Results tagged ‘ Space Coast Stadium ’

Another day in paradise


Storen and Bruney.jpgThe Sunshine state definitely didn’t get its nickname on a day like today. The spring showers delayed the start of practice for the pitchers and catchers but it wasn’t too long before the sun appeared. Half the pitchers and catchers played long toss and the other half stretched on the main field. There were a handful of position players taking ground balls–Nyjer Morgan showed he could be a solid first baseman.

 

There is definitely an interesting contrast between work and play at Spring Training. For the most part, the veteran players know what they have to do to be ready when the season starts. Pitcher Craig Stammen said if you enter the Spring in-shape it is pretty easy. The younger players are just trying to soak it all in, ask questions and try to claim the few remaining roster spots. Spring Training is like the first 15 minutes of an NFL practice: stretching, drills and tossing the ball.

 

“Practice is pretty laid back,” Craig Stammen said. “This is about as hard as the first half of practice during high school football.”

 

“Spring Training is the best part of the year,” Willy Taveras said. “You practice in the morning and then you are done.”

 

“It was surprising to see how early the veteran guys get here and how hard they work,” Drew Storen said. “It’s not something I really expected and it’s something I learned from.”

 


Balester high knees.jpgTo say it is easy would imply anyone could do it. To say it is exhausting would be an exaggeration. It’s hard and easy at the same time–hard just to make it to camp, even harder to make it out and easy compared to running a marathon. Of course, everything is easy expect for what is difficult. Then again, to say anything is easy in baseball is a lie. What’s the easiest thing to do in baseball? I bet you were thinking… “Laying down a bunt.” Don’t be fooled. I just took a crash course in bunting from Hitting Coach Rick Eckstein and realized there is nothing easy about it. Even if you properly position yourself, the thought of a 95 mph fastball in on the hands can leave a grown man’s pants wet.

 

“Everything looks easy on TV,” Eckstein said.

 

Don’t be fooled.

 

Line of the day:

 “Is it ok if I keep my shirt off for the interview?” the always funny and far from flashy Eddie Guardado said to a TV reporter. “You know everybody would like that.”

 

Numbers games:

It’s always interesting to see the numbers everyone is wearing. A lot of atypical baseball numbers make the way out of the wood work to accommodate the large number of players at camp. Thankfully they disappear when the season starts. Collin Balester is wearing No. 99 but he is game for rocking that number the whole season. Nats top catching prospect Derek Norris is wearing No. 62. Storen wore No. 26 for his introductory press conference, No. 17 in the AFL and now he is wearing No. 58. When he makes it to the Majors, don’t count on him wearing No. 58 and he won’t be wearing No. 26 now that Jesus Flores has claimed his rights to that number.

 

“I don’t know about the number 26 but hopefully something a little skinnier so it makes me look bigger,” Storen said. “These big numbers make me look skinny. I need to find a slimmer number but as long as I have a Nationals jersey on it doesn’t really matter.”

 

Livo is back:

Livan Hernandez is a member of the Washington Nationals yet again. He rejoins the Nationals after going 9-12 with a 5.44 ERA in 31 starts last season with the Nats and Mets. After winning seven games in 23 starts for the Mets, Hernandez signed with the Nationals on August 25, and in eight starts, finished 2-4 with a 5.36 ERA in his second stint in DC. Hernandez recorded 18 quality starts in 31 assignments (58%) last season, including six in eight outings with Washington.

 

Natives of NatsTown from the start


JeffColleen Sherman c.jpg

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.”

 

 

Spring Training is the place to be…


Strasburg 12.jpgAs we arrived at Space Coast Stadium with the sun shining, the temps in the mid 60’s and signs of baseball all around: green grass, fans decked out in Nats gear and players making the voyage from the fields to the clubhouse. It dawned on me right as we pulled in the parking lot that…

Spring is by far the best season in the world just like water is two parts hydrogen and one part oxygen–simple common facts, right? Of course, it never occurs to you while you are drinking a glass of water that it is two parts hydrogen or one part oxygen. But after you take a year of chemistry, you don’t even care anymore what it is… you just accept it as a fact and vow never to take another chemistry class again. It’s the same thing for spring, when you are at the Nats Spring Training Complex you are amazed at how peaceful and easy going it is… it is at that moment you accept it as fact that spring is the best season and vow to make the migration to Florida each year.

It is a new beginning for everyone and everything. It provides a new start for the players, a rebirth for all living plants and a second chance for people who already forgot what their New Year’s resolution was. 

Let me get a little more cliché and sentimental… as W. Earl Hall said… I know I just name-dropped him like he is Ryan Zimmerman but truth be told Google doesn’t even know who he is, they just know he said this… “Science has never drummed up quite as effective a tranquilizing agent as a sunny spring day.” Morphine? Nope. THC? Not a chance. Nicotine? Never. Vicodin? Vastly overrated.

We could add to that… while watching a baseball game speculating and daydreaming about the upcoming season. The start of Spring Training has an innate ability to make fans, and players alike, daydream of how their season will turnout and reason why they have what it takes to win the World Series. The records are wiped clean, the potential is endless and every team is in first place till April 5. Cliché comments become cool and the term “Making the trip North” typically reserved for Minnesotans going to their cabins becomes a common catchphrase.

Science has also never explained the tranquilizing effect of the start of Spring Training and the endless possibilities: all the what ifs, maybes, dreams and if only’s.

You have all heard them before and probably made the arguments yourself.

They added A, B and C in the offseason and bolstered the bullpen with D. What if E has a breakout year now that he is healthy? If only player F, has the season he had two years ago. If player G, pitches like he did in September for the entire season and now that player H will be on the team for a full season…We are a playoff team for sure.

It is just simple math: A+B+C+D+E+F+G+H=playoffs. Right?

All you need is a carefully crafted argument, selective statistics and a few leaps in logic that hopefully go undetected. 82 percent on the time you will win every time–push at worst–and by the time the actual records are final, the argument will have been forgotten just like the Spring Training games themselves–just don’t write down your predictions.


Space Coast Stadium 10.jpgSo let the argument begin why the Nationals will finish at or above .500… forget the fact that only seven teams since 1961 (the year the schedule was expanded to 162 games) that have won 60 games or fewer in one season have gone on to finish at or above .500 the following season. (I am excluding strike years.) Here are seven reasons why they will be the eighth.

1.      It’s not how you start, it’s how you finish. The Nats ended on a seven game winning streak and posted a 33-37 record after July 21st. They are better defensively and if they would have kept that pace over the season they would have finished 76-86. They are a better team now then when the season ended too.

2.      Maybe, just maybe John Lannan is the best pitcher nobody has heard of… just look at the numbers against a pitcher everybody has heard of.

 ALCS MVP CC Sabathia vs. John Lannan

 Number of games started allowing three runs or less:

Sabathia:         23

Lannan:           23

 ERA in those games:

Sabathia:         1.78 ERA (32 ER/ 161.2 IP)

Lannan:           2.24 ERA (39 ER/ 156.2 IP)

 Individual Record in those games:

Sabathia:         18-0

Lannan:           9-5

 Team Record in those games:

Sabathia:         20-3

Lannan:           12-11

 

Lannan’s biggest problem last year was the Nats offense. He was second from the bottom with a 3.71 run support average for pitchers with at least 200 IP. The Rays Matt Garza bested Lannan with a 3.68 RSA. It is the one statistic you never want to lead in.

  1. Remember the Opening Day bullpen last season? I didn’t think so. Here is why you have forgotten about them. The seven relievers: Joel Hanrahan, Joe Beimel, Mike Hinckley, Wil Ledezma, Saul Rivera, Steven Shell and Julian Tavarez are about as memorable as the movies Glitter, Gigli and The Hottie and the Nottie combined. They recorded seven blown saves in the first 21 games and 20 by the All-Star break with a 5.21 ERA. The bullpen has been bolstered–beefed up more than Popeye’s bicep–and if Matt Capps is the closer the Nats think he can be, the one he was in 2007 with 2.28 ERA, it will be game over in the ninth.

4.      The Nationals just got a small dose of Nyjer Morgan last season before he fractured his left hand at the end of August but it was enough to give Nats fans an everlasting high. He was electric at the top of the order and changed the total complexion of the offense and defense while adding speed to a lineup of lumberjacks. In 49 games with the Nats, he batted .351 (67-for-191) with 35 runs and 24 stolen bases. If he can provide that excitement, speed and defense for an entire season… Wow.

5.      What if Willingham plays the entire season like he did in May, June and July. He struggled for the first time in his career to find playing time and never was comfortable at the plate in April, batting .143. The “Hammer” returned in May. From May 5 to August 18, he batted .330 (86-for-261) with 18 home runs, 48 RBI and an on-base percentage of .430. He had a forgettable September so I won’t try to remember it. Willingham will be the everyday left fielder so don’t expect him to struggle at the start this season.

6.      Maybe Elijah Dukes finally has a breakout year. Just think if he can hit 20 home runs and drive in 90 to 100 RBI in the 6th hole?

7.      It is only time before Stephen Strasburg arrives in the Majors. And now daydream for a second about this possible rotation on July 1 as the Nats open a four game series against the Mets: Jason Marquis with a first half stuff like last year, Chien-Ming Wang fully recovered with a hard sinker circa 2007, John Lannan as his normal self and Stephen Strasburg starring as the savior he was anointed as in The Passion of the Christ before Jim Caviezel stole the role because he actually looked the part. The only question remaining is who of the five to seven qualified pitchers in the organization will be the fifth starter?

Gotta love Spring Training.

 

ESPN visits Nats Camp


bus 1.jpgWith pitchers and catchers having their first formal workout of the spring on Sunday, a special guest rolled into Viera.

 

ESPN’s “Baseball Tonight” Grapefruit Express Tour paid a visit to Space Coast Stadium and analyst Tim Kurkjian was present to preview the 2010 Nationals.

 

While reporting from Nationals camp, Kurkjian visited and took some pictures with Nats Tiki, the Nationals Spring Training mascot.

 

You can learn more about Nats Tiki by going to facebook.com/natstiki and twitter.com/natstiki.

 

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 556 other followers