A few items from the weekend…
There’s never been much doubt about Juan Soto’s greatness as a baseball player, but yesterday he did something that I found impressive and further convinced me he will one day finish his career – barring injury – as one of the best of all time.
I’m not talking about the boneheaded play he made, standing at home plate staring up at a towering foul ball he had just hit as if it were a UFO getting ready to land on South Capital Street. He thought it was going to end up in the stands, and when the wind blew it back into the field of play, the surprised Soto then took off for first, was thrown out, and a run that would have scored had he run from the first second he made contact, ended up not being added to the Nats run total.
But while social media was blistering him for his mistake (I even said it was a Bryce Harper moment on Twitter), I couldn’t help but notice Soto’s reaction to the play. No coach could have beat up on Soto more than Soto was beating himself up. He was angry and disappointed with himself, and it was not a simple “well, crap” kind of moment. It went on for a while, and a coach stopped and told him to let it go and make it a learning experience.
That’s what the great ones seem to do. He won’t forget it happened, and I’d bet my house it will never happen again. Soto seems to demand more of himself than any of us wild-eyed never-be-satisfied fanatics do. Which is what does and will continue to make him a great player.
There were a lot of amazing things seen yesterday when Phil Mickelson won the PGA Tournament yesterday, not the least being how officials managed crowd control with the same effectiveness of how I manage portion control at an all-you-can-eat buffet. After Phil hit a 9-iron to the center of the green on the final hole, all he needed to do was scream “Freedom” and it would have been a pretty close replica of a battlefield scene in Braveheart.
But amid all the mentions of how incredible this was since he was 50 – I had to remind more than one person on social media that once you get up in years, you’re old, not dead – I couldn’t help but smile as the newly minted PGA Champion conducted the ritual every single one of us who has ever played a round of gold that went past 5 PM has had to do.
With cameras trained on him, the first thing Phil did was get out his cell phone and call his wife. After a brief conversation, he ended it with “I’ll be home soon.” Just. Like. We. All. Do.
Only thing he left out, since it was a Sunday night, was “yes, dear. I know I have to roll the trash to the curb when I get home.”
About four years ago, back when the Washington Capitals were flaming out in the second round of the playoffs year after year, a question was raised: Given the choice, would you rather win a Stanley Cup, and then never get past the first round for the following 5 years, or leave things the way they are and hope for the best?
I remember that question because it seems we are now living that answer. Three straight times since the Caps won the Cup in 2018, the team HAS been knocked out after one round. I thought those feelings of losing in the second round were awful back then. Never thought that at least getting to the second round is now the team’s goal.
To answer the question, yes, I’d take a Stanley Cup and deal with 10 years of getting knocked out in the first round. It was such an incredible feeling to finally win a championship, particularly since it had been so long since any of the teams in DC had won one. The memories of people in the streets, at the parade, the players swimming in fountains downtown celebrating…they were all an incredible gift. Combined with the Nationals then winning the World Series the next year, the two-year period is probably the best timespan I’ve enjoyed as a sports fan in my entire life.
But this streak of one and done for the Caps is tougher to deal with because it didn’t have to be. It’s an ongoing argument I seem to have with a lot of people who think all that matters with a sports team – or a company/business for that matter – is talent. The manager, coach, president, etc. doesn’t really make that big a difference.
If you’ve ever been managed by someone really good at pushing your buttons to make you go after it that little bit more than you would have in an environment where everyone is treated the same, you know what I’m talking about. Everyone has different buttons to be pushed at different times and under different circumstances.
Barry Trotz knew how to do that. It wasn’t necessarily his knowledge of lineups, strategy or play-calling, although he was quite good at those too. It was his ability to get inside the heads of his key players, knew when to push and when not to, and spent a regular season challenging and building them up so they did not fade when the bright lights were on in Game 5 or Game 6 of a playoff series. You see him doing the same right now with the New York Islanders, with arguably less talent.
That team ownership let him get away over a few million dollars and an extra year or two of length on his contract will eventually be looked back upon as one of the most short-sighted decisions ever in DC sports history…