(ed. note - "Washington Post staff writer Chico Harlan, (whose real first name is Aaron), is a native of Pittsburgh, PA and a Syracuse University graduate who has covered the Nationals beat for the Washington Post and the Post's Nationals Journal since he took over for the now-legendary Barry Svrluga in May 2008. Mr. Harlan graciously agreed to answer some of my questions via email for what I hope will be a series of interviews with Washington, DC-based writers who cover the Washington Nationals. Thanks, Mr. Harlan.")
Federal Baseball (FB): Whose idea was it to have you go out to cover SDSU pitcher Stephen Strasburg's final home start? Do you get the feeling that the Nationals understand, or are considering how the fanbase will react if they are unable to sign Strasburg?
Chico Harlan: It was my idea. The Nats were jumping from Los Angeles to Arizona, so I asked my editor, Tracee Hamilton, if I could skip the day-to-day coverage for one night and detour to San Diego. She liked the idea, and found a freelancer to cover the Nats that Friday night. Strasburg, it should be noted, cooperated with the idea as well.
As for the second part of your question: If the Nats don’t sign Strasburg, they don’t need to worry about their fanbase. They won’t have one left.
FB: Do you think a draft pick, even a well-known, seemingly MLB-ready prospect like Stephen Strasburg, is going to be able to help the Nationals break through with DC's fans?
Chico Harlan: He’ll help spark interest, because he’s already a household name. But whatever hype he has will only sell tickets for the short-term. Eventually, only one thing sells: Winning. Strasburg can help sell tickets and help swell the fanbase if and only if he actually helps the team.
FB: The coverage of Ryan Zimmerman's hit streak was the first real instance of the Nationals receiving positive national coverage, is it enough to be a leader on the field or does Zimmerman need to be the Face of the Franchise in the press?
Chico Harlan: Zimmerman’s doing just fine in the FoF role. He’s not a naturally colorful guy, but that is part of what makes him so aptly conditioned to be a ballplayer. You know, the never-too-high, never-too-low cliche. To me, it’s clear that Zimmerman knows his responsibilities, and he handles them well. After almost every game, he’s available to talk at his locker. Most times, he keeps the quotes fairly vanilla. But he knows his words carry weight, and when he has an opinion, he lets it drop. Calculated, but smart. So long as he maintains the rest of his game, he’s a top-notch face for DC baseball.
FB: I know that at Federal Baseball a few Sundays back, when Nick Johnson was a late scratch from the DC lineup, everyone was searching for any news they could find about whether or not he'd been traded, and I read on the Nationals Journal, that the reaction in the press box was similar, do you think he'll be moved?
Chico Harlan: Reaction in the press box was similar, but I know this only second-hand. I happened to be in a train that afternoon, heading up to NYC. I heard about what was going on from my BlackBerry, and figured that Nick’s time in DC was up.
I do think Nick will be traded before the deadline. He’s the team’s only real deadline-type commodity, and plenty of contending teams would love to have a .320 hitter with a fantastic glove.
FB: You quoted "Acting" DC GM Mike Rizzo, after Daniel Cabrera was designated for assignment, saying, in part, "I was tired of watching him." Were you surprised to hear those words come out of his mouth? Or is Mr. Rizzo always refreshingly honest when he speaks to the press?
Chico Harlan: Yeah, I was surprised. Blunt opinions don’t come around so frequently in this job, at least when the recorder is on. Much of that depends on the personality, but here’s the general rule: The better somebody’s job gets, the less inclined he is to say something true. Well, I give Rizzo some credit here. He said something that was plainly self-evident, but he said it. He put his own name behind it. Chances are, I smiled quite a bit when he dropped that quote. It wasn’t quite a we-pray-for-his-buttocks soundbite, but it’s enough to easily win Soundbite of the Month. I’ve covered a few coaches/execs in the past who didn’t have much of a filter — Bowden could say anything, when the mood struck him; Jim Boeheim loved ripping his players publicly — but Rizzo is far more toned down. This was a definite departure, so I savored it.
Perhaps Daniel Cabrera brings out the ire in people.
FB: At what point to do you think the "Acting" part of Mike Rizzo's title will be removed?
Chico Harlan: That question presumes it will. I don’t anticipate a decision about the Nats’ full-time GM to come until after the season. It makes no sense to award any permanent titles when so much is in flux, and when there might be a new manager to hire...
• • • To Be Continued • • •
Tomorrow...The Federal Baseball.com Interview With Washington Post Writer Chico Harlan. Pt. 2
Pt. 2: Topics:
• SMILEYGATE, Bowden and the Natinals.
• Elijah Dukes and The Nationals' Clubhouse.• Blogging vs Print.