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Can't Help But Be Impressed With How Fuente Handled This

Justin Fuente isn’t the most popular guy in Blacksburg these days, and some of it is of his own doing. The main part is obviously a losing record last year and getting beat this season by Duke like a pack of rented mules.

The other is his reserved, introverted personality, which has led some to question his ability to relate to recruits, thus causing issues in getting the region’s best players to want to come play for him at Virginia Tech.

Mike Niziolek of the Roanoke Times had this interesting feature on starting quarterback Hendon Hooker today, and I walked away impressed with how Fuente handled the situation with Hooker and his family when Hooker decided to enter the transfer portal for a brief time earlier in the year.

Fuente doesn’t want to talk about the situation and tends to brush off any questions about that time in the transfer portal. His father Alan, however, is more than glad to speak of it, saying this of Fuente:

"… He’s held up to be the guy he said he was when he recruited Hendon,” Alan Hooker told Niziolek. “He’s always going to tell us the information whether it’s good or bad. He’s never given us information to tickle our senses. He’s always said what it is, this is what Hendon needs to work on and this is where he’s at. He’s always believed in Hendon’s talent.”

So he didn’t blow smoke at the athlete, give him a sales pitch on all the blue sky that was just around the corner and make promises that might not be kept. I really like the line about Fuente being the same he was when he recruited Hendon. Too many people act one way before signing, and an entirely different way when you’re just one of the many on the roster. Fuente was consistent from start to finish, something I’d take note of as a potential recruit.

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Martinez Was More Than A Manager This Season; He Was A Leader

In all my years of managing in the corporate world, I used to marvel at how many people I encountered that were technically proficient in the subject matter they presided over, but utterly clueless when it came to managing and motivating people.

It reached its zenith a few years ago when a director-level Human Resources person told a seminar we were all forced to attend that you must treat everyone the same to be an effective manager.

No, HR genius. That’s a recipe for disaster.

Everyone has a different button that motivates and encourages them, and a failure to recognize what that is will pretty much doom you to failure, particularly if things go south and you need the troops to rally around each other. Every organization has leaders and followers, complainers and problem-solvers, career-climbers and “I’m just here waiting until I retire.” There is no one size fits all.

They will follow you if they perceive you care about them and they’re not just another cog in the corporate machine. After decades of managing people, I can tell you there are two things you can’t do to achieve this: You can’t fake caring, as people can sense whether you do or you don’t; and you can’t treat everybody the same.

I say all this as a backdrop to the insightful story Jesse Dougherty has in today’s Washington Post about Davey Martinez. As an x’s and o’s manager, I’ve never been particularly high on Martinez’s skills, and even with the World Series success, I’m still not ready to pronounce him a genius. But after reading how he handled the team this season, I am ready to pronounce him a professional grade leader.

He was the right manager for the situation called the 2019 Washington Nationals.

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Mike Rizzo Beware; I Live With A Baseball GM In Waiting...

I have been married for a long, long time. So long, in fact, that a friend once suggested I’d been married all my life because if you can’t remember what’s it like to be single, it might as well be all your life. And I can’t remember what it was like to be single.

Specifically, this is the 39th year my wife Deb and I have been married (anniversary No. 38 was in March) and there are a few things we’ve always done that minimizes the kind of friction that could threaten a long-term relationship. One of those is we don’t watch sports together.

Part of that is just the pure volume of sports I watch. When we were first married, I was a sportswriter for the Roanoke Times in the southwestern part of the state. ESPN had just been added to our cable system. Left to my own devices, I would (and did) watch sports all the time. It is my passion, my hobby, and I make no apologies for it. It brings me happiness.

My wife, conversely, can tolerate only a few sporting events. She likes to watch the Super Bowl. She loves to go to games with me, but moreso for all the food,  beverage and other peripheral things associated with being at a game. On any given night, however, she far prefers to watch things like Hallmark Movies, HGTV,  sensitive, feely shows like This Is Us (she once told me I should watch it because it would make me cry; I replied "why would I want to watch something that made me cry?") or DVRs of soap operas.

One month after we were married back in 1981, I noticed the source of many disagreements involved the main television in our den. Not money, politics, family or other issues. It was who was going to control the main TV for each night’s watching. I made an executive decision.

I drove to a nearby Woolco (that’s a name out of the past, isn’t it?) and found the exact same TV we had in the den. I purchased it, came home, and placed it in what was at the time our guest room (house only had two bedrooms, as we were just starting out). We had pooled our furnishings when we got married and had an old, beatup sofa in the basement. I crammed it into the tiny room, and now we had two places with the same viewing opportunities, only separate.

Each person could watch what they wanted, during timeouts and commercials one went to go see the other (the house was so small, we were only a few feet apart) and everyone was happy.

Hey, you do all sorts of things in the name of compromise to stay married all your life. This worked.

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Oh, It's Real. And It's Spectacular...

Last night, when the final out was recorded and the Washington Nationals were officially in the World Series, I have to admit it did not at first feel real.

It was sort of like when the Washington Capitals finally won the Stanley Cup. You knew in both situations the two teams were going to eventually win since they had such overwhelming leads. The only question was would it be that particular night, or postponed until the next game.

When it finally happened, it was more relief than celebration.

It wasn’t until after watching all the dancing, champagne-dousing and hearing all the interviews that it finally sunk in: This team will be playing in a World Series here in DC. God-willing, I will be at one of the games and see it in person with my wife.

I suppose it’s like anything you look forward to for a long time, you come close, but you never actually get over the hump. Following DC sports in and of itself is a frustrating venture; the Caps and Nats have always been like Charlie Brown trying to kick the football, only to have Lucy pull it away at the last second year after year after year.

Last night, she didn’t. She apparently fell asleep like she did in Game 5 between the Caps and Las Vegas last year. It made me a little emotional, not because a favorite team finally won (OK, maybe a little of it was because the Nats finally won), but because it had me reminiscing about all the people I’ve met and known over the years who wanted to see this so badly, and are no longer here to witness it.

Baseball fans are an interesting lot. I’m a Washington Sports fan and will pull for any team in any sport that has “Washington” on its jersey. If I have a preference, it’s football, but overall, I just want to see the local team do well.

My lifelong buddy Tim, conversely, is a seamhead, and typical of a serious baseball fan. They live for baseball and will even watch batting practice on television just to see someone apply a bat to a ball. He’s not unique either, as since the team came here in 2005, I’ve sat with dozens of people in the stands at either RFK or Nats Park who intensely love the game, appreciate its history, and in many cases shared that love with their fathers, who handed down that passion in the first place.

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A Win Tonight Makes This Team The Winningest In Nats' History

If the Washington Nationals win tonight, they make the World Series, which in and of itself is a historical feat. But they will also become the winningest team in the history of the franchise as well.

The best regular-season record belongs to the 2012 team that put up 98 wins during the first 162 games. This year’s 93 wins is only the seventh best in team history in that regard, trailing the Nationals teams of 2012 (98), 2017 (97), 2014 (96) and 2016 (95) in addition to the 1979 Montreal Expos (95) and 1993 Montreal team (94).

But when you add in post-season wins, 100 is the magic number. The 2012 team lost to the Cardinals 3 games to 2, but those two victories game them 100 wins, which until this week was the best in the history of the franchise. This year’s Nats have won 7 games in the playoffs, also giving them 100 wins. So a win tonight not only closes out the series for the Nats, it gives them 101 wins.

Since we’re all in the moment, the scale of just how improbable this is has not really dawned on me or a lot of others. After waiting all my life, I went down to spring training this year and came home thinking this team is not very good. It had been somewhat disappointing in 2018 under new manager Davey Martinez, and it did not appear to have gotten any better. The same issues with fundamental mistakes and a bad bullpen had not gone away in the offseason.

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It Has Been Seven Years, But Payback Is Now Finally Complete

It has taken 7 years. But finally, the monster is dead.

The monster I speak of was that horrible night in October of 2012. The Nats were in the deciding game of a series against the St. Louis Cardinals. They had a 6-0 lead. Everyone was feeling pretty good.

Then we all watched in horror at one of the most soul-crushing, gut-wrenching, black hole of depression things to ever happen. It was so bad, many of us still refer to that contest as “the game that can never be mentioned.”

But tonight, those same two teams met in a playoff game at Nats Park for the first time since that black Friday in 2012. Just like seven years ago, the Nationals took a 6-0 lead.

But this time, the ghosts of the past were exorcised. The lead didn’t crumble. Instead of blowing the lead, the Nats actually grew the lead into an 8-1 win to give the Nats a 3-0 lead in the series and place them one game from playing in its first World Series.

The biggest difference? Pitching. In 2012 Gio Gonzales made it through 5 innings, had a big lead, then faltered. By the time he left it was 6-3. After Craig Stammen, Sean Burnett, Edwin Jackson and Tyler Clippard were done, it was 6-5. The Nats would score a run in the bottom of the eighth, then Drew Storen would have his day of infamy, turning a 7-5 lead into a 9-7 loss.

This year, the Nats didn't even need to rely on the bullpen because of Stephen Strasburg. If you missed the 97 times WTBS pointed it out, yes, he was shutdown in 2012 and didn’t pitch in the series. But man, did he pitch tonight…so well that by the time he left after 7 innings, he turned over such a big lead that the Nats didn’t even have to use their best relievers. With a big lead, Fernando Rodney and Tanner Rainey went in relaxed, threw like they had nothing to lose, and retired the side in the 8th and 9th without giving up a single run.

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Now That We've Seen Hooker Play, What Was Fuente Thinking?

It’s been two weeks since Virginia Tech decided to make a quarterback change on its starting offense.

Having watched the last two games, I have questions.

Not about Hendon Hooker. He’s been a pleasant surprise.

My question is about what the heck Justin Fuente has been thinking not playing him earlier.

Quarterback changes are always emotionally charged discussions, as the most popular QB in just about every town is the backup. Fans think since he’s not playing, he must be better than the guy who is, and they keep thinking that right up until the moment the backup plays.

Then they understand why he’s the backup.

In Hooker’s case, the suspicion has been that it’s been more than lack of experience that has kept him from consideration in being a starter. He’s rarely been used, and when he’s gotten in for the occasional play due to injury or mop-up duty, he’s been a run-only quarterback. In one situation last season, he showed his speed and running ability were pretty good too, scoring on a 69-yard run late in the 4th quarter against William & Mary.

But since he never got a serious look at QB after Josh Jackson went down with an injury against Old Dominion last season, the presumption was he was a one-dimensional QB. That was further fueled by Fuente’s decision to go with 5th-year senior Ryan Willis at the start of this season, because most coaches would only go with a guy that old because they felt they had no other option or that the other QBs weren’t ready.

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With The Nationals, It's Starting To Feel Like Deja Vu All Over Again

As they say in the stock market, past performance is not indicative of future results, so this is not a prediction. But there is something eerily similar about the road the Washington Nationals are traveling versus the roadmap used by the Washington Capitals last year in winning the Stanley Cup.

The Nats, as much as I love them, are a flawed team. They have excellent talent at certain positions, but they’ve invested in that talent at the expense of the bullpen. Manager Davey Martinez – the kind of guy you pull for because he seems to be such a genuinely good guy – hasn’t been the greatest at pushing the right buttons with that flawed bullpen and the regular season reflected that with the team at one point being 19-31.

Even as they started winning, that trend never totally went away. Every 10 to 14 days, you’d turn off the television and think “there’s another one they should have won but blew in the last two innings.” Because of that, I think most Nats fans being honest with themselves would admit at one point during the season they didn’t think the team would make the playoffs. And if they did, they’d get beat in the wildcard game.

The Caps sort of did the same thing. From early January to early March in 2018, they were 10-10 over a 20-game stretch and didn’t look good. They’d lose 3 in a row, win two in a row, then lose two more in a row. Four of the losses during that stretch were in overtime, blowing leads in the final minute, then losing in OT (substitute bullpen for goalie and you’ve got the same deal). Since the team could never seem to get past the second round, many were saying on Twitter that the good news was this year, that wouldn’t happen. They’d just get eliminated in the first round and save us all the aggravation.

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If You Bumped Into Your Sports Hero, Would You Recognize Them?

There is a nice thread on Twitter this morning from a guy named Matt Barrows, who had a chance encounter with former Virginia quarterback and Cavalier legend Shawn Moore. If you’re on Twitter, you can follow me @dullesdistrict, or check out the thread by going here.

Matt finds an empty seat at the Denver airport, notices the person next to him is a UVA fan (as he is) and they strike up a conversation about the good old days of UVA football. The stranger asks who the QB was when Matt was a student, and in the course of the conversation Matt goes on and on about the days of Shawn Moore and Herman Moore, who were playing before Matt went to UVA.

At the end of the conversation, the stranger introduces himself, and of course, it’s Moore.

As I posted on Twitter, it seems like 137 years ago when I was watching Shawn play QB for the Martinsville Bulldogs in high school. He’s always been a great person, so the conversation is not surprising. But it did surprise me Barrows did not recognize him. For one, Matt is a sportswriter for The Athletic and covers the San Francisco 49ers, so he should have some idea of what past and present football players look like.

For another, if you’re so fanatical about your college team that you strike up conversations with strangers at airports, you should probably know what Shawn Moore looks like. If they built a Mount Rushmore for UVA football, Shawn is one of the four. He led UVA to it’s only No. 1 ranking in football back in 1990, and has not only been one of the school’s best players in history, but his gentle demeanor has also made him a great ambassador for the Cavaliers.

But to be fair, I first considered the possibilities that someone who met me in college would recognize me now. I dug up an old photo and a current one. You see these side by side to your right. I personally don’t think I’ve changed at all, but my wife and several friends have indicated that the pictures look like people from two different planets.

So I may have to cut Matt some slack.

The thread also reminded me just how much ESPN has changed the landscape when it comes to the recognition of football players. Back when Shawn played, ESPN was not on the air wall to wall broadcasting every aspect of the lives of top players. If you saw somebody play, you saw the game on television – with that player wearing a helmet – and aside from a brief interview of sideline shot, really didn’t get a good look at their face to know what they looked like.

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Ashburn

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They Finally Did It...

They Did It

After a long and bumpy road, The Washington Nationals finally won the World Series. And made an old man in Ashburn cry...

Never Grow Old...

Never Grow Old

A trip to Spring Training reminded me we're all still kids at heart, and no matter how old, you keep playing until they get you out.

Gone But Never Forgotten...

Doodle

My faithful dogs probably rode shotgun on hundreds of stories I've written since 2003. This one is for you, Doodle & Schnoodle.

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