To Begin Again from the Beginning
Spring Training can spoil you, with its temperatures that stay warm through the balmy evenings and its persistent sunshine. It’s perfect beach weather, even if you don’t have the time to actually enjoy the surf and sand. Despite the heavy travel and the general lack of off-days, there is a vacation-like quality about the whole process.
Of course, all of that ends today. Rather, it ended last night, when the team stepped off the charter from Ft. Myers, landing at Dulles at about 7:45pm. The temperature was a mild 60 degrees, but still a dozen degrees colder than the coldest anyone in camp had felt in weeks. It was a solemn but encouraging reminder that we were home, that the real season was about to begin. It will certainly get no warmer in Chicago on Thursday, as the 2012 campaign begins in earnest at the hallowed grounds of Wrigley Field.
Here’s a quick timeline of some of the notable events as Spring Training quietly came to its unofficial end (after all, there is one last exhibition game in D.C. Tuesday):
6:57am: We pull into Space Coast Stadium before dawn, as players, coaches and staff are already on the scene loading the moving van and the busses.
7:41am: Wheels rolling, we take off from Viera on our way to Ft. Myers, not to return until next February.
11:22am: After a long ride across the state of Florida, we arrive at beautiful, new JetBlue ballpark, also known as Fenway South, the spring home of the Boston Red Sox.
12:34pm: In Davey Johnson’s pregame press conference, he expresses his confidence in the team in both the near and long term. “I like our on-field product right now,” he said. “And it’s only going to get stronger.”
1:35pm: Aaron Cook throws the first pitch of the final Florida game of 2012 for the Nationals, a ball high to Roger Bernadina.
2:26pm: Danny Espinosa gets the Nationals on the board first with a solo home run, his second of the spring and his second in as many days.
3:46pm: Down in the clubhouse, we run into Chad Durbin. The reliever has just returned to the team after being with his wife, who delivered a healthy baby boy on Friday, and is running on almost no sleep. Regarding his outing, he quips, “I might have made a couple of mistakes. Not that I remember them.”
5:17pm: The game over, the buses have brought us literally across the street from the ballpark to the Southwest Florida International Airport, where we take off on the team charter to return to D.C.
7:42pm: It’s official, the 2012 Nationals have arrived in the Nation’s Capital for the first time. Well, almost. The charter actually lands at Dulles, where we meet another round of buses to get us home.
8:37pm: Just blocks from the ballpark, we pull off of 395 onto South Capitol Street, swinging around the elbow-shaped off ramp. To our right, in the dark, a lit-up field at the Randall Recreation Center is buzzing with activity. Two teams are playing baseball, adorned in their simple, slightly mismatched uniforms at a park with an all-dirt infield. The only spectators are a handful of parents and coaches; there are no grandstands, no electronic scoreboards, no walk-up music.
This is the game in its purest form, a humble reminder of the joy that can sometimes be lost in the grind of the Major League calendar. It is also a reminder that on fields big and small everywhere, baseball is ready to be played once more.
8:41pm: After a long day of travel and a longer month of preparation and anticipation, we’re finally home.