The next time Dusty Baker makes a call to the Nationals’ bullpen, look for the relievers to hold up three fingers in unison.
Perhaps you’ve already noticed this and dismissed it as another quirky bullpen ritual. That’s partly correct. The inspiration for it comes from bullpen coach Dan Firova, who lost his right pinkie finger to a wood shop accident in high school.
Nats reliever Shawn Kelley explained further to Grant Paulsen and Danny Rouhier of 106.7 The Fan on Wednesday.
“Dan Firova, our bullpen coach. Awesome guy,” Kelley said. “Coached in Mexico professionally for like 20 years and then this is his first time with the major leagues as our bullpen coach. Dusty brought him over. But, he has three fingers.”
“I thought he had four fingers,” Paulsen said.
“Three fingers and a thumb,” Kelley clarified. “He lost his pinkie when he was a junior in high school in a shop machine cleaning a saw blade…. crazy story. Still led the team in three-point percentage and points that year, his next year, his senior year, after losing his pinkie, on the basketball team. No joke.”
“Didn’t affect the rotation coming off the hand, there?” Rouhier quipped.
“Not at all,” Kelley said. “So that’s kind of our rally cry, you know, like in the bullpen. We hold up our three fingers.”
Firova typically throws the first round of batting practice before games.
“Everybody loves his BP, his batting practice,” Kelley said. “They love his three-finger fastball…. It’s pretty straight. Well, you know, hitters aren’t gonna like it if it’s moving for batting practice, because they’re just trying to soften their feelings, fluff ’em up a little.”
Another thing which may come as a surprise to fans, the relievers all wear custom T-shirts, the latest featuring Firova’s face on the front, and a special message inscribed on the back, which reads:
I don’t always hear the phone when it rings
BUT WHEN I DO
I pick it up with
There’s a backstory to that, too, as you might imagine.
“So it’s kind of the ‘most interesting man’ thing,” Kelley said. “So Dan doesn’t hear real well, either. So he’s already got a less digit, and he doesn’t hear real well. A lot of times the phone starts ringing, and, you know, we’re like panicking, like, ‘Somebody’s got to go in this game.’ And Dan’s just sitting there — counting on his fingers or something, I don’t know — and doesn’t hear it.”
“So, ‘Dan! Dan! Get the phone,” they shout at Firova. “So our saying was, ‘He doesn’t always hear the phone when it rings, but when he does, he picks it up with his three fingers.’ And he loves it. He wears the shirt.”
“It’s all the relievers, and Dan has the shirt,” Kelley said. “He wears it under his batting practice top.”
There’s been an interesting development in the shirt department recently. Kelley’s shirt mysteriously vanished while the Nationals were on the road last week in Atlanta. He had it for their three victories to start the series, but realized it was missing sometime between Saturday evening and prior to Sunday’s 7-6 loss. Kelley, for only the second time this season, was charged with the loss.
“The shirt got lost in Atlanta after the first three games that we won. No joke,” he said. “The shirt did not return to my locker. Everybody else’s did. Mine got lost, okay? And, coincidentally, I got the loss that day.”
“A very rare loss this season for Shawn Kelley,” Paulsen noted.
“The shirt did not turn up in Baltimore for me,” Kelley said. “It was still lost and we lost both games in Baltimore.”
Kelley has no idea what happened to his shirt, he says, but he has since ordered a reprint and had the delivery expedited to ensure it punctually arrived before the club’s return to Nationals Park for the second leg of a home-and-home series against the Orioles.
He wore it into the 106.7 The Fan studios because “I’m trying to make up for lost time.”
Despite frequent requests from teammates, Kelley says the shirts are reserved for relievers — “this is a relievers-only club” — though he would make an exception if a starter were to meet one strict requirement.
“There’s qualifications for that,” he said, coughing into the microphone. “Complete game.”
“So if someone goes eight and two-thirds, comes storming off the mound, they’re pissed because they don’t get a shirt,” Rouhier imagined.
“Sorry about it,” Kelley said.