The Washington Nationals were eliminated from playoff contention fairly early this season. They finished last in the NL East and had the third-worst record in the Senior Circuit. Their season was pretty much over by the time the trade deadline rolled around. With several of their star players set to become either free agents or enter their final year of arbitration, the Nationals had to send some of their key contributors away in exchange for prospects.
Shortstop Trea Turner and starting pitcher Max Scherzer were the biggest prizes of the 2021 MLB trade deadline, and both ended up wearing Los Angeles Dodgers uniforms. These departures hit the Washington Nationals’ fandom pretty hard, but it might have hit Nationals’ superstar Juan Soto even harder.
During last night’s National League Wild Card Game, which saw the Scherzer-led Dodgers take down the St. Louis Cardinals by a final of 3-1, Juan Soto was seen behind home plate, cheering on his former teammates, and wearing his former teammate’s former attire.
That’s a Trea Turner Nationals jersey Juan Soto is wearing. The man next to Soto, Nationals’ hitting coach Kevin Long, is wearing a Max Scherzer Nationals jersey. How cool is that? That is a star player, an MVP candidate, flying across the country with his coach, rooting for a team that helped eliminate his team, just because his friends play for that team. Wow! When was the last time something similar happened? I can’t think of anything like it.
Soto was also one of the first people both Scherzer and Turner went to for celebration after Chris Taylor’s walk-off two-run blast sent the Dodgers to the NLDS.
This is why I love Juan Soto. The man just loves the game of baseball and he loves his friends. He’s like if Benny ‘The Jet’ Rodriguez from The Sandlot jumped out of my VHS tape and into the real world. This man just can’t believe that he gets paid to play a game he loves. Go ahead. Go to YouTube and search up ‘fun Juan Soto at-bats’. You will find a library of videos displaying a kid who loves to hit home runs and shuffle in the batter’s box. Whether it’s Soto staring the pitcher down and participating in mind games, Soto grabbing his junk after taking a pitch in the dirt and getting in the pitcher’s head, everything this man does just reminds me of kids on a diamond at the local park. It reminds me of Eric Byrnes, an outfielder for the A’s, Diamondbacks, and a few other teams during the 2000's.
Unlike Soto, Byrnes was never the best player on the field. He had his moments, like hitting for the cycle in 2003 or finishing 11th in MVP voting in 2007. However, Byrnes was one of the most fun players to watch. He took every step with this giddy enthusiasm that made fans smile. You could tell he loved the game of baseball and the game loved him back. He always went all-out and pushed his teammates to become better. You can still see it when he talks about the sport on MLB Network. He just loves to be around the game. Juan Soto is this decade’s Eric Byrnes, but way better.
Soto just wants to win, and more importantly, he wants to see his friends win too. Soto could’ve absolutely just stayed home, watched the game from the comfort of his bed in Washington, then congratulated Scherzer and Turner on social media or sent them a congratulatory text after the game, but no. Soto went above and beyond. He bought a plane ticket and went out to the game wearing a jersey from a team that isn’t even involved in the game just to show his friend’s some love. That’s so wholesome.
People say that baseball is a brotherhood; once you play with someone, no matter how short a time, you bond with them in a way that no other sport can. I believe that for the most part. I’ve always had this feeling though that when players reach the professional level, the joy of the game fades away. It’s great when you play it for fun, but once it starts consuming your life, it can become a hassle, and a player’s passion for the game can disappear. Juan Soto reminds me just how fun baseball is and can be, not just because of how he plays, but because of his support for other players. I hope we see him at every NLDS game — and perhaps someday playing in one again.