Sarasota Saturday

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Ironically, the Nationals had to endure one of the longest bus rides of the spring on Saturday to square off against their geographic rivals, the Baltimore Orioles. While the two teams play less than an hour from each other during the regular season, we had to make the three-hour trek to Sarasota for the only matchup with Baltimore this Spring Training season. Thankfully, there was plenty going on around the park to keep us entertained after our long journey.

The Oriole Bird makes his way down the lunch line.

Our entertainment began a full hour before the game itself. We’re used to waiting in lines from time to time, but when we went to grab lunch in the press dining room, the line was, let’s just say, a different sort of animal. The Oriole Bird was making his way down the buffet, whistling his food orders to his handlers as they made him a plate. He got some chips, a couple scoops of macaroni and cheese, some cole slaw, and some… chicken fingers?

“Don’t even go there,” warned one of his handlers gravely. We didn’t.

We did, however, have a Dontrelle Willis sighting. The 2003 NL Rookie of the Year made his first appearance for the O’s after reporting to camp earlier this week. He allowed two runs, one earned, walking three in an up-and-down inning. He still flashed that trademark leg kick, though, and will no doubt be an interesting story for our Beltway rivals to the north.

We even had a little celebrity flair at the ballpark. There is a layout eccentricity at the newly revamped (as of 2011) Ed Smith Stadium, which sets the front row of the press box outside on a deck, in front of the club seating. There is no separation between the two, save for a barrier that is about shoulder-high from press row, and lower than that for the club attendees, who sit a couple of steps higher. As it turned out, club attendee, Maryland resident and Wheel of Fortune host Pat Sajak sat directly behind us for the duration of the contest. Needless to say, whatever fortune he brought with him went to the home side on Saturday.

Dontrelle Willis makes his spring debut against the Nationals.

The game itself did not provide much for Nationals fans to be excited about, but manager Davey Johnson is keeping everything in perspective. He has been giving the possible bench players and minor leaguers the lion’s share of playing time to date, and will begin using his regulars more consistently beginning on Sunday. That is when he, and Nationals fans everywhere, will get a better feel for the 2012 club that will be taking the field in Chicago on Opening Day.

The Nats get to push the reset button following this grueling three-day road stretch (remember, you have to travel both directions the same day, every day in Spring Training) with a home game against the Mets on Sunday. Here are their results to date:

vs. Georgetown (exhibition) – W, 3-0

@ Houston – L, 3-1

vs. Houston – L, 10-2

@ New York (NL) – W, 3-1

@ Atlanta – W, 5-2

vs. St. Louis – T, 3-3

vs. Houston – W, 8-0

@ Miami – L, 3-0

vs. New York (NL) – W, 8-2

@ Detroit – T, 5-5

@ St. Louis – Canceled (rain)

vs. St. Louis – W, 8-4

vs. Detroit – L, 6-3

@ Atlanta – L, 6-5

vs. New York (AL) – L, 8-5

@ New York (AL) – L, 4-3 (10)

vs. Miami – T, 1-1

vs. Detroit – L, 11-7

@ New York (NL) – L, 2-0

vs. Atlanta – L, 3-2 (10)

@ St. Louis – L, 9-0

@ Houston – L, 5-1

@ Baltimore – L, 12-3

vs. New York (NL) – Sunday, 1:05pm

Overall Record: 5-13-3

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