegas or maybe even Monterrey, Mexico. We’ll start using names like Brien Taylor, David Clyde and Todd Van Poppel. We’ll tell more cautionary tales only to go back to believing the hype with the next kid with an arm that supersedes his years.

Washington could be a three-time loser with baseball, which only guarantees that there will not be a fourth chance.

“He’s going to be a tremendous pitcher,” Manuel said. “He has to stay healthy, though.”

Stay healthy because only the entire franchise is depending on it.

Reliving deadlines past

image from fingerfood.typepad.com A year ago we were in Washington wondering what was going to happen. The Phillies were supposedly involved in the bargaining for Manny Ramirez as well as a handful of relief pitchers as the trading deadline approached. Ultimately, nothing happened, but that didn’t make the day any less fun.

Shane Victorino, a player who was rumored to be the chip in some of those supposed deals, put on a show by pretending to sweat out the final minutes to the deadline. The reality, as we learned, was that the talk was just a lot of hot air. However, in looking back at quotes from then-GM Pat Gillick, the Phillies nearly made some deals.

One of those was, indeed, Manny Ramirez.

“I think at some point we had a good feeling about it,” Gillick said after the deadline had passed a year ago.

Good? How good?

“We were talking,” Gillick said then. “We were involved. We just couldn't get where they wanted to be, and we couldn't get where we wanted to be. So it was just one of those things.”

“Good” and “talking” are such ambiguous terms. The truth is some people talk about doing things that make them feel good all the time, but instead end up following the same old patterns day in and day out. Plus, everyone’s interpretation of “talk” isn’t always the same. For instance, it would be interesting to hear if Boston GM Theo Epstein had the same “good feeling” about sending Ramirez to the Phillies, but in the end it turned out to be “just one of those things.”

In retrospect, the Phillies were better off without Ramirez. They have three All-Stars in the outfield and the worst thing that happened to any of them was an extended trip to the disabled list for Raul Ibanez.

Otherwise, smooth sailing.

In looking back, the Phillies nearly pulled off a deal for a starter, too. It was going to be a three-way deal according to Gillick and one insider with the club portrayed the starter as, “decent.”

At the last minute one of the teams backed out.

“It was a three-way deal and we got agreement form one club and they were trying to get agreement on players from another club,” Gillick revealed of the unknown starter last year.

Think about this for a second… what if the deals had gone through? Would they have changed the season in any way, shape or form? Could it be the best deal the Phillies made last year was not making a deal at all?

It’s difficult to speculate because the Phillies got so hot in mid September and tore through every team all the way to the end. Guys like Jayson Werth, a player who emerged during that hot streak and carried into his All-Star year, like to point out how strong the Phillies always play in September and beyond.

It’s difficult to argue with the results.

But now that Cliff Lee and Ben Francisco are with the team, it’s interesting to wonder “what if.” Would Lee even be here if the Phillies had gotten that “decent” starter in the three-way deal? We’ll never know, but in the meantime Lee will make his debut with the Phillies on Friday night… hours after Pedro Martinez wraps up a rehab start in Triple-A.

That’s decent.

*
image from fingerfood.typepad.com Last year at this time the Phillies were in Washington where a dude like me got to visit The Amsterdam Falafel House. It was such a good time that I thought I’d re-post an excerpt of it here:

Now I have never been to Amsterdam or Holland, but folks who know better say the Adams-Morgan Amsterdam Falafel Shop is as authentic as it gets. In fact, one giveaway to the authenticity of the TAMF (not sure people call it this, but you know, I’ll put it out there) is that they serve brownies and make it a point to inform the consumer that they are not “enhanced.”


Enhanced is my word. On the menu they were called “virgin” brownies.


Yeah.


Anyway, the menu is very basic at The Amsterdam Falafel Shop in Adams-Morgan, located just a half block from the famous Madam’s Organ – the place Playboy magazine named the best bar in the United States. In fact, they serve just falafel (two sizes), Dutch baked fries (two sizes) and un-enhanced brownies (square shaped).

Each sandwich is made to order and each diner can add any of the 18 different sauces and toppings from the garnish bar.


It’s definitely a treat, man. Plus, they usually stay open late (but not past midnight on a Sunday as I learned last month) so if you find yourself in the area and get a hankering for authentic Dutch falafel, by all means, drop in.


After lunch, I drove to the ballpark via Capitol Hill where it looked as if there was a lot of governing going on… a lot of gentrification, too. It seems to me that The District has at least one Starbucks for every household. Interestingly, neighborhoods that were once talked about in hushed, scared tones are now filled with people walking around in madras shorts and business suits with a chai latte in hand.

Good times… good times.

Of Presidential visits and hitting streaks

pete-roseLike an old catcher with creaky knees, ball writers don’t bounce back like they used to. That’s especially the case when they play day games after night games that take nearly 3½  hours to play.

Yes, life is hard. I know.

However, tomorrow morning comes early for the Phillies, too. After this afternoon’s series finale against the Dodgers, the Phillies board an Amtrak train to ride the rails to The District to be ready for the World Champion visit to the White House.

It should be a fun afternoon even though several members of the team and traveling party have already been to the White House and even the Oval Office before. Back when George W. Bush was president, baseball players used to be summoned for tours and audiences often. Bush, of course, was a former owner of the Texas Rangers and dreamed of being the commissioner of baseball until Bud Selig out-maneuvered him for the gig.

Fool him once…

Anyway, the main purpose of the trip to Washington is to play four games in three days against the last-place Nationals. Certainly the visit couldn’t come at a better time for the Phillies because they really need a winning streak to kick start things.

If they do so it should be in front of a friendly crowd since the Nationals rank 28th in attendance, averaging just 19,416 fans per game. Certainly those numbers will dip even further as the summer progresses since the Nats likely face mathematical elimination quicker than the other teams in the league.

Worse, unless the team drafts college phenom Stephen Strasburg with the first pick in the June 9 draft (and sign him) and call him up, there probably won’t be too much of a buzz about the baseball team in Southeast DC.

Of course Ryan Zimmerman’s hitting streak could have helped that if it had continued past 30 games.

Zimmerman had his hitting streak snapped yesterday against the Giants with an 0-for-3 including a pair of walks. One of those walks was an intentional pass that came with first base open in the seventh inning. Sure, it stinks that Zimmerman’s streak came to end with an intentional walk in there, but it was the baseball move by manager Bruce Bochy.

Nevertheless, Zimmerman could have been the only draw for the Nats if the streak could have continued past this weekend. In the meantime, Zimmerman’s streak was the longest since Moises Alou hit in 30 straight in 2007 and Chase Utley hit in 35 straight in 2006.

Not that Chase talked about it, of course.

Ever superstitious, Utley refused to talk about hitting and the streak during his run that year. It was the exact opposite tact of Jimmy Rollins who chattered away about his 38-game streak through the end of 2005 and the start of 2006.

And of course the master of post-DiMaggio hitting streaks, Pete Rose, yapped away non-stop about his streak during the 1978 season. In fact, Pete is still chattering away about it. Last December I visited with Rose in Las Vegas during the winter meetings and he told me about his hitting streak (amongst other topics) and even said he doesn’t like the way Utley refuses to open up to the media. He pointedly took Utley to task for his superstitious approach during his hitting streak in 2006.

Here’s what I wrote in December:

But Rose does not understand Utley’s reluctance to open up to the media about himself or baseball. Different personalities, perhaps. Rose was an open book and revealed all even when he was keeping a secret about his gambling on baseball. One of the secrets to the success of those juggernaut Phillies teams in Rose’s day was that he was the one who stood up and took on the media. With sensitive personalities like Steve Carlton and Mike Schmidt on the club, Rose was the go-to guy for a quote or some insight. By doing that, he took the pressure off the team’s best players.

Rose simply did not understand why Utley refused to talk to the media during his 35-game hitting streak during the 2006 season. Not talking about baseball is just a foreign concept to him. Worse, he says, fans – particularly kids – don’t get a chance to know their heroes without some type of media insight.

“Kids might want to know more about baseball and they will listen to what a guy like Chase Utley has to say,” Rose said. “But when he’s up there all he says is, ‘Yep.’”

Interestingly, Rose said nearly the same thing about Utley to Dan Patrick on his radio show yesterday when he talked about Zimmerman’s streak. Take a listen here.

Pete also said he believes Alex Rodriguez is a Hall-of-Famer, but that might be a bit of a political statement.

Oh yes, Pete Rose definitely wants to be in the Hall of Fame.

Of Presidential visits and hitting streaks

image from fingerfood.typepad.com Like an old catcher with creaky knees, ball writers don’t bounce back like they used to. That’s especially the case when they play day games after night games that take nearly 3½  hours to play.

Yes, life is hard. I know.

However, tomorrow morning comes early for the Phillies, too. After this afternoon’s series finale against the Dodgers, the Phillies board an Amtrak train to ride the rails to The District to be ready for the World Champion visit to the White House.

It should be a fun afternoon even though several members of the team and traveling party have already been to the White House and even the Oval Office before. Back when George W. Bush was president, baseball players used to be summoned for tours and audiences often. Bush, of course, was a former owner of the Texas Rangers and dreamed of being the commissioner of baseball until Bud Selig out-maneuvered him for the gig.

Fool him once…

Anyway, the main purpose of the trip to Washington is to play four games in three days against the last-place Nationals. Certainly the visit couldn’t come at a better time for the Phillies because they really need a winning streak to kick start things.

If they do so it should be in front of a friendly crowd since the Nationals rank 28th in attendance, averaging just 19,416 fans per game. Certainly those numbers will dip even further as the summer progresses since the Nats likely face mathematical elimination quicker than the other teams in the league.

Worse, unless the team drafts college phenom Stephen Strasburg with the first pick in the June 9 draft (and sign him) and call him up, there probably won’t be too much of a buzz about the baseball team in Southeast DC.

Of course Ryan Zimmerman’s hitting streak could have helped that if it had continued past 30 games.

Zimmerman had his hitting streak snapped yesterday against the Giants with an 0-for-3 including a pair of walks. One of those walks was an intentional pass that came with first base open in the seventh inning. Sure, it stinks that Zimmerman’s streak came to end with an intentional walk in there, but it was the baseball move by manager Bruce Bochy.

Nevertheless, Zimmerman could have been the only draw for the Nats if the streak could have continued past this weekend. In the meantime, Zimmerman’s streak was the longest since Moises Alou hit in 30 straight in 2007 and Chase Utley hit in 35 straight in 2006.

Not that Chase talked about it, of course.

Ever superstitious, Utley refused to talk about hitting and the streak during his run that year. It was the exact opposite tact of Jimmy Rollins who chattered away about his 38-game streak through the end of 2005 and the start of 2006.

And of course the master of post-DiMaggio hitting streaks, Pete Rose, yapped away non-stop about his streak during the 1978 season. In fact, Pete is still chattering away about it. Last December I visited with Rose in Las Vegas during the winter meetings and he told me about his hitting streak (amongst other topics) and even said he doesn’t like the way Utley refuses to open up to the media. He pointedly took Utley to task for his superstitious approach during his hitting streak in 2006.

Here’s what I wrote in December:

But Rose does not understand Utley’s reluctance to open up to the media about himself or baseball. Different personalities, perhaps. Rose was an open book and revealed all even when he was keeping a secret about his gambling on baseball. One of the secrets to the success of those juggernaut Phillies teams in Rose’s day was that he was the one who stood up and took on the media. With sensitive personalities like Steve Carlton and Mike Schmidt on the club, Rose was the go-to guy for a quote or some insight. By doing that, he took the pressure off the team’s best players.


Rose simply did not understand why Utley refused to talk to the media during his 35-game hitting streak during the 2006 season. Not talking about baseball is just a foreign concept to him. Worse, he says, fans – particularly kids – don’t get a chance to know their heroes without some type of media insight.


“Kids might want to know more about baseball and they will listen to what a guy like Chase Utley has to say,” Rose said. “But when he’s up there all he says is, ‘Yep.’”

Interestingly, Rose said nearly the same thing about Utley to Dan Patrick on his radio show yesterday when he talked about Zimmerman’s streak. Take a listen here.

Pete also said he believes Alex Rodriguez is a Hall-of-Famer, but that might be a bit of a political statement.

Oh yes, Pete Rose definitely wants to be in the Hall of Fame.

Less than 60 minutes and counting

WASHINGTON – There is less than an hour to go before the trading deadline (this sentence was written at 3:04 p.m.) so consider this the last update before the clock strikes.

After 4 p.m. the 2008 Phillies and the entire landscape of the great, National Past Time could look dramatically different.

Or not.

Anyway, there is nothing new to report here. Apparently a Manny Ramirez trade to the Marlins is DOA, though the Ken Griffey Jr. trade to the White Sox is quite intriguing. For one thing, the White Sox now have a member of the 500 Home Run Club (Jim Thome) and the even more elite, 600 Home Run Club (Griffey).

But all is quiet on the Phillies front. At least all is quiet for now. The first team bus arrived at the park around 3 p.m. and all the usual suspects were aboard. So for the time being, general manager Pat Gillick is standing pat.

Otherwise, I had a nice leisurely morning and afternoon here in The District. After a humid and sultry morning jaunt through a wooded trail (I saw another deer[1]), I rolled through Florida Ave. and the U Street corridor to the Adams-Morgan section of town where I finally got to eat at The Amsterdam Falafel Shop.

Mmmmm, mmmm.

Now I have never been to Amsterdam or Holland, but folks who know better say the Adams-Morgan Amsterdam Falafel Shop is as authentic as it gets. In fact, one giveaway to the authenticity of the TAMF (not sure people call it this, but you know, I’ll put it out there) is that they serve brownies and make it a point to inform the consumer that they are not “enhanced.”

Enhanced is my word. On the menu they were called “virgin” brownies.

Yeah.

Anyway, the menu is very basic at The Amsterdam Falafel Shop in Adams-Morgan, located just a half block from the famous Madam’s Organ – the place Playboy magazine named the best bar in the United States. In fact, they serve just falafel (two sizes), Dutch baked fries (two sizes) and un-enhanced brownies (square shaped).

Each sandwich is made to order and each diner can add any of the 18 different sauces and toppings from the garnish bar.

It’s definitely a treat, man. Plus, they usually stay open late (but not past midnight on a Sunday as I learned last month) so if you find yourself in the area and get a hankering for authentic Dutch falafel, by all means, drop in.

After lunch, I drove to the ballpark via Capitol Hill where it looked as if there was a lot of governing going on… a lot of gentrification, too. It seems to me that The District has at least one Starbucks for every household. Interestingly, neighborhoods that were once talked about in hushed, scared tones are now filled with people walking around in madras shorts and business suits with a chai latte in hand.

OK, time for the clubhouse. By the time I get back we’ll know if the Phillies have any new players or not.


[1] Why is it that whenever I see deer, elk or coyotes during runs while in Colorado I just shrug it off as no big deal, yet when I cross paths with a deer in Washington or Lancaster I get freaked out? Historically, there have been a lot of deer in the Northeast and their habitat (obviously) is shrinking, however, when I see one I run away… fast. I run away completely scared to death and afraid even to look over my shoulder for fear that it might be chasing me. Meanwhile, in other parts of the country I try to get as close as possible to those unfamiliar wild animals. Passing an elk in town in Colorado is like seeing a stray cat… what gives?

Mr. Coste goes to Washington… has lunch

Chris CosteWASHINGTON – One of the neat things about this city is that sports really aren’t all that important. Oh sure, Washingtonians love their teams – especially the Redskins – but what drives the news and the talk here is the industry.

In D.C. it’s all about the government.

Sports seem to be nothing more than a pleasant diversion unlike in Philadelphia where it is everything. In Philadelphia the athletes just don’t play for the local teams, they represent us.

It’s definitely unique in that way.

D.C. is unique, too. Even though Nationals Park is barely a month old, the Nats rate 17th in the Majors in attendance and 13th in the National League. Usually it takes a year for teams with a new ballpark to see the business at the turnstiles wane, but it’s happening right away here in The District.

But the power structure is different here than it is in Philly. The jocks don’t have the Q-rating – the folks with the power do.

Nevertheless, I’m sure there are plenty of reasons why the attendance has been so low here. For one, the Nationals aren’t very good. At 20-27 they are in last place in the NL East. Plus, aside from Ryan Zimmerman, Dmitri Young and Nick Johnson, the fans don’t have too many players to rally behind.

Additionally, this is a presidential election year. That’s like the biggest thing they do in these parts, so people are focused on it all day long. Couple that with the fact that Congress (and school) is still in session and our representatives are busy trying to make laws and stuff and it’s easy to understand why the last-place Nats kind of fall between the cracks.

Yet before he went to work trying to override a presidential veto of his farm bill and dive into his work as the chairman of the senate budget committee, Sen. Kent Conrad (D-N.D.) took the time to hang around with one of his constituents this afternoon.

Chris Coste, the Phillies catcher from Fargo, N.D., spent time with Conrad in his Hart Building office, talked some baseball, signed copies of his autobiography and then had lunch in the U.S. Capitol building. There, Coste and some of the hangers-on from the Phillies enjoyed the senate dining room’s famous bean soup and also chatted with Democratic Pennsylvania senator Robert P. Casey Jr.

According to reports, a good time was had by all. Plus, the Phillies’ group was quite impressed with Sen. Conrad’s baseball knowledge.

Meanwhile, Coste found himself in the lineup against Nats’ lefty Matt Chico tonight. Actually, Coste has been in the lineup more than “regular” catcher Carlos Ruiz lately. One reason for that could be that Coste hit .438 (7-for-16) during the last homestand.

However, the Phillies are 17-11 in games started by Ruiz this season.

End of the road

headWASHINGTON – So far this weekend’s trip to The District has been pretty eventful for everyone in the Phillies’ travelling party. A few of the players were given a private tour of the White House and were even granted an audience with the President in the Oval Office.

Another got to show off his superhero poses, while a few teammates were given the chance to show off a softer, more feminine side in formal evening wear.

But the best part of the last road trip of the season that ends tomorrow with the final Major League Baseball game at RFK Stadium hasn’t been the quiet time spent away from media mass at Citizens Bank Park, nor the special perks granted to the gentry athlete class.

Instead, the Phillies have simply taken pride in their work.

“Nothing beats winning,” manager Charlie Manuel.

That certainly has been the case for the Phillies, who enter Sunday’s game with an 8-1 record during the 10-game road trip. Actually, it has been on this trip that the Phillies went from sitting on the edge of oblivion, to a team with an incredibly legitimate chance at winning the division OR the wild card.

To think, when the Phillies left for New York after the victory over the Rockies on Sept. 13 they were a distant 6½ games behind the Mets in the NL East. But when the team returns home to host the Braves on Tuesday night, they very well could be tied for first place.

Then again, in a worst-case scenario, they could be four games back, too.

The District
As far as northeastern cities go, Washington, D.C. provides the perfect urban experience. The city has an extensive public transportation system, an incredible system of trails and parks for the recreationally and fitness inclined, every type of cuisine or entertainment offering imaginable, and of course, all of those free museums

Yes, Washington, D.C. has culture coming out the wazoo.

Need an example of how D.C. is unique? Check this out:

During Friday morning’s run I meandered through the Northwest quadrant of the city’s confusing grid, passing by such notable places as JFK’s last residence before he was elected president, Bob Woodward’s towering Q Street crib and, of course, the childhood home of the legendary iconoclast, Ian MacKaye, until I filtered back toward the Key Bridge and the C&O Canal Tow Path. This part of the run took nearly 30-minutes at a modest clip where I made sure I ran hard up the inclines on Q Street and Observation Place. After all, D.C. was built on top of a swamp, which (I assume) are relatively flat. So when one arrives at the base of a hill during a run, they should take it with some pace.

Anyway, I hit the tow path, which is the ultimate urban biking/running trail in these United States. Instead of a modest nine-mile loop around the Schuylkill River like Philly’s Kelly Drive, the C&O goes from the Key Bridge (just off Georgetown’s main thoroughfare) through the western edge of the city along the Potomac River, into the Maryland suburbs and onto the countryside for nearly 200 miles.

One runner, named Scott Douglas, ran the entire trail during a seven-day stretch.

ANYWAY, the towpath…

George HamiltonNeedless to say I wasn’t about to run the length of the entire path. After all, the weather in D.C. has been hot and sticky and the main reason I wanted to run on the riverside, tree-shrouded trail was to get out of the sun. Besides, if I bake beneath those ultraviolet rays any more than I already do, I’m going to have the complexion of George Hamilton.

C’mon, who wants to dress in a tuxedo all the time even if it does give Georgie’s epidermis the hue of rich, Corinthian leather?

The plan was to run for 13 miles, which takes about 86-to-90 minutes. Or, if I felt good I would run for an hour and then weave my way back through Georgetown. But I didn’t feel good because it was hot, and, truth be told, since the birth of our son, I have only been able to run about 70 to 80 miles per week. My fitness level is a little lacking these days, so 90 minutes in the heat and humidity would be fine enough.

And it was. On the way up the trail I enjoyed the shade, the sweeping river views into Northern Virginia and the quietness of the day where the only audible noise was the cadence of my feet pounding on the hard, packed dirt. I just couldn’t believe that I was in Washington, D.C.

But as the run progressed I really could not believe that I was in one of the biggest cities in the country.

At first glance I thought it was a dog…

After getting good and tired and deciding that approximately four miles on the trail was plenty, I made a u-turn and retraced my steps. I also decided to ease off a bit after doing half-mile intervals at lactate threshold pace. However, upon noticing some hikers and what I thought was some type of amber-colored dog, I figured I could put on the pace one more time before knocking off and cruising in to the finish.

It was hot, though. I was also thirsty and the combination of the heat and dehydration narrowed the focus of my vision causing me to weave ever-so slightly on the path as I attempted to run down the hikers.

That’s when I brushed up against what I originally thought was a dog… only it was a white-tailed deer.

Yeah, that’s right. A white-tailed deer. I rubbed shoulders — quite literally — with a freaking white-tailed deer a little more than a mile from M St. You know, where the Barnes & Noble, Banana Republic, Dean & Deluca and Starbucks are mixed in amongst all of those tourist-trap bars and restaurants. In Washington, D.C. …

A white-tailed freaking deer.

Needless to say, my brush with Bambi straightened me right the hell up. For the next half mile I ran as hard as the heat and my legs would allow for fear that I somehow angered the deer and he was hot on my rear in attempt to chase me down and give me a beating like that scene in Tommy Boy.

As if I could out-run a deer…

robo deerAnyway, I suppose robo-deer remained in the brush to munch on some leaves and shrubs while I settled down, finally eased up on the pace, and cruised on toward the end of the path. But there, again, in the last copse of woods before nature gave way to the giant cylinders of concrete that supported the bridge and menaced the landscape as cars sped to and from Northern Virginia, another white-tailed deer stood as it picked away at the brush from the left side of the trail. This one was even closer to all of the action of G’town, yet really didn’t seem to mind when the walkers, runners and bike riders passed by just inches away.

Perhaps this proved that political animals are not the only species that inhabit Washington.

Though the deer might be less frightening.

Anyway, that’s some of the highlights from the trip. We’ll have more from the equally deer-laden tranquility of The Lanc tomorrow.

Time to ‘man up’

Cole HamelsOne of the topics missed yesterday was Cole Hamels’ three-inning outing in which he was held to a tight pitch count. The outing was Hamels’ first start in 32 days and needless to say, he wasn’t as sharp as he would have liked.

But the bigger issue wasn’t that Hamels lasted just three innings and gave up three runs. The bigger issue was that the young lefty used up his 54 pitches in just three innings. Certainly that puts a heavy burden on a bullpen that doesn’t need any extra lifting, though perhaps this is a bad time to be faulting Hamels for being rusty in his first time out in over a month. After all, the relievers ended up allowing just one run in 11 innings in the 7-4 victory in St. Louis.

Still, if Hamels is going to make two more starts he’s going to have to be a little more efficient. Sure, he will probably throw approximately 75 pitches in Sunday’s start at RFK, but these days the Phillies need the starters to make the game shorter for the ‘pen. With 10 games to go, there will be more than enough heavy lifting to go around. If Hamels is serious about pitching this season, he should grab the big end. There will be plenty of time to rest up in the winter.

Besides, manager Charlie Manuel says it will take 89 to 90 victories to get into the playoffs. At 82-70, the Phillies will have to be pretty darn good in the final 10 games. At a minimum they have to win every remaining series…

They can start with a sweep in The District.

On the road again
Dikembe Speaking of The District, RFK is sure to be overrun with Phillies fans this weekend. In fact, I’ll wager that the Phillies fans outnumber the Nationals fans – if there is such a thing.

So for those making the short drive from the Philadelphia area to DC, and looking for something to do before the ballgames, well, you don’t need me to tell you about the museums and the monuments.

But for those who like to get off the beaten path and stay away from the touristy-type places, it’s always fun to meander through Georgetown. Here’s what to do: go get breakfast/lunch at Billy Martin’s on Wisconsin and then weave in and out of the tree-lined neighborhood streets.

Do you want to know who lives in some of those houses? No. 3307 N St. was where JFK and Jackie lived until they moved to the White House in 1961. No. 3018 on Dumbarton Avenue is where a Supreme Court Justice (Felix Frankfurter) and two Secretaries of State (Henry Kissinger and Cy Vance) lived. Alger Hiss lived at 2905 P Street, which was a half block down from a house JFK rented at 2808 P Street. Cold warrior and former secretary of state Dean Acheson lived across the street at 2805 P.

For more notable G-town houses, check out this Flickr site. Sadly, I still can’t locate the M St. bar where Dikembe Mutombo asked his famous question when he was still a Georgetown undergrad. In the meantime, the location of Felix Frankfurter’s crib will have to do.

Like opening for Hendrix
Typically when professional athletes wax on about serious issues, I always end up hearing Chris Tucker recite his famous line from those movies he does with Jackie Chan.

Nope, I didn’t see it either.

Anyway, I rarely have had those Chris Tucker moments during Donovan McNabb’s many chats with the local press over the years, but the recent bit over his comments on HBO and the aftermath got it going.

But I’m hardly an expert on Donovan McNabb or the Eagles, so I’ll leave the analysis over his on-the-field and off-the-field issues to smarter people. However, it was quite poignant to note that the McNabb piece on HBO’s “Real Sports” was followed by a segment about an up-and-coming runner who was one of the Sudanese Lost Boys.

I can just imagine that production meeting:

“Hey, what do we follow the whiny, overpaid jock story with?”

“How about the story about the runner from Sudan who was orphaned when government troops attacked his village and killed his family? That should be an interesting contrast.”

I suppose the parallel was lost on a few folks.

Floyd update
Yes, the word on the Floyd Landis case is expected to come down by Friday (or Saturday… maybe Sunday). To help lighten the work load (we have an extremely small staff here at CSN.com) I’ve been writing ahead, which could be a bad idea if the result is the opposite from the way I have been shaping the story.

There’s no point here. I’m just sayin’.

***
More coming from DC…

Back to D.C.

A lot has changed with the Nationals since the last time we were in D.C. For starters, the ball club has an owner – that was evident as soon as one walked through the doors. For starters, the old stadium has been cleaned up a bit and the concessions have taken a major and noticeable upgrade. More importantly, those changes have taken affect in the press dining area as well.

Gone is the slipshod and minimalist manner in which MLB ran the Nats. Now we have a pasta station to go along with the regular fare – including staples like veggie burgers for non-meat eaters like me. On Tuesday night I had a delightful penne with grilled broccoli, green peppers and onions with a marinara with a side of green beans and carrots. Good stuff and definitely worth the $10.

Obviously, it was much better than what the Phillies offer at their ballpark.

Maybe because I spend so much time in the antiseptic and characterless Citizens Bank Park, I have developed a soft spot for the old-timey ballparks in Washington, New York, and Boston. Actually, even Baltimore can be considered older at this point especially since it set the standard and has been copied to death since it opened in 1992.

Now there’s nothing wrong with the ballpark in Philadelphia, and it’s definitely nicer than the Vet. Anything would have been better than the Vet. But the park hasn’t developed a personality yet… actually, watching a game at Citizens Bank Park feels like sitting in an airport terminal.

I’m sure I’d have a different opinion of the ballpark if I were a fan sitting in the stands, but I have never had the pleasure of sitting back and watching a game there yet. Some day, perhaps, but most people don’t want to spend a day off going to the office to be a spectator.

Anyway, regular readers of this little site know what I think about the city of Washington, D.C. and of all the time I spent in the city – including time growing up there in the 1970s – nothing compares to the atmosphere I felt in the city when we were there exactly one year ago.

I don’t think I have to explain why.

Walking around on the streets of the Downtown and Foggy Bottom neighborhoods one could feel an entire city unified in its anger. Everyone was on the same page and felt the same way about what was going on along the Gulf of Mexico. Better yet, the outside world even penetrated the insular world of baseball and I even got a knowing and approving nod from one player when I told him I took my iPod on my run that morning and played Kanye West as I dashed down the 1600 block of Pennsylvania Avenue.

On another note, here’s a touristy tip for those going to D.C.: the monuments are open 24-hours a day and there is nothing more chilling than walking along the Vietnam Memorial and up the steps of the Lincoln Memorial at night. Looking out over the city with Abe Lincoln and imaging Martin Luther King Jr. standing in that spot during the March on Washington on Aug. 28, 1963 is mind scrambling.

And I’m not really a sentimental person.

First in war, first in peace, last in the National League…

Based on a very informal poll of the scribes covering the ball club, Washington, D.C. is quickly becoming the most popular stop on the circuit. For anyone who has spent any time in our nation’s capital, that shouldn’t come as much of a surprise – there is tons of stuff to do in the District away from the museums and touristy-type places.

But throw all of that stuff into the mix and it’s quite a place.

I’m hardly a sentimental person (OK, others will disagree with that, but whatever), but it’s hard not to get a tingle from standing on the top steps of the Lincoln Memorial and looking out upon The Mall and wondering what Martin Luther King Jr. felt when he gave his “I Have a Dream” speech in 1964.

Or a walk through the Vietnam Memorial at night is downright chilling. Certainly I don’t mean that in a hyperbolic or saccharine sweet type of way. You really have to see it to feel it.

Oddly, the first name I focused on after scanning the list that seemed to stretch through the landscape all of the way to the Washington Monument was of a man named Sanford I. Finger. For years I was always interested in Sanford Finger’s story – who he was and what he liked to do. What was he interested in and what did he look like? And how did he end up in Vietnam where he met his untimely death in 1971.

Finally, after all of the years spent wondering and thinking about some guy who died before I was born who just so happens to share the same last name as me, I stumbled across this on the Internet.

Anyway, last night after the Phillies’ loss to the Nationals, I took some time to unwind by taking a midnight stroll past the White House, down to Constitution Ave. and back up 15th St. for a quick pit stop at The Old Ebbitt Grill.

This morning I loaded up the iPod with DC-type songs (late ‘70s and Dischord Records stuff) before heading out on a run to see if our old wiffle ball field was still entact (a big tree was planted where the pitchers mound was, but the paint we used to mark the home run fence was still visible on the bricks).

From there I circled The Mall on the way out to RFK Stadium and back for a spirit-reviving 13-miler.

I’m sure my mom is going to love hearing about the trip through our neighborhood and stomping grounds.

Sadly, though, RFK has seen better days. The clubhouse is a dungeon, and the dugout has a Veterans Stadium-type odor. Worse, the view from the press box is severely obstructed and any time a ball is hit out of the infield we have to watch the result on TV.

More than a few writers had trouble with the wireless Internet connection, which made it difficult to send their stories in to the office.

Still, it’s always a blast to make it back to D.C. and until something sways my point of view, I’ll say RFK is so bad that it’s charming.

No one can call Shea charming.