Feb 18, 2014, 6:00 AM EDT
VIERA, Fla. — Even as a first-time manager, Matt Williams could have asked for an overhaul of the Nationals’ coaching staff. Williams, though, wanted to keep as much institutional knowledge as possible alongside in his first year as a big-league skipper, so most of Davey Johnson’s season-ended staff remains intact.
That includes bench coach Randy Knorr, who also interviewed for the managerial opening, pitching coach Steve McCatty, hitting coach Rick Schu and first base coach Tony Tarasco. It also includes two first-time big-league coaches who were promoted from within the Nationals organization: Bobby Henley (third base) and Matt LeCroy (bullpen).
Add defensive instructor Mark Weidemaier, formerly with the Diamondbacks, and Williams has himself a boisterous coaching staff that already is feeling like a cohesive unit less than a week into camp. They meet for hours, laugh and joke on the field and in the office and keep a giant water cooler bottle full of $1 bills for every time a member of the staff says a predetermined word that has been banned for that individual.
“Their work ethic is phenomenal,” Williams said. “Everybody’s here early, everybody stays late. When we’re done in here [the manager’s office], we’ll have a two-hour meeting in there about all kinds of things, well beyond tomorrow’s schedule and spring schedule, but about the season and how we want to go about doing that. So all that’s really nice. And they’re phenomenal. … I’m not alone in looking at this club and saying: Jeez, we have a real opportunity here. I think everybody thinks that way.”
Williams, Henley and Tarasco went so far Sunday as to take their regular positions within Space Coast Stadium and work on sending signs back and forth.
“It’s like anything else,” Williams said. “These guys go through bullpens. We take BP. We take grounders. He and I have to get on the same page, that’s all. We’re just practicing.”
Henley enters his first season as the Nationals’ third base coach after serving as minor-league field coordinator the last four years. He also managed in the lower levels of their farm system from 2003-09, giving him a unique perspective on everything the franchise has experienced over the last decade-plus.
“He’s been running this camp and the minor-league camp for a long time, and he knows all these guys,” Williams said. “I thought that was ultimately important. Because he knows them personally, he could certainly lend opinion and thoughts about how we deal with guys within the organization. … The biggest thing was, one, he knows these guys. Two, he’s paid his dues, and he deserves a chance to do that.”
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