Davey Martinez lamented, towards the end of a disappointing 2020 campaign, that the club didn’t get to have the usual victory tour around the league after winning the World Series in 2019, with the coronavirus pandemic delaying the start of the season, and forcing everyone to play in empty ballparks once MLB decided to go forward with a 60-game schedule which started in late July.
There was no banner raising in front of the home fans, no ring ceremony in Nationals Park.
“There’s a lot of things that you can go back and for me, just talk about how the season all played out,” Martinez said during the homestand that wrapped things up in late September.
“I won’t assess everything till I’m able to sit down at the end of the season and just kind of take a deep breath, because it’s been a non-stop, on the go, every day, grind.
“With all these little injuries and nagging injuries and guys playing through stuff, and making different lineups and trying to put the best product on the field that we can every day, it’s been tough.
“The one thing that I can honestly say is — and all the coaches and all the guys always say — ‘It’s unbelievable how calm that you can be throughout this whole deal. We never see you panic, we never see you —’
“And I said, ‘That’s because you never see me in my office sometimes,’” Martinez joked, “but it’s just about being present. I told myself this year, just be present every second of the day and just take it for what it is and try to have the most fun you possibly can, and cheer the boys on. Like I said, they’ve gone through some things this year that they’re not normally going through, especially missing their families, playing away from their families, having no fans, all the different traveling, all the doubleheaders, I mean, a lot went on through this year, and I told them, I said, ‘Hey, this doesn’t deter who we are, what we are, I said, we learn from it and we move on and we come back stronger than ever.”
Having “the most fun you possibly can” under the COVID protocols wasn’t easy, and trying to build the sort of chemistry that the team was able to build in 2019 was made even more difficult by the restrictions in the dugout and clubhouse, and the strict rules that the team had at home, and traveled and played under on the road this past season.
“Obviously, there was some stuff with all the different protocols, and the bus, and trying to not stay around each other all the time and it just didn’t feel like we were able to build that same camaraderie and chemistry that was so evident and so important to us last year, just because of trying to follow protocols,” veteran reliever Daniel Hudson said after the club’s road schedule was completed.
“We weren’t able to go grab dinner when we got to a road city early, or something like that, it’s just a lot of little things like that that can really add to your clubhouse chemistry that we weren’t able to do.”
Did they find ways to have fun and try to enjoy themselves even under the protocols that the team and Major League Baseball set up?
“You have to have fun no matter what,” Aníbal Sánchez said over the final weekend of the regular season.
“It’s hard to be here. It’s hard to maintain your career at this level. So, no matter what will happen, because sometimes you don’t control winning or losing. Sometimes you’ve got really good games, and you lose, and sometimes the team fights and you lose at the end.
“At the end you need to have some fun. We’ve got [Max] Scherzer, he’s my partner in all the kind of [stuff] that we do in the clubhouse right now.
“[Asdrúbal Cabrera] helped me a little bit too. I think the rest of the guys they just go with the flow in the whole fun situation we can create in the clubhouse.”
“We had fun in the best way that we could,” Scherzer added, after an up-and-down season for the 36-year-old Nationals’ ace.
“There’s so many limitations and so many hoops that you have to jump through that prevent you from having the normal season of how you’ve lived as a big leaguer.
“That’s just the reality of 2020 and you have to make the best of it.
“If you show up to the park and you’re negative, and you’re letting all this stuff wear on you, yeah, you’re not going to have any fun.
“But if you come in knowing all the crap that you have to go through and you just find something to keep a smile on your face and have a good time with it, it makes it more enjoyable for everybody. And that’s what Davey is all about.”
Martinez and his staff did everything they could to keep everyone healthy, and though they did, for the most part, outside of play-related injuries, and there were some players forced to quarantine, with Juan Soto testing positive before the season opener, overall the club did manage to avoid an outbreak on the team.
“Even though we have to do all this crap to keep us safe,” Scherzer said, “for the most part, hey look, we did, as a league, execute a [season] during a pandemic ... and really minimize the outbreaks.
“So, kudos to everybody across the league and all the families that had to make sacrifices to be able to put on this league, for what we were able to accomplish.”
It was, in the end, a disappointing follow-up to their World Series championship, with a last-place finish in the NL East and no return to the postseason, and in a results-oriented league that’s what matters.
“I think for me especially being a team that was expected to win, I feel like this year was really tough from a having fun standpoint,” shortstop Trea Turner explained. “I think a lot of teams that are winning or are in it, can suck it up, or the old saying is winning cures all and if you’re winning I’m sure this season would have been a lot more fun, but just all the things we had to deal with and how the season went for us on the field as well, I think it was just tough to come to the ballpark and be positive.”
“You’re kind of faking it and you’re trying,” he added, “... but last year you can see that it wasn’t something we had to try to do, it was fun. And this year we had to try to have fun, and it’s hard to recreate that and it’s hard to actually have fun when you’re forcing it.
“But hopefully next year is a little bit more normal, and I feel like the last two weeks we’ve played better too.
“Obviously if we had more games we could say we feel better about going forward, but we just kind of ran out of time, and didn’t play well enough, quickly enough, but I feel like next year will be better for us all around.”