I've gotten a lot of advice along the road to honing my writing craft, but none was more valuable than the advice I received from a course on screenwriting at the University of Virginia. After about three weeks of taking notes, going over script formats, reading scripts and attempting to write our own, the instructor suddenly stopped, sat down and said five words I will never forget. He said, "A monkey riding a horse."
Confusion abounded at first, but then we realized he was giving us probably the most important tip in screenwriting, any type of writing or pretty much anything having to do with advertising, entertainment or selling yourself. You see, if you have a monkey riding a horse in your script, then the chances of it getting picked up increase drastically. For some reason, people love a monkey riding a horse or something similar, like a nude supermodel barebacking a rhino or a 20-car pile up being rammed by a tanker truck full of jet fuel. It is the money shot, that golden moment that basically sells your story.
This tip can even be applied to baseball. Day One of the 2011 Winter Meetings in Dallas, Texas is in the books. After one day, it would certainly benefit the Washington Nationals if they could find their monkey on a horse.
The Nationals came into the Winter Meetings riding a lot of momentum. They were coming off a 2011 season where they finished third in the NL East, their highest ranking since baseball returned to D.C. in 2005. Their ace pitcher, Stephen Strasburg, is healthy, young guns like Tom Milone and Brad Peacock stirred up some excitement and top prospect Bryce Harper is on the horizon. The Nationals also committed to manager Davey Johnson, a seasoned skipper who absolutely believes this team can contend from this point on (with a little help). The Nationals were riding a high and beautiful wave into Dallas. The team looked attractive and on the rise. General Manager Mike Rizzo should have had no problem fulfilling the off-season shopping list of needs.
However, something went wrong. The Miami Marlins, with their new name and new stadium, added a new player in Jose Reyes and quickly became the surprise Cinderellas of the Winter Meetings. They are apparently making a play for every big name free agent available, including Prince Fielder and Albert Pujols. The Nationals have denied having any interest. The Nationals kept their name in plenty of day one rumors, but moving into late hours of the day, one could hardly find a bead on what the Nationals plan, if any, is. Rumors of anger and aggravation began to surface. Jayson Werth suddenly became a center field option, starting Harper on Opening Day became an acceptable desperate act in many people's eyes and Jim Duquette hit the social media hard peddling snake oil, six years for C.J. Wilson and bad rumors that onfused matters.
The wave began to break before even reaching shore. Starting day two, the Nationals seemed run aground in the shallows of possibility.
Plenty can change in the next week (come on, it is only the second day), but Nationals fans, who are fans of a big market team, don't want to hear the Nationals are not considering two of the most powerful first base bats in the game. They don't want to hear "the Nationals do not view this season as their moment to really go for it." They do not want to settle for slow starting, injury-prone Adam LaRoche or pushing their prospects to the majors perhaps before their time. Come to think of it, potential free agents don't want to hear it either. Big market teams ALWAYS go for it. Big market teams concentrate on what they ARE going to do and consider everything. They are progressive and aggressive. The Nationals so far have not acted the part.
An early splash at the Winter Meetings could have really made the Nationals a monsoon. Putting their monkey on a horse would have officially put other teams on notice: Washington has finally turned that corner. Respectability be thy name. We are ready to embrace you with open arms and wallet. But that thunder has been quickly stolen from them, partly of their own doing and partly because of one of their division rivals.
There are plenty of storylines to be written and the climax of the Winter Meeting drama is still days away, but it would benefit the Nationals to get something done relatively early. In the great scheme of things, they still have the rest of the offseason and Spring Training to build and get something done. They don't need the Winter Meetings for that. But while money and players might be changing hands on the surface in Dallas, underneath there is a game of psychology going on and it would be naive to think fans and potential free agents aren't noticing.
The Winter Meetings are a big stage, baseball's showcase where you are supposed to flaunt, glitter up and show off what you have. You just bought a new mustang, why not rub it into your rival's face? The Marlins are doing that currently, and so will the winner of the Pujols, Fielder, Wilson and Mark Buehrle sweepstakes.
Perhaps it is time the Nationals write a monkey on a horse into their script.