WASHINGTON -- Two of the “viejos” turned 35 years old this season, acknowledging birthdays two months and a day apart.
Max Scherzer passed the mark July 27, and when asked what he would do to celebrate, he announced they were all the same now. He’s a dad. Party’s over.
Ryan Zimmerman turned 35 years old Sept. 28, shrugging off the idea of any possible citywide celebration. Instead, he ended up at home in a T-shirt with his wife, Heather, in front of a basic white cake adorned by a green-rimmed “3” and “5” atop it.
They are among the team elders who have begun referring to themselves as “viejos,” adopting the Spanish word for “old” and receiving a kick out of the concept. Kurt Suzuki turned 36 on Oct. 4. Sean Doolittle hit 33 on Sept. 26. Howie Kendrick turned 36 on July 12.
Baseball, more and more, does not want to sign or promote players of this age bracket. The game has turned to youth, providing a different pulse and swarm of young talent to promote. Some of the high-end whipper-snappers even share the clubhouse with Scherzer and company. Juan Soto’s entrance into the postseason has helped boost the 20-year-old’s countrywide recognition. Victor Robles, 22, joins Soto among the in-house youngsters. The Dodgers' postseason roster includes four rookies, all of which were on the field at one point Monday night.
Zimmerman and Scherzer find this idea interesting in two ways: First, Zimmerman, despite being a former top prospect who came up at an early age (20), at times grumbles about what he perceives to be an over-reliance on youth, particularly for winning teams.
“Not everyone is Juan Soto,” he said earlier in the season.
For Scherzer, the topic relates to labor discussions. An easy way for teams to save money is by populating the roster with controlled contracts, not pay veterans for past performance. It’s also now recognized as a sound team-building philosophy. But, older players who can feel their time dwindling in the league, have a natural affinity for proven commodities versus just-able-to-buy-alcohol dice rolls.
Scherzer and Zimmerman laughed about -- and jousted back at -- the idea of their production and age Monday night after each grandly influenced Game 4 of the NLDS. Zimmerman’s contract being at the end of its final guaranteed year was brought up postgame the way it was pregame, and Scherzer jumped in quickly after Zimmerman began to address the topic.
“There's been a lot of people that think these are my last games,” Zimmerman said.
“I really don't think these are his last games,” Scherzer said. “All of you think it's his last games.”
Then Scherzer stared, with both his brown and blue eye, at a reporter in from New Jersey wondering about Zimmerman’s longevity and future.
They later laughed together when asked about their veteran status amid baseball’s swing the opposite way. Zimmerman even smirked while the questions was being delivered.
“Yeah, we joke about that,” Scherzer said. “We're a bunch of Viejos, we're old guys. Old guys can still do it.”
“Yeah, nice way to say veterans,” Zimmerman said.
“I feel young and I'm older than you,” Scherzer informed him.
Zimmerman reveled in the aging process this season. His in-dugout home run celebration includes the “Chicken Dance” preceded by the use of an invisible walker to shuffle across the dugout to the dance party’s edge. Robles provided an added touch Monday when tapping a bat head on the concrete for an audio effect as the unseen walker touched down and moved forward.
In Wednesday’s Game 5, only Scherzer will be among the Viejos unavailable to help decide the season’s next step, either an end in Los Angeles or a rerouted flight to Atlanta or St. Louis. Scherzer admitted postgame Tuesday his “arm is hanging.” He put a visual stamp on the idea when struggling to pull his polo shirt on at his locker postgame. A lot of maintenance and recovery is ahead before he throws again.
Zimmerman, Kendrick, Doolittle and Suzuki will be ready. While much of the league bends toward younger rosters, the Nationals are trying to finally punch their way out of a playoff round behind their “old” guys. One chance remains to do so.
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