Eric Thames talked excitedly back in early January about joining the defending World Series champion Washington Nationals, who eliminated his Milwaukee Brewers in the NL Wild Card Game last October. Thames signed a 1-year/$4M free agent contract (which includes a $4M mutual option for 2021) after a solid .247/.346/.505, 23 double, 25 home run, +1.9 fWAR 2019 campaign. Signing on in D.C., he said, was a no-brainer.
“I know a few guys on the team, Howie Kendrick, and him in particular, he kind of reached out to me, and I’ve talked to him for years,” Thames explained.
“I’ve know him for a long time, and he always talked about how fun the clubhouse was, how much they all had fun together, and they play for each other, and I’ve heard great things about Davey Martinez, how much of a great manager he is, and that’s just like from what they tell me, but from a players’ perspective, as the enemy, like seeing them on the field, I feel like every game the Brewers played against the Nationals was close all the way to the end. We could have a big lead, and then they’ll come back and tie it, and it will be a battle all the way to the end. And that was evident in the playoffs as well. This team is just like — you could just tell that they played like a unit. So, naturally, I love that, I love playing in a clubhouse where guys care about each other on top of winning, so it was a no-brainer for myself.”
Thames played in just six games this Spring before the baseball world was shut down due to concerns over the COVID-19/coronavirus pandemic, and he’s been home in Las Vegas a while now waiting like everyone else to see how Major League Baseball decides to handle the 2020 campaign.
In an interview with SiriusXM MLB Network Radio hosts Eduardo Perez and Steve Phillips on Thursday, Thames, 33, said he saw enough in the Nationals’ clubhouse in West Palm Beach, FL this Spring to understand why the team was able to win it all last October, and believes it is possible to avoid a World Series hangover if/when they play this year.
“I would say it’s a very special dynamic,” Thames explained. “A lot of the players are older, and when you get a lot of veterans, it’s more relaxed, and it’s not relaxed like, ‘Ahhh, ahhh, whatever, we don’t care, we’re getting paid.’ No. No. They still want to win, they’re still working hard, but there’s like a relaxed, enjoying-the-game-type of mentality. And I was fortunate enough, even with Milwaukee, we had the same mentality as well, and that’s why we did so well the last two or three years, and being around the Nats and those guys I can see from the up and close and personal perspective why they did what they did last year.”
“Actually seeing the locker room, how they handled business, how they do things, it’s very impressive, and it’s one of the biggest reasons why I chose to go over there,” he reiterated.
There wasn’t, however, enough time for Thames to claim or be assigned a role in the dugout home run dances or whatever sort of celebrations the team decides on for 2020.
“Yeah, we all talked about it,” Thames said. “Howie and [Adam] Eaton, their car thing they do, they talked about other guys, but the season — as soon as we started to establish routines and handshakes and stuff and it’s like, ‘Tomorrow you go home.’ So now it’s like we’re just waiting to get back in the swing of things again, and start playing more and more games and now more handshakes are coming out, more little celebrations, and once the Nats really get a feel of my personality and how crazy I am, there will really start being some more stuff going on.”
Though he hadn’t discussed his expected role in detail when he spoke with reporters back in January, Thames told the SiriusXM hosts, he got a better idea this Spring of how his new manager’s planning to handle first base once they start playing games again.
“From the sense I got the short time in camp that we had, it’s more of a platoon role,” he said, “me and [Ryan Zimmerman] and Howie, but I say it every year, and I’ve seen it every year, it doesn’t matter what the idea is going in, injuries can happen to people, some players can be super-hot, and that affects playing time, so for me, I’ve got to hammer down on the lefties, I’ve got to get better off that, and then who knows what can happen. A hot streak and help the team win and I can be in there every day, or I could be on the bench, but hopefully — I don’t want to be on the bench, so I’ve got to prepare to the best ability and go out there ready to win every night.”