Parts of this past off season were dominated by discussions about the future of Hanley Ramirez. A new, $106 million shortstop in the form of Jose Reyes had just been signed. Would Ramirez, notorious (rightly or not) for a less than stellar work ethic and sour managerial relationships take the slide to third base from shortstop with ease? Or would he put up a stink and endanger his future with the team? Some fans, fed up with rumors that Ramirez was unhappy with the change, called for the one-time batting champion to be traded. I had my own ideas about what the team needed to do at the time to win. But one bitter, vengeful bit of my soul hoped Hanley would be traded for a pocketful of sunflower seeds and a player to be named later.
It was sometime in May, 2011 that I headed out for a regular night with friends in Washington, DC. The Marlins were in town for a weekend series against the Nationals, back when a weekend series against the Nationals meant head to the park, no stress, enjoy the weather, an $8 beer, and watch the Marlins walk away with a win or two or three. I’d caught the first two of the three game series so far, wins if I remember, and Marlins baseball was far from my mind.
I was walking to a familiar bar. The door man stood at the bottom of a small set of stairs leading up the entrance. I reached into my back pocket, pulling out my wallet, and then my ID to hand to the bouncer. Perhaps making small talk while his eyes scanned the card, I hadn’t yet looked up at the door that stood a few steps behind him. He hands back the card and I place it in its slot, and then take my first step up the stairs. When my eyes finally shift up, I spot a monster of a man rocking two giant diamond studs that I’d never expected to see on the night before a day game.
Not even hesitating, like we’d been friends for years, I catch his eye and call “Whats up, Hanley?” He perks up a bit when he hears his name.
Most people you meet that live in Washington care shockingly little about the Nationals. Many, myself included, come from another place and hold hometown allegiances. Others are absorbed entirely by the Redskins or Capitals. Some are still longtime Orioles fans. The point is, hometown baseball sometimes gets the short end of the stick in our nation’s capital. And if Washingtonians can hardly be bothered to give their own team some attention, you can imagine how little people care about the Marlins.
Its unclear how many people in this city would look up and immediately recognize the shortstop, calling out to him like an old pal. I doubt it is many. In my few years here, I’ve seen more than one summertime game at Nationals Park against the Fish that looked remarkably like a summertime game at Sun Life Stadium against the Nationals. Hanley is no local celebrity here, so it does not seem like a night on the town, before a day game, would be riddled with autograph and photo requests. I’m just one guy, giving a pleasant hello, and I get a “Hanley who?”
Since that moment, my affinity for Hanley as a baseball player, as the building block of the team, as the face of the franchise, has been haunted by those two words. Hanley, if you are reading this, I accept your apology.