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.
March 4, 2010; 3:45 PM ET
Save & Share: Previous: Nationals ready to play: 'It's been a while'
Next: Day 1 of Nationals' spring schedule is in the books
Posted by: OldDude | March 4, 2010 3:55 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: periculum | March 4, 2010 4:01 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: zendo | March 4, 2010 4:02 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: periculum | March 4, 2010 4:02 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: Cosmo06 | March 4, 2010 4:04 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: NatsFly | March 4, 2010 4:05 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: JohninMpls | March 4, 2010 4:09 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: OldDude | March 4, 2010 4:11 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: Section505203 | March 4, 2010 4:12 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: ac42 | March 4, 2010 4:17 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: Cosmo06 | March 4, 2010 4:19 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: periculum | March 4, 2010 4:19 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: Dougmacintyre | March 4, 2010 4:21 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: Section222 | March 4, 2010 4:33 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: natsfan1a1 | March 4, 2010 4:44 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: Avar | March 4, 2010 4:45 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: natbiscuits | March 4, 2010 5:16 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: Section222 | March 4, 2010 6:52 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: markfromark | March 4, 2010 7:01 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: periculum | March 4, 2010 7:22 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: GoingGoingGone | March 4, 2010 8:34 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: Sunshine_Bobby_Carpenter_Is_Too_Pessimistic_For_Me | March 4, 2010 8:58 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: dovelevine | March 4, 2010 9:38 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: TJDemo | March 4, 2010 10:47 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: GoingGoingGone | March 5, 2010 8:37 AM | Report abuse
Posted by: NatsNut | March 5, 2010 9:22 AM | Report abuse
Posted by: ADCWonk | March 5, 2010 10:08 AM | Report abuse
The comments to this entry are closed.