Dever runs tight ship for Opening Day
Nationals' senior director of media relations has players' backs
VIERA, Fla. -- John Dever, the Nationals' senior director of baseball media relations, will be involved in his 14th Opening Day this year, and while he's well practiced at the fanfare, each season opener brings new challenges.
The goal is to help the players relax around the media on the big day, which is Thursday afternoon against the Braves. Game time is at 1:05 p.m. ET at Nationals Park. Dever, who has had similar roles with the Padres and Expos, has dealt with players from Tony Gwynn to Vladimir Guerrero to Ryan Zimmerman.
"Opening Day is special for everyone in baseball," Dever said. "Everybody is undefeated for the moment. It's a great time to showcase what your team is all about. You have a nice crowd every time. Your spirits are up. It's a unique day in baseball. Opening Day baseball has a different flavor than the other sports."
It's important to Dever that new players such as outfielder Jayson Werth, first baseman Adam LaRoche and infielder/outfielder Jerry Hairston Jr. are comfortable in their new surroundings. There is an education process for the new players. Dever will sometimes go to clubhouse manager Mike Wallace and Rob McDonald, the director of team travel, to seek their counsel on how to deal with the new acquisitions.
For example, the day before the home opener, the players are participating in NatsFest, which starts at 4 p.m. The media relations staff will try to take some of players' duties of that day off their plates. The players have to wake up early the next morning and be at the stadium by 9a.m.
"It's a big day, so you want to really put on a good show," Dever said about Opening Day. "But you have a few of your players who are kind of in a whirlwind, and trying to figure out what's going on in their new home for the 2011 season.
"We are trying to do as much as we can before Opening Day. We are doing a lot of stuff with NatsFest, and trying to take some things off their plates in order to let them concentrate on what's going to happen on Opening Day. That's the first game of the year that actually counts."
Dealing with the players and media isn't the only thing Dever and his three-man staff -- Mike Gazda and Bill Gluvna -- have to deal with. There is always the possibility that the President of the United States will throw out the first pitch. There is no word yet if President Barack Obama will perform that duty for the second year in a row.
While there is a lot of security whenever the President is around, Dever loves the fact that the Nationals are keeping a tradition alive that dates back to the early 20th Century.
"[Having the President] adds a couple of extra layers when it does happen, but it is for all the right reasons and it provides its own pageantry. You are happy to do it," Dever said. "You are always pleased and proud when someone from his office comes to your ballpark. It makes you feel good, it makes you feel special to be his host."
It's obvious that Dever loves his job, not just on Opening Day. In his first year in baseball public relations, he watched the Padres go to the 1998 World Series. Dever also had the pleasure of meeting his wife, Karen, who also worked in the Padres organization.
Dever has the distinction of having been the PR director of the Expos when they played some of their home games in San Juan, P.R., in 2003 and '04. Today, he tries his best to make the players comfortable at Nationals Park and on the road.
"I enjoy every season and the challenges that come with it," Dever said. "The best thing about my job are the people. Baseball has a group of people, who are diverse in culture, nationality and religion. But there is one bond, and that's the game. I've always enjoyed the people that I've met in the game."
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. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.