Thursday, March 11, 2010

Catching up with Rick Short

VIERA, Fla. -- It's been nearly five years since Rick Short made his brief stint with the Nationals, but the infielder continues to hold a special place in fans' hearts. A veteran of 12 minor-league seasons, Short finally made his major-league debut on June 10, 2005 and proceeded to lace an RBI single to left in the fifth inning against the Mariners (helping lead the Nats to the eighth of their 10 straight wins that year).

Because the Nationals needed to clear a roster spot the next day for newly acquired right-hander Ryan Drese, Short was designated for assignment after only one at-bat, prompting some to wonder if he might decide to retire right then and there with a career 1.000 batting average. But the then-32-year-old felt he still had plenty more baseball in him, so he returned to Class AAA New Orleans and carried a .400 average well into August and earned another promotion to Washington in September.

After going 6-for-15 with two homers in the majors, Short received a two-year contract offer to play in Japan for the Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles. He wound up playing the last four years there, making a name for himself as a consistent .300 hitter.

Now retired at age 37, Short has returned to the United States and got a job as a special assignment scout for the Arizona Diamondbacks. He was at Space Coast Stadium earlier today, hoping to watch the Nationals-Astros game before it was rained out, and sat down to talk about his short-but-memorable time with the Nats and catch everyone up on what he's been doing since then. ...

MARK ZUCKERMAN: As you look back at the time you spent in D.C., I'd imagine those have to be some of your fondest memories in baseball.

RICK SHORT: Oh, absolutely. It was the culmination of so much hard work. Especially it being the first year for the Nationals and the special season in '05, just all the hard work coming together, that was a special night. The fans were great. They gave me a standing ovation coming off the field. When I have people over at the house, I still throw in the tape and I still watch it. It's great memories.

MZ: There were people at the time who thought, 'OK, first at-bat, RBI single. Is there any chance he'd just walk away and retire with a 1.000 career average?' Did that thought ever cross your mind?

RS: No, not at all. It was way too much work to get there. And at that point, I had a lot of respect for the major leagues, but I didn't have the time, the luxury of being in awe of being there. I was trying to fit in and just trying to get comfortable. If anything, I proved to myself that I could play there. I climbed up to the top of the mountain and stuck my flag in. I got my hit. It was awesome.

MZ: It took you a long time to get to that point, and I know there were times along the way you thought maybe you wouldn't stick with it. How close did you ever get to walking away? And now looking back, how glad are you that you never did?

RS: You know, there were times when you think maybe I should move on. I had a family, so that kind of added a little more thought into the process of possibly moving on. But I always had confidence. I believed in myself and I believed if I ever got a chance that I could do it. It'd be different if in the minor leagues I was having struggles. But I was having good years, and I kind of knew that if I just stuck with it, somebody would give me a chance. Washington gave me that chance and I'm grateful for it.

MZ: After that season, you got an offer to go to Japan. Was it a tough decision to make, or did it just make sense at the time?

RS: Both. It made sense financially. It was guaranteed money going over there. But it was such a strange twist in a career. Because I fought my whole life to get there, and then once I got there I was thrown this curveball. It was a tough decision, but financially it made sense, given my age and my major-league experience. It was kind of a twist in my career, but I went with it and ended up having success over there. In the end, I guess it all worked out.

MZ: What was it like playing over there? Is it really all that different than playing in America?

RS: Oh, yeah, very different. Fundamentally, they're solid players. They do everything right. They don't have the power that we have over here, with the velocity with the pitchers and the home runs with the hitters. But fundamentally sound. Speed is their game. The best way I describe it to people is that it's throwback baseball. They play for that one run. They bunt early in the game. It's probably a lot like what baseball was like back in the '70s or early '80s. Very different style of game. It was a good experience.

MZ: What led to the decision now to retire and move into scouting?

RS: Well, I turned 37. I didn't have a great season last year. I was out of the lineup and pinch-hitting and stuff. But I gave it a shot to try to go back over there, and then nothing came up. You know, when you're 37 and kind of off the radar over here, and with the way organizations are going now, I think teams are trying to get younger and give younger guys a chance in Triple-A. You're just out of the mix after a while. I figured I had to cross this bridge sooner or later. But I always wanted to stay in the game, so I had this opportunity, and that's what I did.

MZ: How tough was it to come to that realization, or were you already moving in that direction?

RS: You know, when you get to a certain stage you start thinking about what am I going to do after baseball? For probably the last three or four years of my career, you're thinking: "What if this is my last year? What am I going to get into?" This opportunity presented itself, and at my age, I thought it was probably be a good time to do it.

MZ: What will your responsibilities be with the Diamondbacks?

RS: Right now, I'm scouting. I'm not responsible for any certain territory or anything. This is just kind of a special-assignment deal. They call and send me somewhere. I'm an extra set of eyes for them right now. You know, it's a good start. It's a good opportunity, and I'm very excited.

MZ: So, five years after the fact, there are still fans who wonder how you've been and remember your time in Washington. How gratifying is that, that you did have an impact and people remember you for it?

RS: That's great. Maybe I didn't get as much time as I would have liked to in the major leagues. But just for people to latch onto my story ... if I positively influenced anybody, that makes it all worth it. I didn't get much time. I had a brief stay up there. But for people to appreciate it, I'm just happy to have done it for them.

24 comments:

Anonymous said...

Great interview, Mark. I think I was at the game where he got his first Major League hit. Glad he's doing well.
--Tom

natsfan1a said...

Thanks much for the update. I knew about Short's time in Japan but didn't know what he was up to these days.

I wasn't at his debut, but was watching on tv and recall the look on his face. That was such a special year, in so many ways. ahhh, the memories... I also recall following the .400 average story.

You've been so diligent about posting here, but I hope that you'll be able to get in some R&R as well what with the rain delay.

Mark Zuckerman said...

Just did some research and figured out Short is one of only 16 players in modern baseball history with at least 15 career at-bats to own a .400 lifetime batting average.

natscan reduxit said...

... thank you for this Mark. I will certainly save it to use as future reference.

peric said...

Great, something new and different ... what's not to like during a rainout?

bumsfan4 said...

I was at the game when he came up and singled in his first at bat. The crowd, and I believe it was over 30,000, went nuts. Everyone appreciated the moment. His family was there and it was just a great experience.

peric said...

Check out Byron Kerr audio feed on "scouting the enemy" over on MASN. Kind of interesting.

peric said...

He's like that doctor from "Field of Dreams".

NatsNutMD said...

Mark,

This is the type of story that only you would provide, Mark, and I thank you for it. It brings us the human interest element that is missing in so much sports reporting today. Although Rick's major league career was so brief, it was an exciting and special moment in the Nats short history. Thanks again for bringing us news on Rick's current career and for reminding us of that time. Perhaps, other former Nats will surface in spring training. I'm sure many of us would like to hear about them.

Avar said...

I remember Rick's debut clearly. I also remember his Sept call up and being baffled that Bowden let him go. After all he's done in the minors including almost hitting .400 for us and that strong Sept, I never understood why they didn't at least give him a ST invite and see if he could be a utility guy in '06. Or why some other team didn't offer him that. Sometimes I just don't understand baseball.

Thanks very much Mark for posting this. I had checked on Rick several times while he was in Japan but didn't know his latest. Really glad he's still in the game.

Doc said...

Neat story MarkMeister! I too, wondered why Short never had an opportunity to play at least utility the next year. Hey stories like that are a large part of baseball lore. Thanks!

peric said...

Jim Bowden was probably too busy checking out Joy's "stats" to worry about Short's baseball stats.

Anonymous8 said...

peric said...
Jim Bowden was probably too busy checking out Joy's "stats" to worry about Short's baseball stats.

March 11, 2010 6:51 PM

THAT IS CLASSIC!

Anonymous said...

This, absolutely in a nutshell, is what the WP's Nats coverage has been lacking since Chico, and now Kilgore, took over the beat. Not many people who didn't witness that nearly game winning if I'm correct, pinch hit, career first single that helped keep alive a ten game winning streak would be able to remember, more or less recognize five years later the man who did it. You're contributions to the beat have been priceless for this fan Mark, for I too was at that game at that magical time during that magical season of 2005. Keep up the good work.

peric said...

MLB Trade Rumors closing arguments on the 2010 Nats:

____________________________________________________________________

On the other hand, the signings of Capps, Wang, and Kennedy are sensible. The guarantees were minimal, and these players are more likely to have trade value. Plus, the arbitration-eligibility of Capps and Wang for 2011 essentially serves as a club option. One complaint with the signing of Walker: it led to the loss of Estrada. Estrada may never pan out in the bigs, but why swap your #18 prospect for a year or two of Walker?

If we eliminated the top two from the Major League Signings ledger, I'd say GM Mike Rizzo had a solid offseason. However, I'm not sure what the plan is here: the Nationals have Keith Law's #23-ranked farm system and should probably launch a full-blown rebuild, but they're adding relatively pricey free agents.

___________________________________________________________________

Wondering where all those International players are that Kasten was talking about? MLBTradeRumors did fail to mention Rafael Martin? He may end up in the long run as the replacement for Tyler Walker?

cass said...

Nice interview! I never did understand why he was never given a real chance in the majors. Wouldn't some team at least want to give him a try?

But I was at his debut game and had read about his story beforehand. It was a thrill to see him get that hit. It was a magical year, though, at least until it call came crashing down. But we'll always have June when the Nats always took a lead into the ninth and never gave it up.

Anonymous said...

You know Shorts comments bought me back to last years World Baseball Classic. I saw all six games in San Diego, both Japan and Korea where in that bracket. Asia baseball is just as Short descript, good bunting, lots of taking the pitch the other way right over the IF's head. Great and fun to watch.

I miss that, it reminded me of the Mets of the early 80’s when Keith Hernandez was there but before Gary Carter game. Those teams were scrappy and manufacture a ton of runs.

Baseball lost it way since then.

Trivia Question: What new baseball phenomena happens almost every game, which rarely existed 20 years ago?

Answer: The first base coach congratulates a guy who just hit a homer. Why? Because 20 years ago, that guy would be running hard and would be past first base when the ball left the park.

natsfan1a said...

natscan, speaking of your research plans, don't know whether you saw this response some threads back, but you might look into SABR (Society for American Baseball Research). Members have diverse interests, history and biography among them, and many are authors. Here's a link for the Montreal chapter.

http://quebec.sabr.org/

Anonymous said...

Didn't Rick Short win a AAA batting title?

Thanks for the update on this memorable Nat.

Richard Moore said...

Short won two Pacific Coast League titles including 2005 when he batted much of the year over.400. I loved this catchup on Short as I used to look up Japanese stats to see how he was doing. He could well progress over the years to come back to MLB as a manager. Great guy! I remember when he hit a homerun off Smoltz. He hit at every level and every league.

Moorich

alm1000 said...

Thanks Mark. As other said this type story is why we love what you are doing.

I was at that game and remember it well. Man, we need to get NatsTown rocking like RFK did in 05 and during that streak when we ended up in first place.

estoppel.08 said...

Great Interview, thank you very much.
I, as a Japanese, had a chance to watch his play in Tokyo, and his swing was impressive. I am very happy with hearing that he is well in a scouting job with Arizona.
I put a link with this article in my blog, and translated some parts related with baseball in Japan into Japanese.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the update on "Shorty." Rick and I go back to his days as a member of the Frederick Keys when he won the Carolina League batting title. I was the Keys radio announcer and got to spend time with Rick on the road. He is a GREAT person, a hard worker, and one that definitely deserved his shot in the Majors. The Orioles should have given it to him much earlier. Rick and his wife Karen used to playfully tease about Rick's hometown, which Karen claimed was Peoria and Rick, I believe, said Elgin. I remember dialing his cell phone and leaving a voice mail as he was running the bases during his first home run. What a moment. Rick would be a great manager or college coach. Thanks again for the update and your web page.

natsfan1a said...

Hope you don't mind my sharing a link to a Les Carpenter story on Short from the wonderful ride that was 2005. I enjoyed re-reading the piece.

http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2005/08/24/AR2005082402273_pf.html

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