The Streak remembered: Brian Schneider
Well, given the developments from Monday night, and what's to come Tuesday night, these posts are seeming more and more irrelevant, aren't they? Yet we soldier on. Before Strasburg, there was -- gulp -- Esteban Loaiza.
Game 6, June 8
Nationals 7, Athletics 2
W - Loaiza (4-2)
L - Glynn (0-2)
This game is perhaps the anomaly in the streak, a laugher in which right-hander Esteban Loaiza -- who, to that point, was one of the least-supported pitchers in the National League -- allowed a single to the first batter he faced, Jason Kendall, then a homer to the second man he faced, Bobby Crosby, then two hits and no runs the rest of the way. Loaiza's strong seven-inning outing provided the backbone for an easy win, one in which rookie outfielder Ryan Church went 4 for 5 with his fifth homer, driving in three, and catcher Brian Schneider and third baseman Vinny Castilla also homered.
"I've never been a part of a club at the major league level that's had as much confidence as this team," center fielder Brad Wilkerson said. "It seems like nothing fazes us. We're very confident."
At end of the day: 33-26, first place in NL East by 1-1/2 games over Philadelphia
Let me make an admission: When I wrote the story last week about the 2005 Nats, I didn't get in touch with everyone I wanted to. Topping that list: Brad Wilkerson. To me, in a way, he embodied that team, because he was something of the club's marquee player coming out of spring training -- versatile, congenial, etc. -- and then he was traded from DC, and then faded into oblivion with Seattle, then Toronto, and finally an aborted stint with Boston's Class AAA franchise. He tried to come back with the Phillies this past spring, but he didn't get more than a sniff of the major league spring training games, and he retired again.
Alas, Wilkerson didn't return my messages. Brian Schneider, though, did. He was fairly tight with Wilkerson on that club, and the two still live near each other in West Palm Beach, Fla., where Wilkerson is raising his three children. I drove up to Philadelphia to chat with Schneider about '05 and now. Maybe more than anyone on that team -- with the possible exception of Livan Hernandez -- Schneider seemed to understand what bringing baseball back to Washington meant to the fans here. He was the only member of that first club to buy a house here -- one in Old Town Alexandria -- and he still relishes his visits back.
"The biggest thing I remember from that stretch was our confidence," Schneider said. "Confidence in baseball goes so far. It didn't matter what the score was at any point in the game. We knew, just somehow, that we were going to win. We were down one or two runs, or three runs, in the fifth or sixth innings, we knew, 'Get one here, get one here, and we're fine.' We didn't panic. It didn't matter what was going on. Before you know it, it's 4-3 in the eighth, and we'd score two and win."
Hernandez, it always seemed to me, valued Opening Night at RFK Stadium more than any other Nats player. But Schneider might be in the running. He, after all, is the man who caught President Bush's ceremonial first pitch. For a kid whose grandfather served in the Navy, this was a big deal. I talked to his father, Pete, about the whole thing a few months later, and Pete Schneider couldn't help but cry. Brian Schneider still has a giant, blow-up print of the photo of that moment in his house.
"It was awesome, in the batting cage, just talking to him for 15 minutes by myself [while Bush warmed up]," Schneider said. "But when we walked out into the dugout, I saw the whole press [corps] right there. That's when it really hit me: This is a pretty big deal.
"We were in a new city. But fans, they were missing baseball since they were a kid, now they could go back as an adult and take their kids. We'd be at a signing event, and people would say how they were so glad we were in town. And you looked at the crowd that night, and you saw tears. People were just excited to have baseball back in the capital. I knew it meant a lot, especially with the history there, with presidents throwing out first pitches and all that."
I've always thought it was something of a cliché to say a baseball team could draw something from a crowd. Schneider disagreed with me.
"It's not a myth," he said. "They were there every night. The lower bowl was always full, and the upper deck usually at least from foul pole to foul pole. In a big situation for, say, our pitcher, everyone gets on their feet. I'm not a pitcher, but it jacks me up as a catcher. As a hitter, the same thing. It gets you going. We saw the same faces every night. Down low, you'd see Tim Russert, James Carville, the celebrities and that behind the dugout. It became familiar."
Schneider talked about the clubhouse chemistry early in that season. I asked him if he'd ever been in a similar situation. "This one," he said, and he gestured around the Phillies clubhouse. Placido Polanco had pulled into his locker right next to Schneider. Ryan Howard was several lockers down the same wall, just past Jayson Werth and Jimmy Rollins. Roy Halladay, the starter that night, was listening to his iPod in the back of the room, across from the locker of Cole Hamels. (How is this team not running away with the NL East?)
"This is just an incredible locker room," Schneider said. "I mean, I heard about it before I got here, but it's even better. These guys expect to win every night, and they're pissed if they don't."
Schneider wore down that year, and ended up playing in only 116 games -- the lowest total of his three years in Washington. Now, with the Phillies, he is a backup for the first time since 2002, and he has played in only 11 games this year, spending some time on the disabled list. His life has changed since 2005. He has a son and a daughter, with a third child on the way. He's played in the heat of a pennant race in New York with the Mets (didn't work out very well) and hopes to do so again this summer (with better results).
But he remembers 2005 very, very well and very, very fondly. I used a quote from him in the story about how he tells other players that Washington was, and will be, "an unbelievable place to play."
"It was just a great year, one of my favorites," he said.
Now back to your regularly scheduled all-Strasburg, all-the-time programming. I'll be doing a live chat from Nationals Park tonight, helping Sheinin, Kilgore, Boz and others capture the evening.
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