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Rizzo Explains The DR Mission

As promised, assistant GM Mike Rizzo was at the park today and held court -- at Stan Kasten's approval and encouragement -- about the recent trip to the Dominican. Stan offered a short introduction (groundrules, really). What follows is a transcript...


Kasten: I'll cut off if we go places we shouldn't go anyway, but Mike, why don't you take it away and talk about your last couple of days or when we started last Saturday, I guess.

Rizzo: A long, long time ago, in a place... [laugher] ... No, when Stan came to the office and we developed our Dominican Republic plan to restructure things in Latin American operations we put together a pretty aggressive itinerary for ourselves, and the goals were pretty lofty, and we thought that if we got close to achieving the majority of these goals we'd deem it a successful mission. We put a lot of thought and a lot of time and a lot of working into it pre-going over to the Dominican, and then when - I arrived there Tuesday. We went into place. Before that it just so happens that Fernando [Ravelo] was in town; his son goes to school here in Melbourne, Fla., college. And I got to speak with Fernando before I left to the Dominican Republic, and spoke to him about many, many things - one of them being, what is his interest in joining a major league organization. As most of you know he's the general manager of the very successful Licey team in the Dominican that's won many - well, he gave me his resume. It's pretty impressive.

Then I departed for the Dominican Republic, hit the ground running, literally. We saw eight academies the first day with myself and Moises De La Moto, our coordinator of Dominican scouting, who did an outstanding job organizing my pre-arrival... We went though a multitude of academies evaluating each and every option we had. Some longer-term, some short term. Then Wednesday, when Fernando and Mark joined me in the Dominican, we started making some tangible and definitive decisions on what we're going to do and how we're going to carry out the logistics of the plan.

We had, you know, obviously there are a lot of things involved in such an endeavor that we took over. You know, there's logistics. Moving vans that have to be rented. People that have to move the equipment. Legal issues that are involved in the termination of people. And there's the human factor. So with all that, we dove in and created a plan, and Thursday we made our way up to San Cristobal to the academy and talked to the staff there and terminated 10 of the staff members there, some front office and then player development; moved all the equipment and inventory from the academy up in San Cristobal to our new location which is in Boca Chica; gathered together all of our prospects, spoke to them, and told them exactly what was happening. There was a lot of innuendo and rumors and stories floating around. We wanted to tell them the official word on what we were doing. We told them everything from soup to nuts, we didn't hold anything back, we told it straight and honest, and the reception from the players - really, it shocked me a bit. They were happy, exuberant, and it was like the weight was lifted off their shoulders. Like the gray cloud was moved away from them.

With that, we gathered the players individually. We spoke to each and every player individually. Gave them a travel stipend to go home for the weekend, because as all of you know, it's the Dominican independence day today. So we gave them Friday off, and then we figured, we'll give them through the weekend. They're to report Monday to our new facility in Boca Chica. It's a gorgeous, brand new, spanking new facility that was built by the Rawlings glove manufacturer foundation. It was used for the WBC to do some - to conduct some workouts, some offseason workouts. But it's a gorgeous field, gorgeous facility. Two-and-a-half fields, covered batting cage, beautiful brand new clubhouse, eight beautiful pitching mounds, and the beautiful setting of Boca Chica, about 10 minutes from the international airport. We have them housed in a beautiful resort that with the help of Mark and Fernando negotiated a very equitable deal in a resort on the beach. Three to a room, air conditioning, cable TV, bathroom, four meals a day, 24-hour security. And it's really a nice situation for them.

They're extremely excited to begin the new phase of their Dominican careers, and you know, we pulled it together with the help of a lot of people here, a lot of people in the Dominican, and you know, with the help of Fernando who - he has a long reach in the States. He could do a lot with the phone. And Mark Scialabba, we worked into the night many many nights when we were there. We didn't get much sleep the last three days, but we think it went well. It wildly exceeded what I thought we were going to get accomplished when I landed there Tuesday. I think we more or less checked off everything we wanted to check off and accomplished our goals.

The staff, it's remarkable to get the staff - I remember saying it to Fernando, do get a staff at this time we were very, very lucky. Not only that he happened to be in Melbourne, Fla., when all this transpired, which was a complete coincidence - to get a general manager with his expertise and experience level to oversee the total Dominican operation, a family that's well-seen and well-versed in Dominican culture and is as well-respected as any man in the country, so we're very fortunate to have stumbled onto him.

We've hired Nelson Silverio, who has tremendous experience. He's a well-respected bilingual coach from the Dominican Republic. Coaches on the Licey ballclub in the winter. Has big-league experience as a coach, catching experience and a great hitting coach. He was in the big leagues with the Florida Marlins and also with the New York Mets, and was very instrumental in Jesus Flores' ascension...

Also [we've hired], Nelson Norman, who is a long-time major league player, long-time Dominican player, played in the big leagues for a long time, coached in several organizations...

The best of the questions

Q: You've done a lot in baseball. How did this compare?

It's something that doesn't compare to anything I've ever done. [Laughter] It was - when we landed today, I said, 'Do you believe what just happened?' It's one of those things, but we had a plan going in, and Stan mapped it out beforehand when I was here. We hit the ground running, and everything fell very nicely into place. We had a little good fortune on our side. But the footwork, being light on our feet and adapting really played into our hand.

Q: Do you know Spanish?

Muy poquito. [Very little]

Q: The facility you'll be using, is that close to the epicenter with six other organizations. Where geographically is your facility compared to those.

Yeah, they're all right there. The six-pack you're talking about, it's probably a couple miles away from that. There are 17 teams within three square miles of that facility.

Q: This Rawlings facility, do any other teams currently have their operation there?


Q: The ambition of this was daunting... When you first heard of this plan?

I always thought that my job was to get it done in 72 hours, and if it took five days I didn't think he'd be too mad about it. But I knew we had to get things done, I knew we had to get things done quickly. And we did not want to miss a beat. We wanted this Dominican operation to go on - smoothly. Put the things in the past in the past, and just move on and not miss a beat. And that was a big motivating factor for me; we wanted to keep doing what we're supposed to be doing.

Q: When you were talking about how the players were exuberant... what were the circumstances?

Well, the circumstances were, there was tension in everything that was going on in the academy is felt by the players, of course. We gathered them together and explained to them exactly what was going on - where they're going. We gave them all the details, so there was nothing they had to ask questions about or wonder about. It was like, here's what we're doing, it's a new beginning, a beautiful new facility, beautiful housing accommodations for you, and you know, here we go, we're going to start fresh and do it. We gave them a motivational speech about what are we here for? We're here for you to get out of this country and help us win championships for the Washington Nationals, and Monday, we're going to jump on and start your dream of getting to the big leagues.

By Chico Harlan  |  February 27, 2009; 4:59 PM ET
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Sounds like the new place is beautiful.

Posted by: Scooter_ | February 27, 2009 5:37 PM | Report abuse

Chico, Barry, Tracee, etc - Thanks for the continuing flow of new information. There are some (not many I'm sure) who find this interesting. I appreciate the time and detail of the steps the Nats need to take to get things restarted in the DR.

Posted by: Brian_ | February 27, 2009 5:54 PM | Report abuse

@Brian--Count me in as one who finds this extremely interesting. Many thanks to Chico, Barry, and Tracee.

Posted by: Section109 | February 27, 2009 6:01 PM | Report abuse

Barry says Rijo's place was nice and this new facility is just ok. Stan says the new facility is a palace and Rijo's place is a dump. Who to believe...?

Posted by: NTPNate | February 27, 2009 6:02 PM | Report abuse

Sounds like Rizzo likes the sound of his own voice!

Posted by: dfh123 | February 27, 2009 6:08 PM | Report abuse

I also find the info on the new DR setup interesting. Some pics or even a video might help us to decide for ourselves how it looks. Just an idea.

On another note, was just watching some of a Padres@Indians ST game (one of my fave former Nats, Jamey Carroll, started a very sparkly double-play).

Also, there was a promo for today's MLB Tonight (huh?) indicating that among the segments would be an interview with Ryan Zimmerman about how the Nats shouldn't be counted out this year or something to that effect. The one-hour program is slated to air on MLB Network at 10 p.m. ET (after the Hamilton special) and again tomorrow 7 and 11 a.m.

As previously noted by the legendary CiL, the first airing of MLB Network's 30/30 for the Nats is slated for 8 p.m. tomorrow. Looks like there will be repeats on Sunday at 6:30, 9, and 11:30 a.m. and 8 p.m.; and on Monday at 6:30, 9, and 11:30 a.m.).

Still waiting for the Young family show to air (they are dissing Da Meat Hook).

Posted by: natsfan1a1 | February 27, 2009 6:17 PM | Report abuse

OK, the over/under of Rizzo being the new GM is officially set at 4/1/09.


Posted by: CajunD | February 27, 2009 6:29 PM | Report abuse

I think Rizzo sounded very clear and coherent. In fact I'm always impressed when I hear him talk. Makes me think he would be an excellent GM if ever there was a vacant post in the Major Leagues.

This is such a huge part of the Nat's future it's very reassuring that they are starting from the ground up and trying to really do it right. It will take a while to bear fruit you'd have to imagine but well worth the wait.

Posted by: soundbloke | February 27, 2009 6:35 PM | Report abuse

Thanks all for the coverage. I find it fascinating. Prior to this PTBNL fiasco I haven't known much about baseball in the DR, and the whole picture is very interesting. The extent of the Nats' dysfunction down there unfortunately isn't so interesting because it's pretty much what I expected.

I guess I'm Pollyannaish like Boz, they can now start over and do a better job in the DR. But since they are in the capital of the free world, there must be some heavy hitters who come to the luxury boxes, how about pulling some levers to get the first academy in CUBA? THAT would be a pipeline that could make a difference!!

Posted by: utec | February 27, 2009 6:47 PM | Report abuse

Trust me, nothing going to go into Cuba for at least a decade.

But that's a better prognosis than six months ago.

Posted by: Section506 | February 27, 2009 6:50 PM | Report abuse

I agree Rizzo makes a lot of sense. No nonsense--no BS or puffery. Just an honest credible assessment is what you get from him. I asked him at the ESPN Zone about Crow--I said, "Mike, really, it was a mistake not to sign him for his final asking price, right?" And without hesitation with Stan 5 feet away he said, "YES."

But the knock on him is that he's not media savvy. He trips over his words and kinda stammers sometimes. Still, I'd take him in a heartbeat.

Posted by: sbiel2 | February 27, 2009 7:20 PM | Report abuse

Thanks for all the work keeping us up to date Barry, Tracee, and Chico (the writer, not the pitcher). For those longing for a little less coverage of the DR - relax, it is a long month of Spring Training and there will be ample time for progress reports and Panera updates.

Posted by: lowcountry | February 27, 2009 8:39 PM | Report abuse

Ditto to Lowcountry, and thanks to the Post for ramping up the offseason and ST coverage up a notch. The frequent and measured observations are much appreciated.

Posted by: Hendo1 | February 27, 2009 9:03 PM | Report abuse

I'll add my own thanks for the ramping up of coverage, and for the measured observations. Speaking of coverage, new post.

Posted by: natsfan1a1 | February 27, 2009 10:54 PM | Report abuse

When he talked to the players, I hope he told them to report back on Monday with their real names and ages and a copy of their real birth certificates. I think Rizzo did a fantastic job, but he has to uncover the giant turd that Bowden left for him, and flush it.

Posted by: 6thandD | February 28, 2009 10:49 AM | Report abuse

Problem is that Rizzo sounds like he's been appointed de facto Dominican honcho, which is quite a few steps below being a major league front office exec., let alone general manager. Is this a demotion?

Posted by: JohnRDC | February 28, 2009 11:25 AM | Report abuse

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