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.