Some Matt Stairs leftovers
Matt Stairs, nearing the conclusion of a remarkable career, is trying to make the Nationals' 25-man roster on a minor-league contract, and you get the sense that most everyone inside the clubhouse hopes he does. The list of reasons is long, and some of them didn't make my story on Stairs in today's birdcage liner. Here's a few:
He's a veteran: "He brings a lot of things that you wouldn't see necessarily on TV or hear about in the paper," said Jayson Werth, who played with Stairs in Philadelphia. "He's that veteran guy that's been around. I've always been told that the older you are, the more experience you have, the wiser you are. You respect people older than you. A guy like him signifies that whole thing. He's very wise. He knows the game. He's seen a lot of things. Especially on a team like this, where we do have a lot of young guys, he's a very valuable piece. Younger guys feel like they can talk to him a little more openly about some stuff that they wouldn't go to a coach with. He's very honest. He'll give you his honest opinion. It's just valuable to have him around."
He's not afraid: When Stairs pinch-hits, he said, "I can walk up to the plate and not hear a pin drop." His experience allows him to relax when he's sent to the plate in a crucial situation. "He controls the moment," hitting coach Rick Eckstein said. "The bigger the situation, the more he's dialed in and ready. You can see it."
He's in shape: Earlier this spring, Manager Jim Riggleman said Stairs had lost 20 pounds between the end of the 2009 season and the start of the 2010 season. The actual number, Stairs said, is 37. "Well," he said, "I'm a spokesperson for Nutrisystem."
Stairs also lost the weight playing hockey, his first love when it comes to sports. He played about 60 games this winter, in two men's leagues in Maine, where he lives in the offseason.
"I showed up one year just to prove a point to one organization," Stairs said. "I said, 'I'm going to come in under 200.' I weighed in at 193. It was the first time I ever had to put weight back on. It was amazing how many people thought I was sick. I liked playing at 225, but I needed to prove a point."
The Phillies were the team he played for before the weight loss, but Stairs would not specify which team he wanted to prove wrong.
"I won't say who it was with," Stairs said. "It was to prove a point an organization that wanted to have more athletic players."
He'll help, and he'll also coerce when he has to: "He's somebody who's been around and knows the deal, knows what's going on," Nyjer Morgan said. "He has that edge, so he can police us. That's something that we need."
"He shows up ready to go," said Rick Eckstein, who came to know Stairs well last year Stairs played with his brother David in San Diego. "Mentally, he prepares himself. He sets the example that way. Secondly, he knows how to keep it loose. He knows how to make people laugh and relax a little bit. Thirdly, he knows how to keep guys accountable. That, in and of itself, is a tremendous asset for any ball club. To have a guy that can lead and make sure that guys hold themselves accountable."
He can change a game: Stairs is the rare player who can alter the outcome by entering and leaving a game without actually stepping into the box. "I've been in the other dugout many times when he walked up there," Riggleman said. "He puts a little fear in you. What he makes you do is, he makes you make a pitching move you don't want to make."
He's funny: After Thursday's workout, Stairs walked by Nyjer Morgan, the other Nationals player with an extensive hockey history. "Center ice, Stairsy!" Morgan said. Both men shook imaginary gloves off their hands, like they were preparing for a hockey fight. Stairs flexed. Both laughed. Then Stairs grabbed a drink from the soda fountain and headed out the door.
He embraces what he does: "It's nice to have to concentrate really, really tough on that one at-bat," Stairs said of pinch-hitting hitting. "Then your day is done."
| February 25, 2011; 7:15 AM ET
Categories: Morning brushback
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