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Catching up with Austin Kearns

Austin Kearns came to the Washington Nationals via the signature trade of the Jim Bowden era -- the eight-player deal with the Cincinnati Reds in July 2006 -- and departed, 3 ½ years and $17.5 million later, as one of the biggest disappointments in the franchise's young history.

Touted as a rising star and a cornerstone-type player -- and signed to a three-year $17.5 million extension in 2007 that was, at the time, the biggest contract in Nationals history -- Kearns batted .242 and hit only 34 homers in his time with the franchise, spending much of the 2008 and 2009 seasons on the disabled list.

The 2009 season was his nadir, as he hit .196/.336/.305 (batting/on-base/slugging) with just three homers and 17 RBI, with Nationals fans increasingly turning against him. Finally, in November, the team severed ties with Kearns by declining his $10 million option and paying a $1 million buyout.

Until now, Kearns, 29, has spoken very little about the difficult circumstances behind his awful 2009 season. After dealing for years with a sore right thumb that always stayed just painful enough to play through, he finally underwent surgery in August when he found himself barely able to grip a bat, and the doctor discovered an aneurysm and a cyst, which was removed.

In addition, in May, Kearns's youngest son, Brady -- 2 years old at the time -- was diagnosed with autism, dealing an emotional blow to Kearns and his wife, Abby.

I caught up with Kearns today in the Cleveland Indians' camp in Goodyear, Ariz. - where he is a non-roster invitee hoping to make the Indians' roster -- and he agreed to talk about his trying tenure in Washington.

Q. Do you harbor any regrets over the fact that Nationals fans never really got to see you at your best?
A. I mean, I wish I had done better. But it's a part of the game you try not to worry about. It's tough as a player, because you're competitive and you want to do well for all the right reasons, but sometimes that just doesn't happen.

Q. The fans had really turned on you by the end. Is there anything you would want to say to them now?
A. I think the fans just want to see a winner and see guys play well. They have a right to do what they want to do. You just try not to pay attention to it and go about your business.

Q. Did the big contract, and the fact you were the one of highest-paid guys on the team, make it worse?
A. If you let it bother you, it can. Certainly I would have liked to have done better. Pride sort of sets in. But I'd be just as hard on myself if I was playing for free. That hasn't changed the way I approach anything.

Q. No one knew the extent of your thumb injury. Any regrets about the way that played out?
A. I probably didn't do myself any favors by just trying to play through it. I just got to the point where even gripping a bat wasn't easy to do. You do that, and start compensating for things and changing things and getting in bad habits.

Q. Did the team know how bad it was?
A. I think it was just a case where, I had had some issues with it in the past, and you get beat up some, and I think we all just sort of assumed that's how it was going to be. And then it turned out to be a little more than what we thought.

Q. In hindsight, did your son's diagnosis have anything to do with your struggles? It would only be human for you to carry that to the ballpark.
A. I don't think that had anything to do with anything on the field. It's definitely something that kind of changes your everyday routine, but it's been a blessing too as far as just learning about new things. You find out you'll do whatever you can do to help out your kid.

Q. How is Brady doing now?
A. He's good. He's getting better. He still obviously has a ways to go. He has therapy Monday through Friday, twice a day for two hours each session. And he goes to a preschool Tuesday through Friday from 8 to 11. So he's getting a lot of help from some good people.

Q. Will you look back with any fondness at all about your time in Washington?
A. Yeah. I think everybody made a big deal that I was upset I got traded from the Reds. It wasn't that. I think we were a game out of first when I got traded. And we had lost every year I was there. But I had a great time that half-season [in 2006], getting to play with [Alfonso] Soriano and getting to see that. Playing for Frank [Robinson] was a lot of fun. He's as old-school as it gets, but I enjoyed it a lot. There were a lot of good young players there. Zimmy -- obviously seeing him grow up and watching him turn into one of the upper-echelon guys in the league was great. We used to always talk about -- if you put a winner on the field there, it's going to be a great place to play. I remember going there [with the Reds] in '05 when they were in the hunt, and the place was just going nuts.

By Dave Sheinin  |  March 4, 2010; 3:45 PM ET
 
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Next: Day 1 of Nationals' spring schedule is in the books

Comments

Ment to post this earlier, busy...

So, I'll do what I'm good at... collate a list of where you can hear or see Nats spring training games (I do it for my reference, why not post the results, eh?)...

Note that the media listings on MLB.com seem very underpopulated from the 7th on (they don't list the Radio or TV for the Nationals on the 8th and 9th and I know that WFED has both those on the radio and MASN has [granted only recently] said it'll have the Tuesday game), so there MIGHT be coverage on Sunday (the 7th)...

The where can I listen/watch list:
The 4 March to 8 March Edition

4 March @Marlins 1:05 - GDA (WAXY)
4 March @Astros 1:05 - GDA (KTRA)
5 March @Braves 1:05 - GDA (WALR)
6 March vs.Mets 1:05 - GDA (WFAN)
7 March @Mets 1:10 - No love
8 March vs.Marlins 1:05 - Radio (WFED)

GDA = GameDay Audio (http://mlb.mlb.com/mediacenter/index.jsp), at only $15 a year it's a great deal (even if it's just for spring training).

Posted by: OldDude | March 4, 2010 3:55 PM | Report abuse

Looks like 0 and 2 grapefruit league start.

Let's hope that isn't repeated at the beginning of this season.

Posted by: periculum | March 4, 2010 4:01 PM | Report abuse

Hey Gang.....Adam-great idea for an article! Kudos! Hope AK can still play...never any complaints about him as a person.....best wishes to him
Go Nats!!!

Posted by: zendo | March 4, 2010 4:02 PM | Report abuse

Hey couldn't Shenin go to the Jupiter game?

Posted by: periculum | March 4, 2010 4:02 PM | Report abuse

Old Dude: way ahead of you, bro. Opposing team station shown if WFED is not on.

hu 4-Mar 1:05 PM at FLA WAXY
Thu 4-Mar 1:05 PM at HOU KBME
Fri 5-Mar 1:05 PM at ATL WALR
Sat 6-Mar 1:05 PM NYM WFAN
Sun 7-Mar 1:10 PM at NYM
Mon 8-Mar 1:05 PM FLA WFED
Tue 9-Mar 1:05 PM DET WFED
Wed 10-Mar 1:05 PM at STL
Thu 11-Mar 1:05 PM HOU WFED
Fri 12-Mar 1:05 PM NYY WFED
Sat 13-Mar 1:05 PM at HOU KTRH
Sun 14-Mar 1:05 PM STL KTRS
Mon 15-Mar 7:05 PM ATL WCNN
Tue 16-Mar 1:05 PM FLA
Tue 16-Mar 1:05 PM at STL KTRS
Wed 17-Mar 1:05 PM at HOU KBME
Fri 19-Mar 7:05 PM STL WFED
Sat 20-Mar 1:05 PM FLA WFED
Sun 21-Mar 1:05 PM at FLA WAXY
Mon 22-Mar 1:05 PM NYM WFED
Tue 23-Mar 6:05 PM at DET
Wed 24-Mar 7:05 PM at NYY
Thu 25-Mar 7:05 PM DET
Fri 26-Mar 1:05 PM STL WFED
Sat 27-Mar 1:05 PM at ATL WFED
Sat 27-Mar 1:10 PM at NYM WFAN
Sun 28-Mar 1:05 PM ATL WCNN
Mon 29-Mar 1:05 PM NYM
Tue 30-Mar 1:05 PM at FLA
Wed 31-Mar 1:05 PM at STL
Thu 1-Apr 12:10 PM at NYM WFAN
Fri 2-Apr 1:05 PM at BOS

Posted by: Cosmo06 | March 4, 2010 4:04 PM | Report abuse

Thanks Old Dude.

As for Austin Kearns, I wish him and his family well. He seems like a nice guy who (at least while here) just wasn't an MLB player. Maybe with the surgery he will do better in the future.

Posted by: NatsFly | March 4, 2010 4:05 PM | Report abuse

I really do hope Kearns makes the club in Cleveland and turns his career around (even though it would be against the Twins).

I have a lot of respect for the man, and will root for him as long as he's in the game.

Posted by: JohninMpls | March 4, 2010 4:09 PM | Report abuse

Cosmo: Where'd you get the away station info? I just collect what is posted on the MLB media page (since that links to the GameDay Audio, so it's _usually_ a nice one stop shop [unless it's not properly populated, like now]).

Posted by: OldDude | March 4, 2010 4:11 PM | Report abuse

Thanks OldDude for the listen/watch list.

Kearns is a classy, hard working guy. I wished it had worked out for him but honestly, I'm glad he got a chance to move on. It was becoming very painful and frustrating to watch him play.

Posted by: Section505203 | March 4, 2010 4:12 PM | Report abuse

Thanks for the update. I know Austin never lived up to they hype here in DC, but I don't think he was the one asking Bowden to talk about him like he did. He was probably as disappointed in his play as anyone. He always seemed like a very sweet person, and I really hope he has a great year in Cleveland.

Posted by: ac42 | March 4, 2010 4:17 PM | Report abuse

I checked the Broadcast Schedule page for each team and compiled it from those. The Nats don't have a link to theirs up, but it's here:

http://washington.nationals.mlb.com/schedule/broadcast.jsp?c_id=was

For the other teams, you can just replace the three-letter abbreviation at the end.

Not much TV for the Nats available besides MASN. One of the Mets games will be on the MLB Network, but it may be blacked out in DC. A couple other Mets games will be shown locally in NY.

Posted by: Cosmo06 | March 4, 2010 4:19 PM | Report abuse

I never had a problem with Kearns. Everyone said he was a great in the clubhouse and he was a great fielder ... but 10 million for last year's performance ...

Probably best for all concerned for him to move on and try to work back into Manny Acta's new lineup.

Posted by: periculum | March 4, 2010 4:19 PM | Report abuse

I respect how classy AK is over the situation and feel bad hearing all that he was dealing with while here. It just reminds us that we don't always know what is going on behind the scenes with the players. There are probably MLB players that would have gone on the extended DL and have surgery during the season rather than playing through the pain and getting booed mercilessly. Good luck in the future AK!

Posted by: Dougmacintyre | March 4, 2010 4:21 PM | Report abuse

As a leading member of the "fans who turned on Austin Kearns" club, I have to say that this interview doesn't make me feel any better about the guy. He was injured and he knew it. That injury affected his performance. He's a professional athlete making millions of dollars. He should have recognized what was happening and obtained whatever medical attention he needed, including surgery, much, much earlier, or at the latest during the '08/'09 offseason. If he had done that, his big paycheck in '09 might not have been a complete waste. But he thought he could "play through it," and he hurt his team, badly.

I'm sorry, he gets no points for supposedly being a good guy. He was paid alot of money and he held the team back. In addition to his horrendous performance, he occupied a spot on the roster that could have been used by someone who could contribute to the team. If he's really such a a good guy, why doesn't he donate that that million dollar severance payment to charity? Good riddance.

Posted by: Section222 | March 4, 2010 4:33 PM | Report abuse

Well, we didn't *all* turn against him, Dave. ;-) Thanks for the piece. I wish Austin and his family well (particularly Brady).

Thanks for the media info, OldDude. You always come through for us in that regard. Oh, and thanks to Cosmo, too (after reading further).

Posted by: natsfan1a1 | March 4, 2010 4:44 PM | Report abuse

AK is a total class act and top notch pro. His performance at the plate has been lousy and that's a shame. But he is a sick fielder and I loved watching that guy play D. I always rooted for him and will keep doing so.

Not sure how someone can have so much confidence that a person they don't know was hurt. I don't think the thumb was the problem. I think he just couldn't hit. It happens. Few things are harder than hitting major league pitching. I couldn't hit little league pitching so try to give some slack to these guys. When you strut around like you own the place but can't hit (see Milledge, L.; Lopez, F.) that is a problem. But Kearns was a total pro.

If my son was playing baseball, I would tell him to conduct himself just like AK. I hope he kills in Cleveland and gets a big, fat contract next year. And hope his son does great.

Posted by: Avar | March 4, 2010 4:45 PM | Report abuse

Dave, did it get a little too cold in Florida? Good time to cover Cactus League baseball ehh?

Best wishes to Austin and all the Kearns family.

I'm glad they found something they could fix. Maybe Austin can make a bit of a comeback.

Posted by: natbiscuits | March 4, 2010 5:16 PM | Report abuse

Avar, I'm confident he was hurt because Shenin and AK said so:

"After dealing for years with a sore right thumb that always stayed just painful enough to play through, he finally underwent surgery in August when he found himself barely able to grip a bat, and the doctor discovered an aneurysm and a cyst, which was removed."

"Q. No one knew the extent of your thumb injury. Any regrets about the way that played out?
A. I probably didn't do myself any favors by just trying to play through it. I just got to the point where even gripping a bat wasn't easy to do. You do that, and start compensating for things and changing things and getting in bad habits."

Posted by: Section222 | March 4, 2010 6:52 PM | Report abuse

I don't think the fans turned on him, apart from those who are always going to have somebody they're viciously attacking. He just utterly didn't produce, for whatever reason. How many ways can a guy say I wish it had gone better? So do we all.

Posted by: markfromark | March 4, 2010 7:01 PM | Report abuse

And I'm convinced that Nationals coverage just took a brief hiatus while everything Redskin gets topsy-turvyed with the beginning of a uncapped year.

Why am I less and less interested in Redskins coverage? Let's start with their website ... way too slow and sluggish because it is way to full of bloated multimedia ads and flash. It sucks. Except for the blog that Matt Terl runs I can't find one redeeming thing about it.

Posted by: periculum | March 4, 2010 7:22 PM | Report abuse

Q. The fans had really turned on you by the end. Is there anything you would want to say to them now?
A. I think the fans just want to see a winner and see guys play well. They have a right to do what they want to do. You just try not to pay attention to it and go about your business.

---------------------------

That is a low blow comment. Rarely does anyone boo a player in Nationals Park and I don't know how you can make such a generalized comment.

Dave, you can't speak for ALL the fans. That is bad and not right.

Posted by: GoingGoingGone | March 4, 2010 8:34 PM | Report abuse

Considering AK's production--THREE homers and 17 RBIs last year--I think the fans were overly generous in support of this stiff. He was WAYYYYYYYYYYY overrated by Jimmy Leatherpants to start with, Acta served as his enabler by giving him too many at-bats at the expense of Willingham and Dukes (who are now two-thirds of our starting outfield) and the injuries are always just part of the game. The guy wasn't hurt in 2008, and he stunk that year as well. Total stiff. Good luck in Cleveland with Manny. I presume he will sit down Sizemore to give this stiff his 450 at-bats.

Posted by: Sunshine_Bobby_Carpenter_Is_Too_Pessimistic_For_Me | March 4, 2010 8:58 PM | Report abuse

This tells you all you need to know about Manny Acta---He was starting a guy that no other team even wanted as a backup. And the only team that even wasted a minor league contract on Kearns? Manny Acta's Indians. What a waste of 2 years.

Posted by: dovelevine | March 4, 2010 9:38 PM | Report abuse

Good luck AK. There are other things more important than sports. I never heard a discouraging word about you. Just no praise.

Posted by: TJDemo | March 4, 2010 10:47 PM | Report abuse

OK, 1,800,000 was the paid attendence last year. I figure with all the Philly and NY and Boston fans that came to Nats Park in 2009 that weren't there to see the Nats that there was 1.5 million paying Nats fans. Just my guesstimate.

If you take Austin Kearns waste of $8 million salary and divide that by the Nats fans paid attendence, then for every ticket you purchased you essentially paid $5.33 directly to Kearns.

I bought 480 tickets last season so do you think Kearns can write me a reimbursement check for $2,560?

Posted by: GoingGoingGone | March 5, 2010 8:37 AM | Report abuse

This is great! And for the record, *I* never turned on the guy. He was always a favorite. Good luck Austin. =)

Posted by: NatsNut | March 5, 2010 9:22 AM | Report abuse

I just gotta say -- how many darn times are we going to read about a guy with a big contract that has some injury that he's slow to check out, and it ends up messing his playing time up, messes up the team, and costs the Nats a lot of money?

Posted by: ADCWonk | March 5, 2010 10:08 AM | Report abuse

The comments to this entry are closed.

 
 
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