Who's surprised the Washington Nationals are in the playoffs? Didn't think so. But are you surprised the Nationals might be the team to beat in the so-called Senior Circuit?
"I don't know if I could say that I thought we'd be leading Major League Baseball in wins," said the Nationals' Mark Scialabba. "To tell you the truth, yeah, we thought we'd be having meaningful games in September.
"That was something, throughout our spring training, that [general manager] Mike Rizzo and the staff preached it, that we had the club -- certainly on paper -- to play meaningful games in September."
Local college baseball fans know Scialabba, who is Washington's Director of Minor League Operations, as a former standout player at Williams College.
The ex-Eph was a standout baseball player. The NESCAC player of the year in 2002, he accomplished the conference Triple Crown that year as he led the league with a .437 batting average, 13 home runs and 55 runs batted in.
An economics major, the 31-year old Scialabba coached and taught at Deerfield Academy while getting a Master's in Sports Management and MBA from UMass. A stint as an intern with the Pittsburgh Pirates (owned by Williams graduate Bob Nutting) led to a job with the Nationals.
"I didn't anticipate this job. I thought it would be neat to work in baseball," Scialabba said during a phone conversation from the Nationals' Florida complex. "I was an economics major and a psych
Scialabba isn't the only former Eph involved in baseball. Former Williams basketball player Will Kuntz is the Manager of Pro Scouting for the New York Yankees. And along with the aforementioned Nutting, you have Dalton's Jim Duquette -- currently a broadcaster, but formerly the general manager of the Mets and the Orioles.
Scialabba started working for the Nationals in 2006, and has worked his way up to his current position.
The Nationals have come a long way since arriving in Washington for the 2005 season. Scialabba said there was no one defining moment when he felt that this team was bound to do some really outstanding things.
"Every month we had a winning record and I think we were the only team in baseball to do that," he said. "To start off April hot, and our starting pitching set the tone.
"Coming out of camp, I think Davey Johnson at the helm had confidence in our players and he said ‘If we don't win this thing, fire me.' He was pretty confident."
That level of confidence obviously translated to the players and before you know it, the Nationals are in the playoffs.
The team's success is rooted in its minor leaguers. Sure, drafting Stephen Strasburg and Bryce Harper constitutes the ultimate in no-brainer decisions. There have been other "can't miss" prospects that do just that.
Scialabba oversees seven minor league teams and works under former big leaguer Bob Boone, Washington's assistant general manager and vice president of player development. SAs to the future, Scialabba would like to be a Mike Rizzo. But there is no timetable.
"Someday, but I know I have to pay my dues and learn as much about this game," he said. "I continue to learn every day. Eventually, it would be a great thing to have happen.".