Nats' Williams happy to be back in Arizona
PHOENIX -- Returning to Phoenix never gets old for Nationals manager Matt Williams, once a third baseman for the D-backs and later a limited partner and third-base coach.
"Oh yeah, it's home. It's been home to me since 1989," Williams said on Monday night as his Nationals opened up a three-game series against the D-backs at Chase Field. "It was nice to sleep in my own bed last night, at the house with the family. It's good. Now we've got to win."
The Nationals have yet to play up to preseason expectations, and across the field, the D-backs have gone through a myriad of changes since Williams became Washington's manager for the 2014 season.
Prominently, old friend Chip Hale is now the manager of the D-backs, and former D-backs teammate Randy Johnson is set to be inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame on July 26 in Cooperstown, N.Y., along with fellow pitchers John Smoltz and Pedro Martinez, plus Craig Biggio, a member of the 3,000-hit club.
Williams was in and around and the Arizona organization when Hale coached in Arizona on the staff of manager Bob Melvin from 2006-09, and of course, he played with Johnson on the team that defeated the Yankees in the seven-game 2001 World Series.
Williams was asked what made Johnson so special, aside from the fact that he won 303 games and finished with 4,875 strikeouts, second all-time behind Nolan Ryan's 5,714.
"Well, he's 6-foo-10 and he throws the ball 100 [miles per hour]. Let's start there," Williams said. "And just the willingness to compete. He never wanted to come out of a game. He never wanted to relinguish that ball to anyone else when he was on the mound. It was a pleasure to play behind. He put us to sleep in the infield, because there wasn't much contact made. I'm proud of him. I'm very proud of him."
Hale already had left the D-backs as a coach for the same position with the Mets in 2010 when Williams joined the field staff, but the two always have been friends. Hale replaced Kirk Gibson as manager of the D-backs following last season.
"I've known Chip for a long time," Williams said. "We competed against each other going all the way back to our high school days, and then, of course, coached in the same organization. But they do things right. Chip makes them do it right, and they're an aggressive team.
"He's an aggressive guy by nature. I'm sure you have seen that so far. He loves to put pressure on the opposing team. He understands every aspect of the game. He's been a Minor League coordinator and managed in the Minor Leagues. He's put together schedules. He's done everything he could possibly do in the game. He was a bench coach, of course. He's been striving for it for a long time. I'm happy he got the job."