Monday, May 16, 2005

Here's to old friends and patient hitters

I've got pretty much nothing of substance today, so I thought I'd tell the story of an old friend. We go way back---to middle school, actually---and I haven't seen him since then.

Well, maybe I did see him, just the other day. I think I did, actually---though I can't be sure. The glimpse was too brief. I'd like to think I did, though.

This friend was among a small group in junior high with whom I was very tight. We had a lot of the same classes, played ball together, hung out at each other's houses; I had a "best friend" (he still is, actually), and then this guy and a few others were like an extension of that.

His mother had a very . . . hmmmn, unique-looking car. It was a yellow Volvo wagon, possibly of late-70s vintage, except the yellow wasn't really yellow. It was sort of mustard, but not really. I can't describe the color exactly---only that, once you see it, you never forget it.

This particular friend and I lived only a few miles apart, but we went to different high schools---rival high schools. I don't think that rivalry drifted our group of friends apart so much as did that strange combination of malaise and progress that motivates people that age. I guess friendships are neither created nor destroyed; you just move on.

And so, I honestly can't recall seeing this particular friend since junior high, though I suppose it is possible. If so, it was probably by chance.

Recently, I returned a book to the local library. As I pulled into the parking space, I saw the car. It had to be the car, because anyone who painted an automobile that color would be summarily executed after the first try.

The car was parked a few spots away. I figured it was my friend's mother or . . . somebody, but not my friend. I vaguely recalled that he was off in Maine or Russia or Djoubouti, or somewhere I'm not.

I walked toward the front entrance, and about ten feet to the side of me approached this guy. He had the familiar, confident lope with which my friend used to walk; it wasn't an arrogant swagger, but merely the strolling motion of someone---even as a clumsy 13 year-old---who was in charge. I took a quick look at this face, and he did with me as well, and nothing really registered. It was too quick even to do a "guy's nod."

For a second, I thought about the encounter: Is it him? Is it a relative of his? Is it someone who just kind of looks like him? I ran a crude "age progression" through my head, like the guy was on the back of a milk carton and the best we could do is age him by computer. It seemed to check out, at least in my mind.

And then the ultimate test hit me---where was he headed?

I turned quickly, just in time to see the car door shut; it was the door to that old, mustard-colored Volvo. The guy started the ignition, and there was nothing I could do to stop him. He was moving straight out of the space, toward an exit in the back of the lot.

Maybe I should have acted more quickly, but that was beside the point.

The point is, I saw someone who was familiar to me, who brought back fond memories, who momentarily made me happy just to see him.

This is the point at which I reveal my great lie. No, I didn't just make all that up; instead, I lied about not having anything Nats-related. I do, sort of.

In a way, Nick Johnson is that old friend. He hasn't been seen in awhile, but now he's back. Just to see ol' Nick has to make us happy.

Johnson's body of work is a roadside poster touting the sabermetric cult maxim "OBP is life." Throw in some decent power, and that's a pretty fine player.

Of course, up until this spring, the only Johnson this organization knew was, uh, rather impotent: .251/.359/.398 in an injury-riddled 2003. During the offseason, some fans of our relocated Nats were actually advocating a trade of Johnson to free up room for Endy Chavez. Really, I swear.

But you had to figure that the Old Friend Nick Johnson was somewhere, waiting to reemerge in our lives. And, like the ugly Volvo, all the signs are indicating "Yes." He's at .323/.432/.523 currently---and .373/.458/.627 in May.

Let's just hope, unlike my old friend, Nick's reemergence is not fleeting.

NJ is my favorite Nat. Admittedly, his pinstripe pedigree helps, as I've been a Yankee fan for 25 years. I was hoping he'd come through this year like he has thus far, because I like the idea of a good OBP guy who comes up in the clutch and seems to come through frequently.

I was infuriated when folks wanted to trade him during ST--I know we have Broadway coming up through the system, but if NJ stays healthy, he can be a cornerstone of this franchise for years to come.

Besides, he wears his socks high like a real baseball player.
Johnson went undrafted in my fantasy league, which is a league with some pretty sharp minds in it. I picked him up a few weeks ago, rather cheaply, and I haven't looked back.
His mother had a very . . . hmmmn, unique-looking car. It was a yellow Volvo wagon, possibly of late-70s vintage, except the yellow wasn't really yellow. It was sort of mustard, but not really. I can't describe the color exactly---only that, once you see it, you never forget it.

In Northern Va. that car was "unique" in the fact that there were two in every subdivision.
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Nick is also my favorite Nat, though more in spite of his Yankee background than because of it. He's got a fantastic approach at the plate, he's a guy whose career in the high minors coincided with my first sustained attention to prospects so I've followed his career and sympathized with his injury difficulties, and as MattNats points out, he's got great socks.

And now that he's ditched that incomprehensible moustache, there's not much bad you can say about the guy.

He was the player I had the highest hopes for when I first began thinking about which players on the Expos would be most interesting/rewarding to root for, and he hasn't disappointed.
I LOVE the way he can stretch out an at-bat. I'd still like to see him bat second. He can run an at-bat long enough for everyone to get a look at all of the pitcher's stuff.

And later in the game, those long at-bats lead to higher pitch counts, and better chances of scoring late.
Really, WFY? I guess I'm lucky I've only seen one that color, then!
Don Byer moved a lot of Volvos in Northern Virginia. There were probably more Volvos in Fairfax County than anywhere outside of Scandanavia.
And then Beyer ran for governor!
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