Returning to Nationals Park for the first time since signing a free agent deal with the Chicago White Sox in 2010, former Nats first baseman Adam Dunn quickly felt back at home on Tuesday. There were familiar faces between players and stadium staff, all of whom Dunn remembers fondly. But this time Dunn headed to the other locker room, the visiting clubhouse. He called it strange, but said it “comes with the territory.”
Dunn isn’t set to start in Tuesday’s series opener, as manager Robin Ventura has catered the lineup towards lefty Gio Gonzalez. So Dunn gets to sit back and take in the experience. Whether he gets in the game as a pinch hitter, or has to wait until Wednesday with Jordan Zimmermann on the mound, Dunn is looking forward to it.
“It’s going to be fun. I loved my time here,” he said. “Obviously I still have some really good friends on the team and it will be good to see everybody from top to bottom.”
Dunn left after the 2010 season in which he hit 38 homers and over 100 RBI for the second straight year with the Nats. But general manager Mike Rizzo decided to go in a different direction, Dunn was 31 and showing his age on defense. It was beneficial for him to transition to the American League if he wanted a multi-year deal.
A few years later, Rizzo had nothing but nice things to say about the ‘Big Donkey’ as he was known in Washington.
“He's one of my favorite players. He's great in the clubhouse, he's an offensive threat, and it was great to see him have a bounceback season last year and play like he should play,” he said.
Dunn has harbors no negative feelings toward the Nats for moving on without him.
"I knew that they were going to do what was best for the team, and I was fine with that. Sometimes things just don't work out," he said. "You'll never hear me say anything bad about anybody in this organization, from top to bottom. Everything they've done has been first-class, and I really enjoyed it over there."
Dunn may have left the organization, but he still keeps up with some of his former teammates.
“Zimm is one of my good buddies and Desmond, Ian and I are pretty close. Adam LaRoche, I’ve been buddies with him for a long time,” he said.
“It will be good to just see all of the guys. I really enjoyed my time here and there’s a lot of people that besides players that I’m looking forward to seeing.”
Zimmerman played with Dunn during seasons when he was 24 and 25 years old and, now looking back, realizes how much time has flown by.
“Time goes quick,” Zimmerman said. “It seems like just yesterday I was coming out of college and now it’s eight or nine years. This game has a way of doing that, making you forget how quickly things change and then you realize it is a business and things happen.”
Zimmerman watched from afar as Dunn struggled in his first season with the White Sox. He hit a career low 11 home runs, batted just .159, and struck out 177 times. He dealt with boos and got slammed by the press, things that affected Zimmerman as well.
“You don’t want anyone to do bad. Obviously Adam works hard, he had some good years here and he’s had a lot of good years in baseball,” he said.
“For him to go through a season like that is tough to watch and it’s tough to have to think about what he’s going through knowing what kind of person he is and how much pride he takes in his work.”
Dunn bounced back in 2012 with 41 home runs and 96 RBI in 151 games with Chicago. Zimmerman was happy to see him re-establish himself as the slugger he was for so many years.
“I think Adam’s happy where he’s at, he had a great year last year, he’s on a good team. I think he’s very happy with how his career has played out.”
Desmond still keeps in touch with Dunn, but hasn’t seen him in a while playing halfway across the country.
“He’s a friend of mine. Families are friends, so it’s going to be good to see him,” he said. “I’m going to say hi to the big fella. I’m glad he’s not playing tonight.”
As a young player in the league, Desmond said he learned a lot from what Dunn went through in 2011 and remembers picking up things from the slugger when they were teammates.
“It’s unbelievable. I mean, even the first year there, the way he handled himself, going through those struggles,” he said. “You can learn something from a guy like that. He had a terrible time. His fans were booing him. He obviously wasn’t playing up to his potential. He was going through some things, and he kept his head up and he kept running out there and playing. That’s what being a professional is all about.”
“I think that’s one of the things I took from him when he was here. He was a pro. I think he played like 160 games every year he was here. It was pretty awesome to watch. A guy that big, and you can kind of see him going through some struggles physically and things like that. He continued to go out there and play. He was a pro. I appreciated it and respected him when he was here.”
Dunn said he’s disappointed to sit out the first game of the series, but understands Ventura’s decision.
“It’s tough, when you’re in the American League it’s hard to mix and match. We’ve got a lot of guys that need to play and can play, but also it’s a good time to get a little breather and we’ll be able to get a few guys some breaks.”
Nats manager Davey Johnson was pleased to see Dunn out of the lineup, perhaps an advantage for Washington hosting the interleague game.
“It makes it tougher on them than anything, Adam Dunn’s not in the lineup. He’s a big guy in their lineup and he’s not in the lineup,” he said.
“Hopefully when he comes up it’s late in the ballgame and we have a lead and nobody on.”
Dunn will make an appearance at some point this series, maybe even on Tuesday night. He said he hasn’t thought a lot about how the crowd will receive him, but hopes it is a warm welcome for a player many fans liked during his tenure.
“I really don’t know, hopefully it will be a good one I would think. But again, you’re the opponent now.”