Monday, February 19, 2007

Viera-WE ARE HERE!! Nationals Spring Training 2007

We made the TREK--all 14 hours of it--driving from Alexandria, Virginia to Viera, Florida. With The African Queen riding shotgun, she and I took off on Sunday morning, February 18th at 5AM, turned on to I-95 South at the Springfield Interchange and made no turns (unless stopping to get gas) until Space Coast Stadium appeared off to our right at 7PM yesterday evening. Temperature upon arrival--32 Degrees. You could tell, the locals were not use to it. Ladies wearing Parkas with open toed shoes. Guys wearing shorts, but behaving like they were not cold. They were. It was a funny sight.

As we checked into our hotel, Nationals player Tony Blanco was walking into the hotel, along with some family members. He looked right at me, (I am wearing a Blue Curly W Cap and Grey Nats Sweatshirt), nodded his head--saying: "How ya doing COACH." "Good, Man," I replied. Blanco went on his way, went on without even stopping, nor realizing his mistake. I just busted out laughing. I knew right then, this was going to be a good trip.

The African Queen and I will be at Nationals Spring Training all week long, through this coming Saturday. I will post up a complete recap of my experiences at the end of each day. Already, The Nats Monday Workout for Pitchers & Catchers is over. I am beginning to compile all my interviews right now.

The Biggest Thrill of the day was meeting Esmailyn Gonzalez--The Washington Nationals first true Bonus Baby. Gonzalez was escorted by his agent, smiling broadly as he walked among the 4 Major League Practice Fields. Todd Jacobson, Nationals Beat Writer for the Fredericksburg Free-Lance Star was kind enough to introduce me to Esmailyn and take the photo with him. Then, Esmailyn would sign, what Todd believes, may well be his very first autographed baseball as a professional. Signing his name on a ball for Metropolitan Police Officer and Nationals Fan, Gerald Neill, down here with colleagues enjoying Nats Spring Training.

Heavily covered with Hooded Sweatshrts, Knit Curly "W" Skull Caps, Gloves and whatever extra padding could be found for warmth-- today's practice participants either walked, jogged or drove the very short distance from Space Coast Stadium to the practice fields for the 9:30AM, 44 Degree Temperature start. As Brian Schneider and Robert Fick walked past me with Hoods nearly covering their face--I said to Schneider, "Perfect Day For Baseball!" Fick just shook his head like he was freezing--Schneider replying: "Weather couldn't be better--we just need it to snow now--if you want to talk perfect." We all laughed. Later, Brian would give me 5 minutes of his time.

Jon Rauch and Ray King were walking to practice when I asked him why he cut off all his hair? Rauch first shrugged his shoulders, not willing to answer. King responded, "Because he lost a bet." Jon then said, "“Why do you want to talk about it? It doesn’t help the pitching anyway." I guess Rauch never heard the phrase, "Image Is Everything".

As the players began to limber up on one of the fields, Manager Manny Acta arrived in his golf cart to begin Week 2 of this 2007 Spring Training. "The Bloggers are here!!" Acta proclaimed, spotting both Miss Chatter and Myself talking behind one of the dugouts, pleased as he always seems to see us. Acta got off a great line to Miss Chatter about watching her videos. You need to link over to her site to see the remark. It was great!! As Manny walked to the practice field, we shook hands and I asked whether he was as bored now, as was written about him last week during the first few days of Spring Training. "No Man, I'm starting to figure this managing thing out, it a pretty good gig. Besides its baseball, the season is fresh. We haven't lost any games yet, so there is nothing to worry about. I'm happy. Maybe in a few weeks, things might change. Right now, everything is great, including the weather."

Today's session involved constant movement. Players jogging from field to field, every 9 minutes, as a Nationals Coach blew an Air Horn to signal the changeover to the next drill. There were 5 work stations today at the Space Coast Stadium auxilary fields. Pitchers rotated among the four playing fields to practice: Pickoff Throws to 1st and 2nd Base; Fielding Grounders back to the box to turn a double play from Second Base to First Base; Running off the mound to First Base HARD to cover the bag on a grounder to the right side of the infield; and, all pitchers took BUNTING PRACTICE in the Cage from a Batting Practice Pitcher.

But, the most watched and interesting scene of the morning workout was viewing Bullpen Group Pitching. Under the watchful eye of Acta, Pitching Coach Randy St.Claire and New Nats Bench Coach, Pat Corrales--5 Washington Pitchers at a time, warmed up and got their work in during 9 minute intervals. Matt Chico and Emilano Fruto got the most scrutiny. Joel Hanrahan looked really impressive. Of course, none are facing any hitters yet.

I asked St. Claire about Matt Chico: "Its early in the season, I haven’t had the opportunity to see him pitch, and see what kind of stuff he brings to the mound, " stated St. Claire. " I have never really seen him pitch before. So, I need an understanding of just what he can do."

So how do you judge someone, like Chico, that you may not have seen many times, and still make an accurate assessment of what talents he may have?

"Its doesn’t take long to find out about their stuff, " he replied. "I can watch video on them. We have it, everyone has it (video). So, I can watch a lot of good games of not only his (Chico), but just about everybody."

Our chat continued as I asked St.Claire if he had ever worked in a Spring Training environment where the Starting Pitching was so uncertain?: “Not since I have been in the Big Leagues," said Randy. "I don’t feel you have to find them (starters). We got the arms. Its really comes down to who’s ready or not. Who’s there to step up and take a hold of the opportunity. They have got to do it. We have some talent and very good arms. So, lets see what happens."

But, does quantity necessarily result in quality?

"There is a lot of good stuff happening right now. Its nice, some eyes (negative reports) are going to be surprised. The competition level is pumped up. There are openings. When you usually go into spring training, the five (starting) spots are basically made. A lot of guys are feeling good. They know, they got a chance. A GOOD CHANCE!! Its very exciting. It really is."

But, its early in Spring Training, what are your immediate short term goals?: "I just need to get all of them in shape, work up their arm strength. We have to start slowly, especially with the cold weather. We do not want to get anyone hurt."

Our first day of Nationals Spring Training 2007 was quite interesting. Since the 4 practice fields are placed in a large circle, there was virtually no chance of NOT SEEING anyone you wanted to visit. I got the opportunity to chat with quite a few players during the course of the two hour practice--most were quite friendly and accessible. Barry Svrluga from The Washington Post and Bill Ladson from also took time to chat with me. Later this evening, I will post up my brief chats with with Brian Schneider, Larry Broadway and Luis Ayala. Ayala was very upfront and honest about his lost 2006 season. It was quite revealing.

The African Queen and I will be here all week. We are looking forward to enjoying Nationals Baseball In FEBRUARY!!

Larry Broadway to me: "Are you telling me Ipod's can record sound now!!" Yes, I replied (SBF). Broadway finished with "Technology is A THING OF BEAUTY!!"


JayB said...

Great report and pictures. It really makes me feel like getting on a plane now before things get stressed with losing and all.

Your report sure is an improvement on what we get from Bill L and Berry and the Post. It sounds fun and exciting and like we can share in the rush instead of distant and dull.

Can you keep your ear open for what happened with the whole player development firings. What do you think? Timing seems all wrong but what do I know.

Thanks again

Screech's Best Friend said...

jayb: I am aware of the player development situation, others have asked me the same question. I will do my best to find out. Thanks for the kind comments

Anonymous said...

SBF, Nice report and great pictures. I just checked Joe Bastardi on AccuWeather Professional and he says the worst of the cold wave in FL is past us and a warm up is on the way. I will be there in less than two weeks and will be staying until 3/24.

Anonymous said...

Very,Very,Very nice pic with Smiley. Very jealsous. I was hoping to go down there so I could meet him and possibly get an autograph, but can't....Keep up the good work

Anonymous said...

Hey SBF, shoot me a line gehr38[at] Great writing though!