Monday, February 19, 2007
Vignettes With The Nationals--2/19/07
Even during a two and one-half hour Spring Training Session, I realize there is a tremendous amount of action occurring right in front of me. But, fortunately, due to the closeness of the four practice fields at Space Coast Stadium in Viera, Florida, the proximity allows for opportunity. The opportunity to briefly chat with players from Our Washington Nationals as they run and move through their drills. On my Day 1 here, I was quite pleased with the chance to speak with just about everyone. I did not have Press Access, so I could not walk directly onto the playing fields, but no one backed off, when I approached them outside the lines.
Brian Schneider, Luis Ayala and Larry Broadway were more than kind, stopping to talk and answer my questions.
I caught up with Schneider as the very first group of 5 pitchers were about to do their Bullpen Work, under the close eyes of Manager Manny Acta, Pitching Coach Randy St.Claire and Bench Coach Pat Corrales.
As most fans have been informed, Brian's wife, Jordan is a few days at most away from delivering the couples first baby. No better way to break the ice, than by asking the very near future Father, how pleased he is?
"Its an exciting time. I am ready to go at a moments notice," said Schneider. "We have family members looking after Jordan. The coaches have my cell phone. I live just two hours away (in West Palm Beach). I really can't wait. Its an big moment in my life. But, at the same time, its nice to be able to keep my mind off it (the delivery), with baseball. Everything's working out well, right now."
As you prepare for the upcoming season, when do you know that you are ready, able to perform and compete at the level you expect?--I asked him.
"It takes me halfway through the Exhibition Schedule before I feel ready for the season. Catching comes natural for me now. So, those skills are ready far earlier than the hitting. Let me tell you, that first curve ball of the spring is a killer, very tough. I am always bailing out."
Brian continued: "My throwing arm strength is always first to return, as I stay on top of it during the off season. But, that first heater (fastball) also makes you think. You always look silly lunging at the curve all over the place. Hitting is always tough after a lay off. Its a practiced skill, so when Spring Training begins, you are always off guard, at first."
Schneider then had to jump in to catch Matt Chico, so I wished he and Jordan the very best with their first child. Brian stopped and turned, looking directly at me, nodding his head up and down, saying--"Thank You, that's very kind and very much appreciated." SBF saying: "You're welcome, thank you for your time." Brian nodded back, smacking his catchers mitt with his right hand, then turned and squatted down to work with Chico.
Later, I would walk up to Luis Ayala as he finished his work for the day.
Luis, I asked, How's the elbow?
"My Arm feels great, I am planning on being 100% this season," said number 56. "I am looking forward to an excellent season. I feel really good. My elbow feels great." (Really, I stated--SBF) " Yup, I really feel that way. That’s why I got here early (4 days before scheduled reporting date)."
So you are telling me that you feel good enough to start the season, healthy?
"My throwing depends on (will determine) how everything goes on the field. I have thrown a couple of bullpens right now, no problems." (Are you throwing soft toss, long toss, Hard?--SBF) "I have been doing everything. (Painfree?-SBF) Yes, Not-even with the heater (Fastball, am I having problems so far). "I got to be ready. I am looking to step it up in the next session (bullpen) and get ready for the season. I am very encouraged so far."
As nice as that sounds, how difficult was the missed 2006 season for you?
Ayala didn't hold back, to his credit. "It was a bad time. It was not easy. I would try to come by for the games in Washington and I felt bad, edgy—I had let down my teammates. I had played for 10 years (professionally) never rested or took a break. Then, I tore the ligament (in his elbow) and had some time off to rest. My mind was sort of lost, far from the game. So, that’s why I am so excited to be back here, right now. Probably more excited than the rookies. I am very happy to be back. I know I can help this team. I am very happy to be playing again. I want everyone to trust me again."
At that, Luis shook my hand and headed off to the training room. I really didn't have anything more to question him about. Obviously, Luis Ayala wants to regain his dependable solid positioning he held out of the bullpen with this franchise for three seasons before his lost 2006 effort. In 2005, he was one of my favorite Inaugural Nationals. I can only hope he returns to form. We really need him.
Finally, I got the opportunity to talk with long time Nationals and Expos Prospect, Larry Broadway. With Nick Johnson slowly recovering from his broken femur, this Spring Training may well be Larry's very last chance to play Major League Baseball with Our Washington Nationals.
The first question to Broadway was simple: Is this your chance?
"I am looking forward to the opportunity," he immediately stated. "I am healthy. My shoulder is healed. I have to play well. I did not get into the professional game, to play minor league ball. I want to play in the Big Leagues. So, I need to play like a Major Leaguer."
Has anyone in the organization mentioned what they want out of you?
"I don’t know exactly what they (the Nationals) have in mind. But, I know that I have to hit, and play good defense. I don’t know if they are looking at a certain average. I don’t know exactly what. I have not had the chance to sit down and talk with them."
But, Manny Acta has personally told me he likes you, wants to see you succeed?
"Manny is a good guy. We have spoken a few times on the phone. He was here with the Expos before. We had a good relationship then. We worked out a lot then on the backfields. So, its nice to know, that someone coming in, is someone I know already. But, absolutely, I am ready (to play in the big leagues.) This is my chance, and I know it."
Larry was then stopped by a long time friend and I let him go. There is no doubt though, Larry Broadways Major League Career in Washington, will depend on the following six weeks.
Hopefully, over the course of this week, I will be able to post little vignettes with Nationals Players as I catch them practicing around the various Auxilary Fields at Space Coast Stadium in Viera. Florida. And, post them late each night after my main Spring Training Story of the Day.
Thank you for taking the time to read my posts. I am really enjoying everything.