National Press Club

Rizzo Tells Press Club Baseball Stadium Will Be 'Place to Be'

May 5, 2012 | By Jonathan D. Salant | jds15@aol.com

Washington Nationals General Manager Mike Rizzo

Washington Nationals General Manager Mike Rizzo

Photo/Image: Noel St. John

Washington Nationals General Manager Mike Rizzo offered this tip during a speakers' luncheon on May 4: Buy your tickets now. Nationals Park, he said, is "going to be the place to be and the ticket to have."

Corporations and lobbyists should be buying tickets for their clients as well, he said.

"If I was a corporation, I'd be having my clients out to the ballpark," he said. "There's not a better place to be."

Rizzo said that attendance will boom as the team, currently in first place in the National League's Eastern Division, continues its strong performance.

"When we start winning, that's going to fill the place," he said. "This team deserves a full house."

A former minor league baseball player and former scout and executive for the Chicago White Sox, Boston Red Sox and Arizona Diamondbacks, Rizzo became general manager in 2009 following the resignation of Jim Bowden. Before coming to the Nats, he helped sign first baseman Frank Thomas for the White Sox and shortstop Nomar Garciaparra for the Red Sox, in addition to helping assemble the 2001 World Champion Diamondbacks.

At the Nationals game, there are four presidents who race each other in the fourth inning: George, Tom, Abe and Teddy. They're the four presidents on Mount Rushmore. Teddy is the only one who has never won.

In his first job as general manager, he said he built the Nationals using this philosophy: power pitchers, good athletes up the middle, and "big boppers" on the corners.

"We have a vision and a plan," he said.

One such big bopper is outfielder Bryce Harper, the first draft pick in the nation in 2010. He was recently called up to the parent club earlier than expected due to injuries to other players, but is showing he belongs and may remain with the team even after players return from the disabled list.

"He's a special talent," Rizzo said. If Harper keeps up his performance, "there's no way in hell I can convince (manager) Davey Johnson to get rid of him."

Speaking about the press, he had no major complaints. "When you deserve to be rapped, you should be rapped. When you deserve to be praised, you should be praised." But he did offer this piece of advice: "Be right. Don't be first."

Rizzo said that high school ballplayers "need to enjoy the game." Coaches should "teach them the right way and just let them play."

As a former scout, Rizzo said he wouldn't go see the movie, "Moneyball," about Oakland Athletics' use of statistical analysis to find players that teams with bigger budgets overlooked. "It depicts baseball players as dummies," he said.

And asked when Teddy, the only one of the four Mount Rushmore presidents never to win the President's Race in the fourth inning, would finally come in first, he said, "Teddy needs to get faster. We expect him to get better."

"Come out to Nats Park. The one day you don't show up, he will win."