A Walk In The Park

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Saturday was a Spring Training kind of day. Stars were seen, albeit briefly, home runs were hit, balls were kicked around a bit as players shook off the rust of the offseason and nobody cared a lick about the final score. That ambivalence is perhaps the most endearing part of the early days of spring, one that becomes maddening as the promise of real baseball gets ever closer.

It also stands in such stark contrast to the intensity and emotion that was pulsing through the ballpark the last time these Nationals played together back in October. From a pressure-packed, do-or-die, win-or-go-home scenario, here they were, reunited for a casual stroll through the motions, a walk in the park.

The Nationals stretch before their first spring contest Saturday.

The Nationals stretch before their first Spring Training contest Saturday.

Yes, Stephen Strasburg was on the mound, as he was last Opening Day and may well be again on April 1 in Washington. Yes, Bryce Harper was there, the impossibly loud cracks of the ball off his bat seeming, somehow, even louder. Even Denard Span and Ian Desmond started the game and played a few innings each, with other familiar faces like Steve Lombardozzi and Chad Tracy scattered around the field.

But the biggest offensive star of the game for the Nationals was Chris Snyder, the Non-roster Invitee catcher, who took advantage of the outward blowing jet stream, one that seems to permeate every Grapefruit League park, for a two-run home run. Ironically, Snyder was the same man who took Strasburg deep in the pitcher’s first spring start last year, back when he was a member of the Houston Astros.

Strasburg, the fiery competitor that he is, was as relaxed as probably anyone has ever seen him, smiling casually as he discussed his outing, a pedestrian, two-inning stint, capped at 42 pitches. A year older and wiser, with the proper perspective in tow, he explained how his outlook has changed from his near-identical first spring start a year ago.

“It seems to happen to me every Spring Training,” he explained of his tendency to get a little too wound up, to rush and hurry, and not achieve the desired result. “In the past, if I had a bad outing, I’d throw and throw and throw until it felt good.”

His approach has mellowed, though, knowing he has six more spring starts before playing a game that really matters. He is resolved to take his time, the importance of which, the 24-year-old is just now, in his fourth camp, fully understanding. His 20-year-old teammate, on the other hand, is still feeling some growing pains in that department.

“Yeah, I need to work on that a little bit,” said Harper, whose circus catch provided one of the more entertaining moments of the afternoon, of easing into the spring.

For an athlete known for his motor, for competing at 100 percent intensity all of the time, sometimes patience can be the toughest part of the game. And for a team with high expectations, not investing too much energy in the results of exhibition games – just focusing on the process – can be a strange adjustment as well.

By the way, the Mets defeated the Nationals, 5-3. Washington opens its home slate Sunday afternoon at 1:05 against the Marlins in Viera.

Record: 0-1

Results:

2/23 @ New York (NL) – L, 5-3

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