Tulsan Bob Carpenter Enters 8th Season with Nats

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This is Tulsa TV broadcaster Bob Carpenter’s eighth season with the Washington Nationals, and it may be his most pleasant one yet. “As time has gone by,” he laughs, “I’ve learned that you can’t tell a thing from spring training.” The Nationals, he notes, send their top players out for a couple of innings and then replace them with hopefuls. Only in the last few days, when the teams are getting ready for the season, do most teams begin to resemble their day-to-day lineups.

Still, there is reason for hope for a franchise that for awhile seemed mired in mediocrity. “I look at our current roster,” he says, “and I know how they look. I look at the clubhouse, and it has a relaxed, businesslike atmosphere. It’s ridiculous to be talking World Series in spring training, too many things can happen in the course of a 162-game season, but the talent is there.” Carpenter remembers when there was no talent, when going into spring training, the Nationals had no idea who would be in their starting pitching rotation, when rejects from other clubs were getting one last chance at Major League glory with the Nationals.

The former Montreal Expos came to Washington in 2005 with a depleted lineup, a talent-free minor league system and a quickly-assembled television announcing crew destined to last only one year. That last detail was the most important to Carpenter. The following year he and long-time employer had parted company, and he was looking for a more secure job. His agent had learned that the Nationals TV broadcasting job was open and suggested Carpenter. He went to Stadium, where the Nationals played a few years and underwent a job interview he calls the toughest 90-minute grilling he ever had. He returned without a commitment.

He felt pretty good about his chances and then one of those coincidences that seem as if they could have been directed from above came about. While waiting some days later to change planes in St. Louis, site of a former employer, he got a call from his agent. He had the job. He got on the plane and discovered the passenger sitting next to him was from Washington D.C. Carpenter would need to find an apartment for the season and, wouldn’t you know it, her boyfriend was a real estate agent.

Now he is planning to go back to an apartment to do the work he loves. How was it, slogging through the years when losing 100 games a season (the Nationals did it twice) seemed a given? “You take it one day at a time, one pitch at a time. There would be days I’d go down to the clubhouse and look at our lineup and their lineup and think there’s no way we could win.” But bad pitchers have good days, good pitchers have bad days, and bottom teams beat top teams fairly often. “All the players have at least some talent, and the margin is close. You play about seven games a week; win four of them, and you’re fighting for the championship, lose four of them and you’re struggling to stay out of last place. The difference is one game a week.”

Even in the dog days, Carpenter said he saw signs of hope. The team was owned by the other major league owners when it left Montreal and, in the second year in their new home, was purchased by the Lerner family. Soon Mike Rizzo became general manager and things began to happen. “It was tough going through those lean years,” says Carpenter, “but you could see they were adding talent and weeding out the marginal players. They also spent money. They laid out $127 million for seven years of the services of Jayson Werth, an outfielder with the Philadelphia Phillies. Worth was dreadful the first half of his first season, had a better second half and then a fine year last year. “But he brought a whole new atmosphere to the clubhouse,” Carpenter says. “In a clubhouse used to losing, he brought a winning attitude; he had been to the World Series and expected success. He’s taught the young guys how he expects them to act in the clubhouse and on the road and, because he has earned respect, they listen to him.”

Carpenter also has high praise for Davey Johnson, the Nationals manager who will be 70 by season’s end and says this will be his last season. “He manages for today and tomorrow. If we’re having an awful time he’ll rest the regulars and let the bench take over. He knows that tomorrow what was done today won’t matter.”

How much has the team changed? Losing 100 games in back-to-back seasons brought two players (pitcher Stephen Strasberg and outfielder Bryce Harper) who are instant stars. Slowly other players have been brought in to augment a team that came within one strike last year of getting into the National League Championship Series. Now the Nationals have Anthony Rendon, a third baseman who can play first base. But the Nationals have gold-glove winner Ryan Zimmerman at third and Adam LaRoche at first. “He’s a good kid who is going to be a fine player,” says Carpenter, “but we’ve got no place for him on that roster.”

You can’t tell about a team in spring training but from where he sits, high above the field on the broadcast booth, Carpenter thinks he’s going to have a most enjoyable year.

Updated 03-27-2013

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