With Dusty Baker away from the Nationals to grieve the death of a close family member, bench coach Chris Speier has stepped up to replace him for Wednesday night's series finale against the Mets, and perhaps also Friday night's opener at the Atlanta Braves, depending on when Baker can return to the team.
It's a position Speier has been in before, having filled in for Baker when the skipper left the Reds in 2012 to deal with a health issue. But though he's done it in the past, that doesn't make the job any easier.
"This is not an ideal situation to be in. It's not my first time that we've done this. The last time I was managed was another similar, somber situation," Speier said. "I just try to do the things that I know he would do and that he would want me to do... It's just done with a heavy heart. You have a friend that's going through some difficult times. Your heart goes out. What I do and what the team does today is done for him."
Speier said he's known for several days he would have to fill in for Dusty, meaning Baker has been coaching the Nats with a lot on his mind. The Nationals have been in the middle of a pennant race and are currently playing their final head-to-head series against the division rival Mets.
Speier said he will continue to fill his primary responsibilities involving the team's defensive alignment and baserunning strategies. He does not plan to have another assistant now fill in as bench coach.
"Just let them play. Don't try to be too tricky. We have a lot of talent on this team. Let the talent do it. Try to put them in the right position to be successful. Don't over-manage. This situation is: let's not get anybody hurt," he said.
Baker and Speier go back a long time. They began a coaching relationship in 2005 when Speier joined Baker's staff with the Chicago Cubs.
The two have grown very close over the years.
"From wisdom and experience he’s at times like an older brother. At times, he’s like a very close friend. In times of need and times of questions that I have about life, he’s almost like the father. So, he fills all of those things. And I know he fills that role with a lot of the guys on the team," Speier said.
Speier described how he's seen Baker change over the years from their Chicago days to now in Washington, the third MLB team they have coached together.
"I know now that Dusty earlier on, this game wore on him. I could tell. This time around, he just seems a lot happier and a lot more at peace. He doesn’t take defeat, doesn’t take losses, doesn’t take down times as hard as he used to. It’s really refreshing. Makes us turn the page a lot quicker, too."
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