WASHINGTON -- After the Nationals traded backup infielder Steve Lombardozzi to the Tigers in December, free agent Jamey Carroll was hoping Washington would express interest in his services.
The phone didn't ring until January, and that's when Carroll agreed to a Minor League deal with the Nats, the organization that gave him his first chance to play professional baseball.
The Nationals are looking to improve their bench, and Carroll, 39, could be a good fit for them. He can play every infield position except first base and has dabbled in the outfield. Carroll decided to return to the Nats after having a phone conversation with manager Matt Williams, who expressed the importance of defense.
"They are in a situation to have a great year. Last year was disappointing for them," Carroll said via phone recently. "The core of the team is there, and I had a chance to talk to Matt Williams and that got me real excited to be part of that club. ... He talked about the team and opportunity. I got excited."
Signing with the Nationals means Carroll will be closer to home during Spring Training. He lives not too far from Washington's Spring Training facility in Viera, Fla. Carroll also has the distinction of being an original member of the Nats. He was a key member of the Nationals' first team in 2005 and was a valuable player off the bench for then-manager Frank Robinson.
Carroll played for the Expos/Nationals from 2002-05, and he was a favorite of Robinson's because of his hard work and hustle on the field. When then-general manager Jim Bowden dealt Carroll to the Rockies after the 2005 season, Robinson was unhappy and had a tough time finding a quality backup infielder in '06.
In fact, in 2006, Robinson gave Carroll the nickname "Babe Carroll," because he destroyed Nats pitching that year, hitting .452 with a home run and six RBIs.
Carroll went on to have a nice career after leaving Washington, playing for the Rockies, Indians, Dodgers, Twins and Royals. In 12 big league seasons, Carroll has a .272 career batting average with 13 home runs and 265 RBIs in 1,275 games.
"I tried to do [my best] and help the ballclub," Carroll said. "There are always people who think you can't. At the same time, it's a little more motivation to prove that you can. I've always taken the mindset of, 'If people think I can't do anything, I'm going to try my best and turn it around.' I've seen Bowden now and then, especially out in L.A. The trade allowed me to go to Colorado where I got to play every day. It helped a lot of things, especially what people thought about me."
Nine years after leaving the Nationals, Carroll credits Robinson for his success in the big leagues.
"There's no question I owe him a debt of gratitude -- for sticking with me, giving me an opportunity to play for him," Carroll said. "He fought for me to be on those teams. He gave me an opportunity to prove that I could play at this level. ... He gave me a chance to establish myself. I saw him a lot when I was playing in L.A. And I let him know that I was appreciative. I talked to him more [after I stopped playing for him]. Without a doubt, I owe Frank Robinson more than you can imagine."
Bill Ladson is a reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog, All Nats All the time. He also could be found on Twitter @WashingNats.