While many in the Capitol District are focused on Sunday’s Super Bowl, the areas two baseball rivals are gearing up for what should be another extension of sports fanatacism when pitchers and catchers report to spring training in just a few weeks. Perhaps unlike any other year, the baseball crazy Beltway will have visions of titles dancing in their heads, as the surprising Orioles and the ever-improving Nationals enter the season among the favorites un each of their leagues, following the surprising playoff runs both teams had last year.
This week, Orioles Vice President of baseball Operations Dan Duquette and Nationals Assistant GM Bryan Minnitti joined Bloomberg News’ Al Hunt for a discussion on what’s ahead for baseball in and around the Nations Capital, and what fans can expect.
“I think we have built a nice natural rivalry, and that helps the business of both teams,” Duquette said. “We went out last year and knew we had to improve our defense, and the results showed that we were able to do so.” Minitti called the Nats rise last year surprising, but added that what the O’s have done has really turned the area into a hotbed of baseball interest. “We came to the park every day least year expecting to win,” he said. “And while that may sound unusual, it’s really the first time that we have had that type of attitude here or where I was before (he spent nine years with the Pittsburgh Pirates) us what helps turn things around and I think you see that same type of attitude in what Baltimore is doing.”
Both teams have also turned old school thinking with a blend of new age technology to their advantage, using a bit of Moneyball 2.0 with traditional scouting to find a great mix. “People talk about Earl Weaver as being old school, but he was the first guy to use a radar gun and other forms of analytic analysis to help build the Orioles in the 1960’s and 1970;s,” added Duquette. “It’s the same thing we are doing today. We use the great tools a company like Bloomberg has built and marry that with traditional scouting, and I think that really helps give us an edge as we re-establish the winning tradition in Baltimore.”
Minnitti on the Nats side felt that the team, with its large pool of youthful talent would be going down the same road as they look to expand upon their successful run in 2012. “We have a guy in Davey Johnson with a mathematics degree and was one of the first in baseball to use a computer in projecting player performance, yet he is a traditional baseball guy,” he added. “We have found that our success combines the work that scouts do in talking and watching players with the technological advance that now exist in a system where you can marry video to any level of statistical analysis. It’s that combination that will continue to guide all aspects of our organization, both pieces working together.”
While the past week has brought some surprises through the media…Gio Gonzalez potentially being tied to the Alex Rodriguez PED controversy, Danny Espinoza talking about a rotator cuff injury not fully discussed before, Jason Werth admitting his injuries may take longer to heal than first thought etc., Minnitti was very bullish on the Nats immediate and long term future. “We took great steps last year and from a business perspective the franchise really saw how the approach we have taken with young talent can pay off,” he said. “ People in Washington were all about the Nats, from young kids to longtime fans and businesses, and we think that’s going to continue as we go into 2013, it couldn’t be more exciting from the baseball side.”
While the area in and around Nats Park seems to have awoken with National League fever, Duquette, who in some indirect ways as the once GM of the Montreal Expos is responsible for the franchise staying afloat and moving to DC after he left, was good naturedly reminding people that the Orioles still have a place in the business of baseball south of Baltimore as well. “Washington has always been a baseball town, and the Orioles in their best years helped fill a void after the Senators left the second time,” he added. “Those loyalties don’t just vanish overnight, and we are very happy the fortunes of our team have turned almost at the same time of those of the Nats. That makes for both an interesting and friendly rivalry that we think will go as the teams stay interesting and successful, and there is room for both.”
Whether or not the success of 2012 could lead to a Beltway Series in the future is anyone’s guess. The two clubs snuck up on the national sports scene last year, and being on the radar makes repeat success a little more difficult, especially with young players. However if this week provided any glimpse, once the Ravens hang up the shoulder pads after Sunday’s game the hot stove will turn up the dial just a bit more, and baseball in and around the Beltway has never been hotter.