Natives of NatsTown from the start
While scouring the Washington Nationals Training Complex, looking for fans to interview, one couple stood out. They were parked in their lawn chairs right next to the first base dugout at Field Three.
It didn’t take long to realize that they were a little bit different from the casual on-looker either looking for an autograph or just wanting to watch pitchers and catchers workout.
Jeff and Colleen Sherman, from Arlington, Va., are season ticket holders both in Viera and in Washington, DC. The couple has been coming down for Spring Training every year since the Nationals inception in 2005 and also has had season tickets up in DC since then.
Colleen was actually the first person through the turnstiles for the first game at Nationals Park in 2008 against the Atlanta Braves and the couple takes four or five weekend trips a year to see the team play on the road.
And because of their close following of the team since the start, they also feel a close bond with the players themselves.
“We see them in so many different places,” Jeff said. “We go see the team when they play on the road during the regular season on the weekends. We’re there behind the dugout at home. We’re here (in Viera). It becomes almost personal.
“So when somebody gets traded or somebody gets non-tendered, we feel like we are not only losing a player, but a friend. These guys are so interactive with us as well. We feel a very close bond with these guys and we live and die with them.”
With Spring Training in Viera, which coincidentally and conveniently is just down the road from where Colleen’s mother lives, the Shermans enjoy seeing the one-on-one instruction and the accessibility of the players in Florida.
“There’s such a personal touch down here,” Colleen said. “It’s kind of like watching Minor League ball with Major League players. It’s such a personal experience.”
“There’s a lot of accessibility,” Jeff added. “This is the kind of stuff that you just don’t see during the Major League season. The guys working out, getting coached one-on-one.
“Like the field back there, where they have the six mounds together and the pitching coaches are going one-by-one. You see them grabbing elbows and pull it up to show a different arm slot. You don’t see that during the regular season.”
Jeff and Colleen are excited with the additions that General Manager Mike Rizzo has made and believe that this is the most complete team that the franchise has had during their short time in Washington.
“Rizzo stepped in and started making this team his own last year and you can see there’s a lot more focus here,” Jeff said.
“We are excited with what Rizzo has done in the offseason and the new additions are real exciting,” Colleen added. “To have just it all focused on baseball is exciting to us.”
Of course one of those additions is in the form of last year’s number one overall pick, Stephen Strasburg, and like many, the Sherman’s know that his time will come in the Big Leagues.
“I think they’ll give him a chance, but you don’t want to rush somebody like that,” Jeff said. “He’s 21 years old; he’s got 20 years ahead of him.”
“We’re patient,” Colleen said. “I trust Jim Riggleman. When he’s ready, he’ll bring him up and not sooner.”
Staying down in Florida for all of Spring Training requires some flexibility with work and the new law firm that Jeff joined in January has been very understanding.
“I told them coming in that this is my priority from the middle of February to the end of March,” Jeff said. “They said ‘we get it, we’re behind you, no problem’ and they have been very supportive. But I have like 15 orders for signed baseballs, so don’t come back without Chien-Ming Wang, don’t come back without Strasburg.”
As residents of NatsTown, Jeff and Colleen are convinced that the Nationals have a shot of making the playoffs in 2010.
“We’re not going to be last (in the division),” Jeff said. “I don’t think we are quite up there with the Phillies, but I think we can play the Marlins and Braves really well the whole year and depending on how the teams in the Central and the West do, we might not be out of the wild card race for a long time.”