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Whatever the score, these suns are acting like winners

May 23, 2007|by BOB PARASILITI

Wins are sometimes the product of circumstance.

You've seen it. A team does nothing for an entire game - with just two hits while striking out 15 times - but connects on one swing to win 1-0.

And there lies the difference between wins and winning.

Wins can be accidental. Being a winner is never an accident.

The ability to be a winner uses so many factors, and not all of them are visual. They're there, but you have to be patient and trust your gut.

The Washington Nationals are in that situation.

The Nationals openly admit they are rebuilding, trying to construct a team that will make their new stadium proud. Washington is under new ownership forced to revive a franchise which was basically baseball's orphan.

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It started when Major League Baseball assumed control of the Montreal Expos, a team which at one time was considered to be the model of success, and eventually moved it to D.C. Yet, while running the team, MLB's ownership didn't invest money into the franchise to keep it competitive. Instead, everything had gone to seed by the time the new owners took over.

Like planting crops, reviving the franchise will take time, patience and a lot of calculated risks. Talented players who can hit or pitch are easy to track and, thanks to free agency, teams routinely shuffle pieces to change the look of the puzzle.

Still, there are a few things that intrinsic values - like desire, drive and character - can help overcome.

And of those three, character is the one that carries the most weight. It is the determining factor of a player's personality and if he has the drive and desire to cope with the trials and failures.

Drafting talent is supported by numbers. Drafting for talent and character is an inexact science.

Enter the Hagerstown Suns.

Hagerstown is the Nationals' new outpost where new talent is groomed. But there is more to playing the game than just playing the game.

For the record, the Suns have struggled. They hover in the bottom half of the South Atlantic League's Northern Division standings. They can hit, but the pitching and defense has hurt many chances to win.

Time and experience are the favored remedy as Washington looks to stock the future.

But even with their shortcomings, the Suns give the feel of being a major league franchise, far more experienced than its years. In some cases, the Suns may be even better than the majors.

The Nationals have identified this collection of players as the foundation of the future - who have been nothing but exemplary examples of what players should be.

These Suns are engaging in interviews, which makes my job easier. They hurt when they lose, but don't sulk after a bad day because they realize that it is part of the growing process. They understand the concept of "tomorrow is another day" to change fortunes.

They have great work ethics. Every player is open to criticism, coaching and instruction that will help them improve and none has been afraid of the extra work to implement the changes.

Top draft pick Chris Marrero could almost use the Municipal Stadium hitting cage as his residence. Shortstop Stephen King, another player just out of high school, is continuously working on his fielding and getting used to the feel of wooden bats. Outfielders like Mike Daniel and Justin Maxwell are eager to improve their craft to chase the dream to play in the major leagues.

Meanwhile, the Suns are a public relation department's dream. Thus far, they seem to readily mingle with fans, signing autographs and shaking hands after games - an activity which can become exceedingly tedious and grueling when fans are demanding after losses. Past Suns teams have been less than accommodating.

Learning to be humble isn't easy.

Maybe the most vivid example of character came the after May 1's Education Day morning matinee game. The Suns had just lost 14-3, but players still took the time to meet some of the kids who were still in the stands.

As usual, Maxwell was one of the last players to leave the field. He usually stays to talk with his family, which comes from Bethesda, Md., to see him play every home game.

As Maxwell walked to the clubhouse - with his equipment bag on his shoulder - he caught up to one of the Suns batboys, who was trying to carry a bucket of balls, towels, an equipment bag and some extra bats. The fifth-round draft pick bent down and took the bucket and towels from the batboy to make his task easier.

Many players wouldn't have been bothered.

Fans don't want to wait until their favorite teams win. It is a "what-have-you-done-for-me-lately" kind of world.

But if Nationals - and Suns - fans can endure some tough times now, I have a feeling that a lot of good days might be ahead.

When it comes to character, the Hagerstown Suns are proving to be winners already ... and it's no accident.

Bob Parasiliti is a staff writer for The Morning Herald. He can be reached at 301-733-5131, ext. 2310, or by e-mail at bobp@herald-mail.com

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