February 2012

Dinner With Davey

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John Dever is the Senior Director of Media Relations for the Washington Nationals. As a team employee in close contact with the players, coaches and front office throughout Spring Training, he will bring an inside look at the happenings in Viera in Dever’s (Almost) Daily Diary throughout February and March.

Another beautiful day today, highs in the low 80s. Potentially 88 on Saturday for the Grapefruit League opener at Houston.

Busy day, so let’s get started …

*Davey Johnson has been asked many times in the last months months to list some similarities between Ryan Zimmerman and his former teammate, Hall-of-Famer Brooks Robinson. Davey’s answer ALWAYS starts with “they both have soft hands.”

*Enjoyed having Danny Knobler from CBSsports.com visit us this week. He wrote a piece yesterday about Bryce Harper and the Nationals eye toward winning. You can read the piece here.

To me the best part of the article is when Knobler, who covered the Tigers for years, asks Bryce about Al Kaline. Bryce then proceeds to ace his history test, letting Knobler in on a “secret” that I’d bet no current player in any camp outside of perhaps Lakeland knew. Kaline won a batting title at the age of 20! Bryce’s reverence for the game of baseball and its history is remarkable and rare, especially among modern players, many of which remember watching Cal Ripken as a kid playing third base for the Orioles.

Manager Davey Johnson has seen it all in the game of baseball.

*I had dinner with  Davey, Mike Rizzo, Harolyn Cardozo and Mike Gazda on Sunday night at Amici’s, which is located only about 2-3 miles from Space Coast Stadium. Great authentic Italian food, excellent hospitality and the company was even better. Around the middle of the meal, Mike Rizzo really got Davey going, so we all were privy to various stories about his ’86 Mets, Sadaharu Oh, Ted Williams and even John Havlicek, who is a good fishing buddy of his. Davey can spin a tale like few I have ever met, he has just a fantastic cadence that really draws the listener in. I wish I had that skill.

*On Saturday, the Nationals trek to Kissimmee for their Grapefruit League opener and will face the club’s all-time leader in wins (44) … our buddy and yours … Livan Hernandez! While it will be a tad strange to be on the other side of Livo’s arsenal of changeups, slurves and swingback fastballs, we cannot pretend this has not happened before. Between his two stints in DC, Livo pitched against the Nationals while repping the D-Backs, Rockies, Twins and Mets.

We are all excited for Livan and know that he will be an excellent resource, both on the rubber and in the clubhouse, for a young Astros ballclub.

*Well, MASN and our fans will see Stephen Strasburg and lefthander J.A. Happ square off on Sunday. After a long off-season, it’ll be great to see Bob Carpenter and F.P. Santangelo back in Viera for MASN’s debut telecast of the season.

*Other pitching probables for the Nationals: Mon. at NYM (LHP John Lannan), Tue. at ATL (LHP Gio Gonzalez).

Weekly Review (2/27)

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Here at Curly W Live, we will be conducting a weekly review every Tuesday morning of all the storylines from the week that was. If you’re new to the site or have just been too busy to stay current with all the day-to-day storylines, this is your way to get caught up on everything going on with the team.

Spring Training began as Nationals pitchers and catchers reported to Viera. Although the official position player report date was not until midweek, most players were in camp several days early. Senior Director of Media Relations John Dever began his (almost) daily musings on the notable events each day in Spring Training. Anthony Rendon stopped by to showcase his sweet swing and chat for a few minutes about his first big league camp.

We enjoyed a visit from ESPN on campus at Space Coast Stadium, and were even able to snag an interview with Tim Kurkjian about his outlook on the team. Also, a rocket launched from the nearby Kennedy Space Center.

The Nationals proudly hosted the Wounded Warrior Amputee Softball Team for a couple days of practice in advance of their April 3 game at Nationals Park (following the Nationals-Red Sox exhibition).

The franchise’s first-ever draft pick and everyday third baseman since the end of the 2005 season, Ryan Zimmerman signed an extension that will keep him in a Nationals uniform through at least the 2019 season, with an option for 2020. Both Dever and Nationals Principal Owner Mark D. Lerner opined their perspectives of the signing.

From The Desk Of Mark Lerner – Extending Thanks

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Nationals Principal Owner Mark D. Lerner will be blogging throughout the 2012 Grapefruit League Season from Viera, bringing his own unique perspective of the goings-on at Nats Spring Training.

Good afternoon Nats Fans,

I’m packing my bags today to head down to Viera and Space Coast Stadium in a few days for what I think will be one of the most competitive and interesting training camps in baseball over the next few weeks. Honestly, I wish I left a week ago to get down there. I am ready for some baseball.

Zimmerman's teammates were on-hand to watch him sign his extension.

The competition to make the 25-man roster, the starting lineup, and especially the five-man rotation will be exciting. The fact that just about everyone showed up early this spring is a good indication of how eager they all are to impress Mike Rizzo and Davey Johnson. I’ll also be interested to see the smaller, more condensed and personalized camp, which includes 54 players.

I’m also looking forward to congratulating Ryan Zimmerman face-to-face on his contract extension.  He is a special person, a fan favorite, and certainly a guy for whom I have great respect. Ryan and I traded text messages early Sunday morning after Mike Rizzo told me the negotiations were completed late Saturday night. I told him how excited I was personally that he has the chance to wear his hometown Washington Nationals jersey for – what all Nats fans would love to see – the rest of his career.

I would have enjoyed being a fly on the wall when Ryan made a call to his mom and dad telling them the contract negotiations had been finalized. I know he has always hoped that he could continue to play in front of his family and friends, and I know his parents, Keith and Cheryl, are thrilled.

Zimmerman and Rizzo make it official with a handshake.

I can tell you from behind the scenes that Ryan’s first priority in extending his contract was the ability to see his job through. He has been the cornerstone of our building plan in Washington, and we believe will be an even more important one in the team’s leap to being a contender. In the next few years, we should see our planning begin to pay off, and Ryan’s leadership and performance will be critical to it.

Hats off to Ryan, his family, his agent, to Mike Rizzo and his staff, and to Nationals fans everywhere.

Ryan’s extended contract means we will all see him in the Nationals lineup, where he belongs, for a very long time.

The Face Of The Franchise

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John Dever is the Senior Director of Media Relations for the Washington Nationals. As a team employee in close contact with the players, coaches and front office throughout Spring Training, he will bring an inside look at the happenings in Viera in Dever’s (Almost) Daily Diary throughout February and March.

*Yesterday’s contract extension with Ryan Zimmerman really was a benchmark moment for your young franchise. I am not going to delve into the financial specifics, that is not my duty or intention here. But what I can tell you that there is not a player in this game more deserving than Ryan Zimmerman. He endured a list of mental and physical challenges these last seven seasons that would. But through thick and thin, Ryan’s demeanor and professionalism never wavered. He’s a rock.

Zimmerman at his extension press conference.

Ryan is also adamant about seeing this project through. He wants to create magical moments, win big games and end DC’s October baseball drought, which dates to 1933. I think he knows that the toughest times have been weathered and to leave after 2013 would have been silly for all parties involved. The bottom line is that the Face of Our Franchise is here for a LONG, LONG, LONG time. A hearty CONGRATS to him, and to our fans too!

And there is more good news: Ryan is “only” 27 years-old. I think we lose perspective that this is one of MLB’s finest young players for two very good reasons:

  1. He came to us in Sept of 2005. In this world of ours, which is predicated on the immediate, that was a long time ago. Did Facebook even exist then? (answer: yes it did, but one could only join if of high school or college age)
  2. Upon joining our ballclub at the age of 20, Ryan was instantaneously the most mature player in the clubhouse. I think his maturity quotient is that of an average 50 year-old. He is just unflappable. I think that is why, when the moment is right, he’s the guy every Nationals fan wants at the plate.

*One last thought on the extension. I don’t think there is any important person in the current equation that does not want to see Ryan finish his career as a Washington National. And by that I mean Ownership, Baseball Operations, Ryan, his family, his representatives and most importantly the Nationals ever-expanding Fan Base. Everyone understands that baseball in Washington is best served with Ryan Zimmerman manning the Hot Corner. Enough said.

Bryce Harper took batting practice yesterday for the first time in camp.

*On Sat., Davey was asked if he had watched Bryce Harper take his first official batting practice of the spring. Davey scoffed and said that was not on his “to-do” list. Well, Davey was subsequently asked, what was on that to-do list? Davey’s reply was that he wanted to spend some time with Tony Beasley, who will serves has Triple-A Syracuse’s manager this season (and was Double-A Harrisburg’s skipper in ’10). Davey then opined about the mutual trust and understanding that must flow between a big league manager and his Triple-A equal. I thought that Davey offering was quite insightful.

*Look for Mark DeRosa to focus on 1B, 2B and 3B this spring. And oh-by-the-way, judging by Sat.’s BP session, Mark’s wrist is healthy. Rockets galore.

*Not a shocker, but upon being asked what Davey expects from Chien-Ming Wang this spring, his answer was “to be in our rotation.” Short and sweet from the skipper.

*I may have talked about this last spring, and if I did, please forgive me. But as I watch Bryce Harper make his way, I often wonder who can best relate to him right now? Some might say LeBron, but I think that is a bit extreme. Others might offer Stephen Strasburg and they have a legit point. But Stephen was a three-year college pitcher who played for a Hall-of-Famer in college. Lots of similarities, but different nonetheless.

In my mind, there is another former phenom in this Space Coast Stadium clubhouse who weathered similar ups and downs as an extremely young professional. Remember Rick Ankiel? Our center fielder for much of 2011 and vying for a similar role in 2012. Well, grab your nearest time machine and let’s jet back to 1998. That summer, he led all minor league hurlers with 222 strikeouts. In a 2-year span from ’98-99, he was named the best pitcher in both the Midwest, Carolina, Texas and Pacific Coast leagues by Baseball America. Then in 2000, he won 11 games and posted a 3.50 ERA in 31 games/30 starts for the Cardinals as a 20 year-old rookie. Yep, Ankiel can empathize with Harper’s current plight.

For Love Of The Game

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Every professional sports organization finds ways to involve themselves in their communities. The Washington Nationals are no different, but there is one particular cause that the team has taken up over the last couple of years which stands out above the rest.

- WATCH THE VIDEO HERE -

Last September, the Nationals hosted the inaugural Wounded Warrior Amputee Celebrity Softball Classic in the District. This spring, the Washington Nationals are excited to host the second annual Wounded Warrior Amputee Celebrity Softball Classic following the Nationals-Red Sox exhibition game at Nationals Park on April 3. This special post-game event is free and open to any fans with a valid ticket for the 3:05 exhibition game.

The softball team, which is comprised of retired and active duty service members who have lost limbs while serving in Iraq and Afghanistan, will once again compete against a group of D.C.-area celebrities in hopes of defending the title they handily earned in last year’s game.  Using the latest in prosthetic technology, these extraordinary athletes travel around the country playing only able-bodied opponents in an effort to bring attention to the sacrifice and resilience of our military service members.

Fans may purchase tickets through a special ticket link at nationals.com/wwast, nearly two weeks before single game tickets go on sale to the general public on March 8. A portion of the proceeds from each ticket sold though the link will be donated to the softball team. Stay tuned to nationals.com for more details to come.

To see the Wounded Warriors in action this weekend in Viera, check out the video below. For more information about the project and to donate to the cause, please visit http://www.woundedwarrioramputeesoftballteam.org/ .

Ready For Launch

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John Dever is the Senior Director of Media Relations for the Washington Nationals. As a team employee in close contact with the players, coaches and front office throughout Spring Training, he will bring an inside look at the happenings in Viera in Dever’s (Almost) Daily Diary throughout February and March.

Friday was another beautiful, beautiful day here in Viera. If anything, it might have been a tad too hot. I think temps topped off at either 84 or 85 degrees. By sunset, it was perfect as a small-yet-comfortable breeze kept everyone company. And the sunset was something too.

We also enjoyed the blast off of a NASA Atlas V Rocket about 5 pm. Footage can be seen here: http://www.floridatoday.com/section/SPACE2011

With the Space Shuttle program newly retired, we are left with these impressive rocket launches to remind us why this area is known as the Space Coast.

*Matt Purke threw an impressive bullpen yesterday and afterwards Davey was asked about it. In reference to Purke, he spoke to the organization’s philosophy when it comes to integrating college pitchers, who regularly throw one game a week, into the professional game, which is obviously predicated (at present) on a 5-man rotations. Well, the man in charge of this integration is Spin Williams, and knowing him a bit, there is not a better person for the job.

As Davey explained, Spin takes all of our college starters and asks them to join 6-man rotations in the lowest levels of our system. They look at the 6-man rotation as a mid-way point. Then after that initial summer (3 months or so) as a pro, these starters begin to train for a 5-man rotation in the spring entering their first full season. This is where Purke is right now – the first week of his initial Spring Training as a pro.

*You have probably read that Edwin Jackson will get the start for the Nationals’ SPRING opener on March 3 at Houston. Definitely newsworthy. But Davey also mentioned that Edwin took his bullpen “up a notch” on Friday. That made me blink, because during his bullpen on Wednesday, I could have sworn he was throwing 93-94.

*Folks, this pitching staff’s collective talents, velocity and stuff is REAL. This is beyond hype. Let’s ground ourselves a bit, but sum it up this way. When talking about “stuff,” I think that the any our top four starters (Strasburg, Gio, J-Zimmermann, Edwin) would have been our Opening Day starter in any season from 2005-11. Think about that.

*Proof that baseball is full of changeups. Davey has decided to stage the final 3-4 days of camp back here at Space Coast Stadium and Field 5, which is located just adjacent to SCS. Traditionally, the club had worked out at the 4.5 cloverleaf fields located a quarter mile down the road at the Washington Nationals Training Complex. But Davey’s feeling is that the players need to get as accustomed to SCS and its various nuances ASAP. I like it.

*I hope you were able to see some of ESPN’s coverage of your Nationals as part of their Spring Training bus series. I had a couple of conversations with Tim Kurkjian and John Kruk and both apologized that the developing Ryan Braun storyline would squash some of their Nationals focus. They were not happy about it, but breaking news is breaking news. They did assure me that The Mothership (hat tip: Dan Patrick) is more than aware of our various storylines and steady assent as a franchise. Tim K. promised me (us!) they would be paying your Nationals more attention this summer than we’ve been accustomed to. Tim K. is a fantastic journalist, and it is an added bonus for us that is lives locally and is therefore exposed to our tales more so than others who don’t live in The DMV.

*Interesting glimpse into how your manager thinks:

“Anyone in this camp with us, I am under the assumption that they could help us this year.” – Davey, Feb. 24th

This soundbite caught my ear especially in reference to his recent comments that—outside of unforeseen injury issues (knock on wood)—there are only 3 roster spots available this spring. With all of the up-and-coming talent in that clubhouse, this seemed like a pragmatic approach. Every glimpse we see here in the Grapefruit League should not be taken solely in context to April 5 at Wrigley Field. If you are thinking along with our manager, you’ll be watching or reading with an eye on the not-too distant future.

*The Wounded Warrior Amputee Softball Team began their Spring workouts on Friday at our complex. This group of soldiers/ballplayers are simply terrific human beings we should all be proud of. They will be touring our country this spring, summer and fall sharing their message and providing free jolts of inspiration. The Nationals are honored to be hosting the 2012 Wounded Warrior Amputee Softball Classic at Nationals Park on Tue., April 3rd following the exhibition game against the Red Sox. For more information about the WWAST, please visithttp://www.woundedwarrioramputeesoftballteam.org/

Worldwide Leader In Viera

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John Dever is the Senior Director of Media Relations for the Washington Nationals. As a team employee in close contact with the players, coaches and front office throughout Spring Training, he will bring an inside look at the happenings in Viera in Dever’s (Almost) Daily Diary throughout February and March.

Well, it started out gray and misty here on Thursday, but by the time workouts started (10am) and ended (Noon-ish), we were all enjoying partly cloudy skies and temps approaching 80 degrees. No complaints from here.

*Our third base coach, Bo Porter, is fantastic in every sense of the word. He is a great person. Engaging. He’s passionate. And he eats better than all of us. How do I know? He walked into Davey Johnson’s meeting this morning at around 8 a.m. with a plate of (are you ready for this?) … broccoli. Yes, I said breakfast. I gawked. I was stunned. So, later in the day, I asked him about it. He confirmed that when at all possible, he eats broccoli during breakfast AND asparagus for dinner. I got the idea this is most days. Remarkable! This made me realize that I might be playing from behind even with my bowl of Special K in the mornings.

The folks from ESPN are in Viera today.

*Today, we welcome Tim Kurkjian and John Kruk to Viera as the ESPN Spring Training Bus rolls through town. So look for updates tomorrow on ESPN’s various platforms. On the way to work today, I heard “Timmmay” being interviewed as part of ESPN Radio’s Mike and Mike Show. Tim was reporting from Mets camp, but when Mike Greenberg asked Tim about the competitive and improving NL East, he mentioned only the Phillies, Braves and Marlins. Tim began his answer with a gentle reminder that (paraphrasing) the Nationals have improved quite a bit too…”

*ESPN’s aforementioned Bus Tour arrival also reminds me that in 2010, as part of the same Tour, Tim became the first national journalist to conduct a one-on-one interview with Stephen Strasburg. I remember it vividly, as both Mike Rizzo and I surmised that that Tim was the perfect person to help usher Strasburg into this portion of his profession. I hope to remind both Tim and Stephen about this later today.

*Speaking of Strasburg, as yesterday’s P+C workout was coming to its conclusion, I could not help but notice that #37 was leading the charge during a significant portion of our conditioning drills, especially the pole runs, which take place as the pitchers run (at a brisk pace) from foul pole to foul pole along the warning track (130-150 yards?). They do this same drill 3-4 times. There are many other agility type drills, but as a runner myself, I always like to see which pitchers stand out at that distance.

*You have to love baseball lingo. On multiple occasions today when talking to the press, Johnson referred to Gio Gonzalez’s curveball as a “Snapdragon.” Or is it “Snap Dragon?” Either way, it just sounded good and folksy coming from Davey. This note also serves as a forewarning, as Gio’s “Snap Dragon” is a true weapon. It’ll be interesting to see how he uses that pitch against the fleet of NL hitters who have never seen him before. Should be fun to watch.

Oh, later in the same media session, Davey, when speaking to Gio’s strong build, said he “looks relatively normal for a lefthander.” I bet that was Davey’s bias as a former position player coming through.

*Did a little research last week and I noticed something that amazed me. And fans of Danny Espinosa (now No. 8) should take note: No switch-hitter representing the Nation’s Capital (AL Nationals, Senators, expansion Senators or NL Nationals) has ever hit a homer from both sides of the plate in the same game.  It is about time this ends! I say that 2012 is the year.

*The following local stations are in town now and I bet they are capturing the positive vibe that continues to permeate Nationals camp: Comcast SportsNet, WJLA (Tuesday), WRC-4 and WTTG-Fox. WUSA is scheduled to be in town next week, and Channel 7 will return next week too.

The First Round

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On our second day here in Viera, we snuck over to the minor league complex a few hundred yards north of Space Coast Stadium to catch up with some of the up-and-comers in camp. We spoke with pitchers Alex Meyer and Danny Rosenbaum as well as outfielders Michael Taylor and Destin Hood, then followed up with infielder Anthony Rendon in big league camp. We’ll be providing full prospect watch pieces (as we did with Tyler Moore) on each of them in the weeks and months to come, but in the meantime, we spoke with Rendon about what he’s learned his first couple days in camp.

For those unfamiliar with Rendon, he was the Nationals’ first-round pick last year’s First-Year Player Draft, going sixth overall. Many insiders considered the Rice University junior to have the best bat in the Draft, after he hit 26 home runs and drew 65 walks while striking out just 22 times in his sophomore season. The 21-year-old is experiencing his first Spring Training starting this week and soaking in the experience.

- WATCH THE VIDEO HERE -

Curly W Live: It’s your first camp. How is it coming in and being a professional for the first time? Do you feel like a professional yet?

Anthony Rendon: Yeah, I guess so, I’m out of college (laughing). It’s a great experience down here, I wasn’t expecting this much, but everybody’s been pretty nice to me. I’ve had a lot of free time, but everything’s been scheduled out pretty good. I’m just happy to get into a routine.

CWL: Who were you most excited to meet and start working with?

Rendon takes a minute to sign for a fan.

AR: I was excited to meet everybody in the Nationals organization as a whole. If I’m going to be part of this organization for a long time, I’ve got to get used to everybody.

CWL: How much anticipation was there for you to get down here and start playing?

AR: I was really excited. I haven’t been playing for a long time. You know, the offseason really kills you. You start getting that itch, once you see the high school kids start to play, then the college kids start to play. You see your old teammates playing and you have to wait another week or so to start playing. So I was really excited to get down here and get started.

CWL: What are you looking to accomplish in your first professional season?

AR: I’m just trying to get used to everything, trying to get into a routine. I want to be out there every day, trying to be an everyday player throughout the whole season. I just want to play 130 games, or however many games I play. Because I know I’ve had a history of missing out, I want to try to leave that in the past and move forward.

CWL: Have any of the veterans tried to help you out at all?

AR: I talked to a couple of the guys, I told (Chad) Tracy and (Adam) LaRoche, “I need tips for the first Spring Training”. They told me to just stay quiet and be observant, just try to take everything in and not try to do too much. Take it easy, don’t try to go out there and showboat, just try to be the first guy out here and get used to it.

***

Stay tuned through the weekend, as we’ll have coverage of a very special event here at Space Coast Stadium. In advance of the second annual Wounded Warrior Amputee Celebrity Softball Classic (check out highlights from last year’s event here), following the Nationals-Red Sox exhibition game at Nationals Park on April 3, the team will join Nats at Spring Training. This Friday and Saturday the team will visit Space Coast Stadium in Viera to work out and meet with Nationals players in preparation for the Celebrity Softball Classic. More on that and everything else happening here at Nationals Spring Training coming up later this week.

Dever’s (Almost) Daily Diary

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Greetings from (partly) sunny Viera, where the temps were expected to reach the 80s today. So far, the weather has been more than agreeable for players, fans and executives alike.

My name is John Dever and I am the Nationals Senior Director of Baseball Media Relations. Over the next week and a half, I am going to blogging about the various sights and sounds … and storylines of the Nationals 2012 Spring camp. I hope these insights prime your appetites for the upcoming 2012 season, which – I think it is fair to say – is the most-anticipated since your Nationals landed in DC in 2005.

Let’s get started:

*Yesterday was Michael Morse’s first full day in camp. Morse showed up the day before and dropped off a few things, but yesterday he was present early. Judging from the gaggle of Taiwanese reporters talking to him today, he is still basking in the afterglow of his tour of Taiwan with an MLB All-Star Team last November. For those of you unaware, Morse participated in MLB’s five-game tour of various Taiwanese ballparks. Morse’s jovial demeanor, size and especially his batting stance were big hits on the trip.

Chien-Ming Wang throws at camp in Viera.

I was told by some MLB staffers that Morse was the tour’s second-biggest draw, behind only … (surprise!) Chien-Ming Wang himself. In fact, during the pregame introductions to Game One, Morse was introduced by the P.A. announcer as “Washington Nationals first baseman, and a good friend of Chien-Ming Wang’s, No. 38 Michael Morse.”

In chatting with Morse later in the day, he said the Taiwanese media had asked him about his memories of the Tour, the special glove made in Taiwan, Wang and … of course … Jeremy Lin.

*I noticed that one of the groups to make the mound yesterday included Edwin Jackson, John Lannan, Ross Detwiler and Jordan Zimmermann. Not a bad quartet. Let’s just say that if these four comprised our rotation any season from 2006-11, we all would have been thrilled. Then I remembered that Stephen Strasburg, Gio Gonzalez and Wang threw yesterday. Boy, Davey Johnson and Steve McCatty have their work cut out for them.

*Had a nice chat with Ryan Perry today. Physically, I’d describe him as sturdy. OK, that is an understatement. He’s strong. Perry’s fastball will play, as it reportedly sits in the mid-90s. He’s a former first-rounder of the Tigers in 2008. Perry is thrilled to be here. The trade (in exchanged for RHP Collin Balester on Dec. 9th) presented Perry a new opportunity. As we chatted, Perry was very interested to see Strasburg perform. Perry has obviously heard a lot of great things, but he wants to see how his power and repertoire compares and contrasts to that of Justin Verlander, who was his teammate with the Tigers for three years.

Edwin Jackson chats with pitching coach Steve McCatty.

*I’d like to close my first Diary of the Spring season by recognizing the seemingly never-ending efforts of our catchers, including our bullpen catchers. We have five catchers in camp, plus two bullpen guys: Wilson Ramos, Jesus Flores, Jhonatan Solano, Sandy Leon, Carlos Maldonado, Nilson Robledo (bullpen) and Julian Martinez (bullpen). These seven guys catch all 25 guys in camp. And when they finish, they practice blocking balls in drills that can only be described as brutal. Then they work on conditioning. And then they hit. All in about 2.5 hours.

As physical as the catchers’ tolls can be, they all have to remain sharp mentally. Today, for instance, Davey Johnson spent an extended period of time questioning Ramos about Jackson and his delivery. Davey never misses an opportunity to talk to catchers and batters about what they are seeing, because that is one vantage point that he cannot account for.

Well, thank you for joining me. I’ll be in touch again soon with another installment.

43 Days until Opening Day at Wrigley Field. And we are just 50 shy of Opening Day at Nationals Park!

Spring Training – Day 1

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Greetings from the unassuming center of the Nationals baseball universe. I say unassuming, as the town that houses Washington’s spring complex is something of a reflection of the team itself heading into the 2012 campaign. For those who have experienced other Spring Training venues before but have never been to Space Coast Stadium, it is a quiet, quaint ballpark on a largely undeveloped strip of land just outside of the sleepy town of Viera.

Baseball has officially begun in 2012.

Smack in the middle of Florida’s east coast, about 10 minutes from the Atlantic, the town of just over 17,000 is unassuming, to say the least. In stark contrast to the history-steeped monuments and cathedrals of Washington, everything is new here. The first developments did not break ground until the ‘90s, and the major commercial development did not arrive until the new millennium. For those used to a standard of city life that may seem boring, but it also means there is plenty of room to grow.

As I checked into the hotel last night, I asked about dinner options in the area. The desk clerks began excitedly rattling off all the new options in town. From Japanese food to Chicago-style pizza, it was true – there was a little bit of everything here. And with all these new options there was an excitement, a hope for what their town was becoming.

Sound familiar? It ought to. The excitement is tangible around camp, as this team comes together for the first time since last year’s inspired September run and an offseason full of exciting new additions. The players have not been shy to admit it, either. Edwin Jackson likened the youth and swagger of this club to what he saw during his time with Tampa Bay in 2008. He won a career-high 14 games that year as part of a young, dynamic pitching staff that led an up-and-coming team all the way to the World Series. For those that have already forgotten – understandable, due to the Rays’ recent success – the franchise had never enjoyed a winning season prior to that year.

Wilson Ramos signs for fans between rounds.

Of course, nobody is running to make proclamations about pennants and World Series appearances. Nothing has been won yet. This is still a team with humble beginning, just now coming into its own. But just like the town that surrounds camp, it is growing up in front of our eyes, and there is plenty to be excited about.

We’ll be chatting more with other members of the team this week as they filter into camp. Many have reported ahead of schedule, though, and are already patrolling the cages, bullpens and practice fields around Space Coast Stadium.

Throughout the spring, we’ll have regular posts from both John Dever, Senior Director of Baseball Media Relations, as well as Principal Owner frequent Curly W Live contributor Mark Lerner.

For now, we’ll leave you with this final thought. Viera means “faith” in Slovak, the native language of the Duda family that first developed the area. It’s hard to think of a more fitting word for this year’s Nationals squad, as preparation begins in earnest this week for a new season.

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