Saying Goodbye to Ian Desmond
When the news that Ian Desmond signed with Texas was announced in the Washington front office, there must have been cheering all round. He nets the Nationals a first round pick in the June Rule 4 draft, the nineteenth pick overall. There had been worry that Desmond might not sign until such date as it failed to matter to Washington.
But that would never have come to pass, because Ian Desmond will always matter to Washington Nationals fans. Yes, he stuck out a ton and he booted a few too many balls last April, but he was still our favorite. When kids came to the ballpark in search of someone to sign their baseball or their new hat, Ian was there for them more reliably than any other player. And on fan days when the kids got to walk out on the field and talk to the players, Ian made as much of an attempt as anyone to be their friend. I will always remember him at one fan event trying to catch a water balloon for a little girl and holding on to it gingerly so that it did not break. She and Ian won that contest and he exulted in whatever prize awaited her at the end of the ordeal.
Ian might have cradled a few of those easy grounders as carefully as those water balloons.
I remember last season when he was at his worst. There was a threesome of twenty-somethings sitting behind us in our favorite perch behind First Base. All day long when Desmond was at bat they counted out the strikes waiting for him to flail helplessly at the ball in the dirt for strike three. I had done the same thing myself and not always quietly, but listening to them do it was different–don’t ask me how, but it was. After the second strike out I turned around and asked which of the three of them would be making 50 million next season.
Ian Desmond is not going to walk away with that kind of contract unfortunately. He will only make $8 million playing on a one-year contract this season. It was not really a surprise to me in the end that he didn’t cash out. I watched most of the games last season and all the ones before that. You did not need to be a scout to see the holes in his game that were exposed over the course of last year. On a given day last season it was uncertain whether the guy with three Silver Sluggers or the guy with 187 K’s would show up and any team signing on with him was faced with the same doubts.
Regardless whether it is $8 or $50 million, whether it was a year of 15 errors or 27, Ian Desmond is a class act from start to finish. My favorite memory is when he agreed to come on the Outta the Parkway Podcast back when Seamheads was in its heyday and the Seamheads Podcasting Network was new and exciting. We had a mutual friend, Carroll Minick who knew Ian from his days playing with the Savannah Sand Gnats and Ian agreed to come on the show as long as Carroll was there. Chip Greene and I had many fine ball players on the show from Orioles like Boog Powell and Mike Devereaux to old Senators like Dick Bosman and Fred Valentine. But Ian was still in uniform and that made it special.
The highlight of the show came when Ian thanked Carroll–a former University of Georgia shortstop who played some minor league ball in the Basin League–for helping him with his fielding the prior season. Carroll had sent Ian an article about getting ready for the game not just with the bat but with the glove and it helped Desmond to his lowest error total of his major league career and a span of more than 50 games without an error. Ian did not owe Carroll anything and could have moved on to bigger and better things, but Ian is the kind of person who does not forget an old friendship and he benefits from keeping his friends close.
Hopefully that heart and desire will help Ian Desmond build his value back playing left field for the Texas Rangers, but if not he will still be okay. He is a blue collar guy no matter how many millions he may make in baseball. He had three kids by the last count, though they seem to appear after every off season and I am reasonably confident that they will have a father to whom they can always look to with respect. When Ian was just coming of age as a ball player, before his breakout 2012 season, there was an article in the Washington Post about Ian’s family and his role as an important source of support for his brother who was in barber school at the time. After reading it you knew Ian to be a family man first and a baseball player second.
Finally, there was the testament from Chelsea Janes who is in her second season as the Post’s Nationals beat writer along with James Wagner. She spoke with considerable eloquence at the Bob Davids SABR convention in Arlington last month. She opined that Ian Desmond will be missed more than any player to leave the team this past off-season that saw Jordan Zimmerman, Drew Storen, Denard Span and Doug Fister leave for greener pastures–so to speak. She told the story of Ian sitting in front of his locker last April in tears because of his lousy play to start the season. It matters to all of them, but guys like Ian Desmond have as much heart as any.
The 2012 Washington Nationals have been the best to take the field since baseball returned to Washington in 2005. They won 98 games that season, more than any other in the Majors. Ian Desmond was the heart of that team in many ways. Adam LaRoche had 33 home runs and 100 RBI; Gio Gonzalez won 21 games and Jordan Zimmermann and Stephen Strasburg were almost as good. But Ian was an All-Star and he was the presence in the middle of the infield that made all the plays. LaRoche dug them out all year long and everyone looked their best. They should have been in the NLCS but the umpires got it wrong.
That is the Ian Desmond I am going to remember. The one who made the plays at short, hit the walk off homers and was always on the rail before games signing autographs. As a devoted fan I join all the others in the Washington Nationals family who wish him the best in Texas and who knows, maybe next season we will need a new left fielder and Ian will be our guy once again.