WASHINGTON—National League (NL) Most Valuable Player (MVP) candidate Anthony Rendon surveyed his teammates scattered around the Nationals Park diamond, whoopin’ it up after clinching a World Series berth.
There were starting pitchers Max Scherzer and Aníbal Sánchez, each 35—and each responsible for taking a no-hit bid into at least the seventh inning as Washington won Games One and Two of the NL Championship Series. So was Howie Kendrick, 36, the second baseman who earned NLCS MVP honors with four doubles and four RBIs in the sweep. And Ryan Zimmerman, 35, the first baseman slugging .484 this postseason.
“A lot of old guys on the team,” Rendon observed. “They call themselves ‘Viejos.’”
Indeed, they do, and “Los Viejos”—Spanish for “The Old Guys”—are a big part of why the Nationals are getting ready to face the Astros in the Fall Classic, which opens Tuesday night in Houston.
There’s also catcher Kurt Suzuki, 36, and reliever Fernando Rodney, 42, the oldest active player in the majors.
“People think we are old men and we can’t do things,” said Rodney, who credited Suzuki with originating the nickname. “So we say, ‘Vamos, Viejos! You can do it!’”
They helped make Washington the oldest club in baseball in 2019, with an average age of a tad under 31.
The Astros aren’t exactly spring chickens, either: With an average age of just above 30, they ranked third oldest out of Major League Baseball’s 30 clubs. Just like the Nationals, their roster includes a half-dozen players who are at least 35, including rotation stalwarts Justin Verlander and Zack Greinke.
Astros star Alex Bregman has noticed.
“I know how they say let the kids play,” the 25-year-old third baseman said Monday. “But there are some veterans that can show the kids how to play.”
Makes sense to Suzuki.
“Older players sometimes get devalued a little bit, just because of the age,” he said. “You can call us old, but that’s fine. We don’t care. We feel like we can still contribute and we can still play at a high level. And I think that’s the only thing that matters.”
Scherzer, for example, is a three-time Cy Young Award winner who followed up yet another stellar regular season by compiling a 1.80 ERA in four appearances in the playoffs; Washington went 4-0 in those games.
Sánchez has made two starts this postseason with a 0.71 ERA.
Like Scherzer and Sánchez , Rodney is one of a half-dozen members of the Nationals to already have appeared in a World Series (only one, little-used reliever Hunter Strickland, has won a title).
Rodney has been a key part of the late-season rebirth of the team’s bullpen: He has allowed two hits and zero runs in 2 2/3 innings in the playoffs.
“I look at them, and they’re not old to me,” 55-year-old manager Dave Martinez said. “They’re playing like I’ve seen them play when they were 27, 28.”
Sure, the Nationals do have a couple of kids playing key roles in starting outfielders Juan Soto, 20, and Victor Robles, 22. But there’s not much else at that end of the spectrum, which is why when second baseman Brian Dozier, 32, was asked what advice he’s giving the younger guys, he chuckled and responded: “Younger guys? You mean the two that’s in here?”
Dozier thinks it’s important to have a lot of veterans at this time of year—players who have been around are used to dealing with distractions such as an increased media presence and have a better grasp of how to, as he put it, “slow the game down a lot more” when the pressure increases.
“The chemistry and the experience that veteran guys bring, you can’t put that into an algorithm. You can’t put a money value on it. So people don’t like it. But there’s definitely a place for those guys,” Zimmerman said. “You can’t have a team filled with old guys, either. Nobody’s saying that. I’m just saying that there are spots on every team for veteran guys who have been there and done that and have experience and can teach the young, talented guys that are basically going to carry the game on to the next generation how to respect the game, how to play the game the right way.”
Nationals GM Mike Rizzo likes the way the older players mentor the younger ones.
He also likes the production “Los Viejos” provide.
“We knew we were the oldest team in the league, and everybody said that’s a negative. We just tried to flip that and made it a positive, because we know how good … we can still play. All of us, even the old guys,” Scherzer said. “For me, I don’t even feel old. I feel young. I feel great and know that I can go out there and do everything I could do back when I was 25 years old.”
Image credits: AP