Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Q&A with "Beltway Boys" author

The success of the Nationals over the last year, not to mention the emergence of both Stephen Strasburg and Bryce Harper as two of the most recognizable faces in baseball, has led to plenty of increased attention and coverage of the franchise. That includes a just-published book by local writer Elliott Smith, whose "Beltway Boys: Stephen Strasburg, Bryce Harper and the Rise of the Nationals" is now on the shelves and for sale on Amazon.

Smith, who grew up in Richmond, has been covering a variety of sports in the D.C. area for the last two years for multiple outlets, including the Associated Press and the Washington Times. He previously covered Seattle's pro teams for The Olympian newspaper. Oh, and he also was my colleague and editor at The Daily Northwestern many moons ago.

Since Elliott was kind enough to interview me during his reporting of the book, I thought it would only be appropriate to turn the tables and interview him about the process of writing it, about the mad scramble to update and finish the book while the playoffs were still underway and then to offer him a chance to make fun of me from my college days.

Enjoy the interview, and please check out the book. It's a great read! ...

MARK ZUCKERMAN: You've been in D.C. for a couple of years now, and you've covered all kinds of different sports. What made you want to write a book specifically about the Nationals?

ELLIOTT SMITH: Well, the way this all came about was, I was working Triumph (the publisher) on something else, and they said: "You're in D.C. Do you have any ideas about the Nationals?" This was probably May or so of last year. And I was thinking, this team has these two amazing players, and they're kind of on the cusp of things. Now, I had no idea last year was going to turn out like it did. But I think we all knew this team was definitely on the rise. So I thought it might be a good opportunity to kind of get in on the ground floor with that, talk about these two players and talk about how this team got built. And as the season progressed, you could see these guys excelling. Then you had the whole Strasburg situation, which was another compelling angle. So it just kind of all came together. Last season was an interesting season to take a look at, and to use that as a larger framework to talk about the history of the team.

MZ: Do you treat the book as a chronological account of what happened last season, or is it part of a larger story of the history of the franchise and baseball in Washington?

ES: I would say it's probably half and half. The way I look at it is, there's so many people who are just hearing about the Nationals, are just getting on the bandwagon. They made the playoffs last year, and I feel like people had little concept of the Nationals on a national level. Even here in D.C., you have die-hard fans like the ones that read your blog, but I think you could safely say the larger population here was casual at best. So what the book does is, it delves into the history of baseball in D.C., the Nationals franchise, a little bit of the "bad old days" that you're familiar with. Then it talks about Strasburg and Harper, their background. Then it gets into last year, in the context of both of those players, but also touching on a lot of the other guys who contributing. I kind of look at it as a great jumping off point about this team. We all know there's a lot more to be said about the Nationals if things go the way they should. I think this is a great entry point for people who are not 100 percent familiar with the team and who want to know more about the background of Strasburg and Harper and baseball in this town.

MZ: You've covered the Nationals for a couple of different local outlets, but the team didn't go out of its way to be accommodating with credentials and access for this book. How much of a challenge was that for you?

ES: It was a huge challenge. I guess I naively thought that they would be ecstatic that somebody was going to be writing a book about their franchise when, let's face it, there's not a lot of written material out there on the Nationals. So it was a challenge. I did understand where they were coming from, I guess, but it made me do a lot more research and do what I could to fill in some of the gaps that may not have been there if I had the complete access I was hoping for. I don't think in the end it hurt the book that much. I was able to do research, and obviously I talked to you and other people around the team. I think it all worked out in the end.

MZ: Just please tell me I wasn't your primary source of information for the book.

ES: I don't know if I can say that. I mean, you've been with the team since Day One. So what better source is there than you? But there are a lot of voices in there. I think the great thing about these two guys [Strasburg and Harper] is that there's been a lot of stuff written about them, so I was able to use a lot of that as background, plus what I was able to get directly from them. But you have to admit: You've seen pretty much everything with this franchise, so I think it was important to get you in the book.

MZ: How much did the way the season ended affect how you wrote the book, and much different would it have been if 1) Strasburg had been pitching in October, and 2) they had advanced deeper in the playoffs?

ES: It definitely would have been different. I kind of got the go-ahead to write the book in June, and I had a deadline of October 1. Which really gave me about three months to write a book, which is not a lot of time, especially for a first-time author. And obviously the Nationals, at that point, were steaming toward the playoffs. So I know that deadline wasn't going to work. So it changed, sort of, the end of the book. I was able to get the playoffs in. And I think it would have been open-ended as long as the Nationals had kept winning. Unfortunately, they did not, so it did provide kind of an ending point. But I think it also provides an ending point that is kind of essential to what I was saying before: We all know that this is just chapter one of this new outlook for this franchise. I think a lot of times, any team that goes through that successful arc always has that one defeat where they get knocked down before they get back up and learn how to win. So I think that was a pretty good ending, for the book. And I think it's a pretty good jumping-off point for the future. They've had that heartbreak. And you know going into this season that they want to do more than that.

MZ: If they do go deeper this season, reach the World Series or win it, what do you do? Do you write another book, or do you write an addendum to this one?

ES: That's a good question. We haven't really talked about that. We'll see how this one goes. Obviously if they go on and win the World Series and Bryce Harper's the MVP and Stephen Strasburg's the Cy Young and Davey Johnson wins Manager of the Year and goes out on top, it definitely seems like we could add on to this. I hope that happens, and I hope I get a chance to do that.

MZ: OK, now the most important question: Tell everyone what I was really like in college.

ES: Oh, boy. I feel like I should bring out the Penn State story, because that's probably my favorite Mark Zuckerman story of them all. Hmm, I'll tell your readers -- because as you know, I was your boss for a little while -- that obviously you were a very circumspect and talented writer. I never had to call you in and break down your stories or anything like that. But to your readers: Next time you see Mark, ask him about that Penn State road trip. That's when you'll get to see a different side of Mark, right there.

MZ: I've mellowed since then, I think.

ES: Yes. Fatherhood, marriage, all that stuff, has mellowed you since that fateful trip.

40 comments:

natsfan1a said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
natsfan1a said...

Corrected for cut-and-paste fail. See y'all after lunch.

Oh, man. Don't leave us hanging like this... :-)

But to your readers: Next time you see Mark, ask him about that Penn State road trip. That's when you'll get to see a different side of Mark, right there.

Ghost Of Steve M. said...

Penn State dirt on Mark?

Unknown said...

From the first week the Nationals arrived in Washington until a year ago, I was one of the team's most ardent bloggers. For awhile there, I blogged 2-3 times a day during the regular season.

The name of my blog? The Beltway Boys.

Hmmm .........

I guess there isn't anything I can do considering I took the name "Beltway Boys" from a Saturday afternoon political show on Fox in the late 1990's.

But I'd settle for five or six cents. That would keep me quiet for sure :)

Farid @ Idaho
Blogging as The Beltway Boys

Rich P. said...

Meanwhile, Dave Sheinin of the Post spent months stalking Strasburg in 2010, then more months stalking Harper in 2011. What does he have to show for that?

Faraz Shaikh said...

Quick question: is anyone planning on attending Nats vs Braves next Saturday? I cannot but I want GG's bobblehead. Anyone willing to share?

Doc said...

I haven't read the interview yet, Mark. As soon as I get a chance I'll puruse it.

Strictly a coincidence but I got up this morning without knowing about Smith's book, and thought to myself it'd be neat if Zuk wrote a book about the Nats.

But hey, why not wait until they win the WS and then Mark's book will have more impact!!!! LOL

UnkyD said...

New posted....:
---------------
UnkyD said...
I have a little trouble seeing what all the fuss is about, in losing the power bat of Mikey. I love the guy, but seven of the eight starting position players have a reasonable chance of getting 20+...some as many as 30-40 taters, this year. Lack of power does not seem like a major worry...
April 03, 2013 1:23 PM

Ghost Of Steve M. said...

The book I want to read is how players like Jamey Carroll have flourished in the MLB since the clean-up of PEDs.

I want to read a book on a non-star but someone who grinded every day of there lives to get where they are. If not him, Chad Cordero.

Baseball, hockey, and golf are among the sports that still have a place for gritty hard working youngsters who persevere. They don't have to be 6'2" and take PEDs.

I will read Elliott Smith's book, but I really want to read about the underdog. I do understand that not too many people want to read that type of book but some will.

Doc said...

Yeah Mark, wad about that Penn State trip??

Were the cops called in?? Were there strippers and booze? Who paid for the broken furniture, and the holes in the walls?

Sounds intriguing!

Ghost Of Steve M. said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Ghost Of Steve M. said...

http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/nationals-journal/wp/2013/04/03/how-much-will-the-nationals-miss-michael-morses-power-in-the-lineup/

Well James Wagner throws in his 2 cents on Michael Morse and his power.

One missing point on Morse is that he played hurt almost all of 2012 making 2011 a great season to judge him on his power potential.

In an above average lineup, you can't pitch around the batter in front of him like you can with Stanton and the Beast is one of the few feared batters when he is healthy.

Tcostant said...

I would love for Mark to post that college road trip story :)

I have an interesting story about how the author said that the Nationals are not well know. I was in Mexico at x-mas time and he were crossing the Tj / San Degio boarder. For none who have done this before, think of long lines and vendors selling everything from toco to jerseys to garden gnomes.

So my wife was buying some jerseys and hats for my boys of the local Tj soccer team. But they have everything Giants, Cowboys, Yankees, Royals, etc. The guy ask me "what's your team"; I point to my hat and say The Washington Nationals. He looks at me and says, "like Seatle?". I say no, Washington, D.C. He ask if it is a college team. I say no, major league baseball. He goes and ask a few other guys and none have even heard of the Nationals.

No kidding...

Sec. 3, My Sofa said...

So, Elliott, is this available in local bookstores? Nats shops? At the ballpark? Does it come with a free copy of Bob Carpenter's scorebook? (FP made me ask that--Bob wrote the foreward).

Beltway Boys on Amazon.com

baseballswami said...

Great guy, but the folks who post around here have short memories. On this and other blogs his defensive skills were routinely criticized, as well as his ability to play a full season. Now that he is gone he has become a folk hero. I love the guy's personality, he is a really good hitter, I am so glad he was a Nat, I thank him for Take On Me ( I think many folks at the ball park had no idea they were playing it because he was up to bat, though), and I wish him health and success in Seattle. The Mariners were the first major league club I took my sons too,as they were born out there. I hope it is a great fit for him.

baseballswami said...

That was about Morse, of course.

Sec. 3, My Sofa said...

Wait, I just thought of something: Without Morse, who's in charge of the shaving cream pies for position players?

Candide said...

Faraz Shaikh said...

Quick question: is anyone planning on attending Nats vs Braves next Saturday? I cannot but I want GG's bobblehead.


I'm going.

You can have my Gio bobblehead.

When you pry it from my cold, dead hands.

Ghost Of Steve M. said...

baseballswami, read all of my past posts on Morse. Yes, he was not a great defensive leftfielder but was still better than that hack Matt Holliday and 2 or 3 others. I felt his best position would be 1st base. I guess it's water under the bridge now and at times this season it will be a bitter pill to swallow every time we hear how he is dominating.

As I said last week, he led all of the MLB in Spring Training with 9 HRs which he hit against real MLB starters.

If ALR does his job near last year and Denard Span excels and AJ Cole is a stud, then this turns out to be a great trade but everyone has to remember, Morse was going to be a Free Agent after this season so he was going to be a short-timer regardless.

Candide said...

Tcostant said...I have an interesting story about how the author said that the Nationals are not well know. I was in Mexico at x-mas time and he were crossing the Tj / San Degio boarder.

Cunegonde and I were also in Mexico (Cozumel) at Christmas. Vendors galore, of course, signs were 90% English, dollars were the standard medium of exchange, apart from Visa and Mastercard.

One outdoor kiosk sold an odd item: beer bottles that had apparently been melted flat, and in the melting process, had a team logo embedded into the glass.

The usual suspects were there: The Yankees' NY, the Cowboys' lone star, and other popular teams, all in prominent display.

I didn't see a Nats bottle as we walked by, and remarked as such to Cunegonde. The lady in the kiosk heard me, and said, "We have the Nationals..." and beckoned us over.

Sure enough, there's a flattened blue bottle with the big red Curly W in the middle.

Ten bucks. It's on our kitchen stove, serving as a cooking spoon resting place.

baseballswami said...

Ghost - the free agency is one of the biggest factors. That, and having many, many outfielders and first basemen. I think some people expect Span to replace Morse but they are totally different players . Span is not a power hitter but can bat lead off, freeing up Jayson for another spot. It's just a different skill set and dynamic.

Section 222 said...

I'd say Morse's impending free agency was the biggest factor. If he'd been under team control for several more years, Rizzo might very well have stood pat, knowing his value would increase with another monster season.

We've yet to see what Span can do. If he has an OBP of .350 or above this year and plays excellent CF, and Harper starts making some great plays in LF, people are going to stop moaning about the loss of Morse even if he continues to rake in Seattle.

DaveB said...

So as long as we're beating this dead horse, would Giancarlo have tested Morse on Monday? and would he have made it? (I think the complaints on Mikey were about his range, and not his arm, but ust thought I'd toss it out there.

baseballswami said...

Good point.

Rich P. said...

The choice wasn't Morse or Span. The choice was Morse or LaRoche. Giancarlo wouldn't have tested Morse on Monday, because Morse would have been playing first base.

natsfan1a said...

Seeing as how there don't seem to be sideline interviews now, that may be a moot point.

Sec. 3, My Sofa said...

Wait, I just thought of something: Without Morse, who's in charge of the shaving cream pies for position players?
April 03, 2013 2:19 PM

Section 222 said...

Somewhere Feel (or whatever he now calls himself) is smiling because we are still having this discussion.

natsfan1a said...

That's rich, 222. ;-) Speaking of rich, I believe your post is missing a "not," Mr. P.

Rich P. said...

The choice wasn't Morse or Span. The choice was Morse or LaRoche. Giancarlo wouldn't have tested Morse on Monday, because Morse would have been playing first base.
April 03, 2013 3:16 PM

Sec. 3, My Sofa said...

OK, talcum powder in the bathroom, then. Who's giving players a hotfoot on the bench?

Sec. 3, My Sofa said...

Perhaps we can revisit the "They should have traded/re-signed Soriano!" argument the next time we have an off day.

Sec. 3, My Sofa said...

Actually, we do still rehash the Bartolo Colon trade some days, so maybe the Morse discussion will be with us for some time.

baseballswami said...

Let's not forget that we actually got Morse for Ryan Langerhans. I think he might still have a job. Rizzo!

natsfan1a said...

Curse you, Minaya! (shakes fist at screen)

Doc said...

Actually Sec., the Bartolo Colon trade will 'live in infamy' to borrow a phrase.

Worst trade in baseball history!

Faraz Shaikh said...

Come on Ruth trade has to be the worst. Colon pales in comparison.

Candide said...

Ruth wasn't traded to the Yankees; he was sold.

The worst TRADE: Orioles send Milt Pappas, Jack Baldschun, and Dick Simpson to the Reds for Frank Robinson.

NCNatsie said...

Nope. Lou Brock for Ernie Broglio.

Sec. 3, My Sofa said...

Who can forget Frank Robinson for Milt Pappas, for [goodness's] sake?!

Doc said...

Thanks Candide!

Just trades here Faraz--not sales!

Interessting to see last winter's Toronto-Miami trade come out??

That trade has the potential to be one of the worst, depending on how the prospects for Miami work out.

Tcostant said...

Candide said...
Ruth wasn't traded to the Yankees; he was sold.

The worst TRADE: Orioles send Milt Pappas, Jack Baldschun, and Dick Simpson to the Reds for Frank Robinson.

Me - Nolan Ryan's trade from the Mets, might have been the worst of all time IMO.

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