Thursday, February 28, 2008

Our Final Day In Viera

Today was the last full day for The African Queen and I at Spring Training for Our Washington Nationals. Friday morning, we will head back to Our Nation's Capital. Ironically, On Sunday Morning, I will be flying right back down to Florida--this time to Orlando (just 40 minutes west of here) for a television news assignment. Maybe, Manny's not done with me just yet.

For two years in a row--Sohna and I have vacationed (some would say worked) here to cover Training Camp in our own unique way--alternative coverage that we hope adds a little spice to everyone's interest in the team. No, we can't cover everything, but finding something different and off beat--is interesting to write about. Our players, for the most part--seem to accept us--and understand the fun we are having. Despite having no press credentials this time around--most everyone stopped to talk with us. So many, that 10 player interviews are still in the can--including some real good ones with Chad Cordero, Ryan Zimmerman, Austin Kearns, Nick Johnson and Jason Bergmann--among others. If not for the fact we could only remain in Viera for nine days--we might have caught up with the entire team.

But, that's not the point. Watching practice, observing the interactions and the sometimes hi-jinks are enjoyable. Where else can you hear some of the many comments overhead this past week--just by hanging out. The access is good and, for our money, better than watching just another exhibition game with a revolving door of substitutes.

A fact that Sohna and I observed this morning in Our Washington Nationals 15-0 slaughter of Georgetown University. Except for Jesus Flores--all of our starters were removed by the second inning. Garbage time started early which led The African Queen and I to get up and finish off The Kennedy Space Center and Astronaut Hall of Fame. A detour worth the effort.

Although that does not take away from some of the enjoyment we experienced at Space Coast Stadium late this morning. Nothing better than this Cincinnati Fan attempting to get autographs from various members of Our Team that once played for The Reds. First, Aaron Boone kindly signed a ball--after completing his workout--even after this fellow first gave Aaron a pen that did not work. Later, while the game was continuing--this Reds Fan spots Jose Rijo sitting with Our General Manager Jim Bowden on the third level of the stadium. Calling out to Jose--the guy tries six times to loft a baseball up to Rijo--only to miss each and every time. Then, when they finally connect, the Reds Fan misses the baseball after Jose Rijo drops it back down. Later--the fan COMPLAINS that the ball is smudged and is worthless. Sohna and I just shook our heads and laughed at the autograph hound. How pathetic can one be. He was so upset, he ventured outside the ballpark to wait for Jose Rijo--if and when Old Number 27 left the stadium--to obtain another signature. (All True--and just amazing to us)

Jason Bergmann pitched a solid two innings against Georgetown University. Whether The Hoyas were overmatched or not--Our Number 57 looked sharp and was in command during his entire short stint on the mound. Josh Smoker relieved him and looked solid, if unspectacular.

With the score already 4-0 in the first inning and nobody out--Austin Kearns was at the plate--and had two strikes against him. This lone fan from somewhere behind home plate yells out--"Come On Austin!! You don't want to record the first out in this inning. And, a strikeout would be a total embarrassment for you!! Just about everyone in the spare crowd laughed. Even the players on Our Washington Nationals Bench--leaning out on the railings--chuckled.
When Jesus Flores stroked a first inning single down the left field line--Dmitri Young was standing on second. When Our Number 21 lumbered to third base and did not score--Wily Mo Pena and Ray King were ALL OVER HIM!! Whether Dmitri could score or not--was not going to take the fun out of the moment for Pena and King. The hooting and howling from Our Bench was hilarious.

Watching a game at this stadium was a new experience for The African Queen and I. We sat in row three, just behind The Nats First Base Dugout. Not only can you hear and talk to the players--freely--but we were also within "The Dead Zone". Moments after explaining to Sohna how the reaction time for a foul ball heading our way--was virtually non existent--Ronnie Belliard lashes one right over our heads. From that point forward--Sohna paid attention to each and every right handed hitter that stepped to the plate. She didn't want to get hit. Stating: "I thought it was bad enough sitting 25 rows from the field. This is ridiculous."

Other Highlights From Today's Game:

Both First Base Coach Jerry Morales and Third Base Coach Tim Tolman wore protective helmets in the field today. Not sure if this is mandatory now--but no doubt is a reaction to the unfortunate death of Colorado Rockies Minor League First Base Coach--Mike Coolbaugh last summer. You may recall Coolbaugh--manning the first base coaching box in a minor league game--was struck in the temple on a liner he could not avoid--and died.

This young fan was sitting in the very front row, behind Our Washington Nationals Dugout--with his Grandfather. At the beginning of the ballgame, Ryan Zimmerman came over and tossed him his warm up ball. Later, Dmitri Young provided the youngster with another. We couldn't figure who was having a better time--The Child or The Grandfather. The gestures by "Z" and "D" did not go unnoticed by the crowd.

Did you know why Our Washington Nationals scheduled a game today with Georgetown University? As it turns out, The Senior Vice President of Business Affairs for Our Washington Nationals--not only graduated from Georgetown, but played baseball for his alma mater. Today, was the first time in Georgetown's storied history--any of their sports teams had played a professional one. Washington had a date open, and Mr. Mike Shapiro set up the meet.

. Cozy and clean is our best description of Space Coast Stadium. Although, virtually zero shade protection from the sun. Apparently, there is a new Digital Screen above the left field scoreboard. Not large--but can clearly be seen throughout the park. We like the newly painted blue seats and red railings--in Nationals colors. Really, the stadium is so compact--there are no bad seats to watch any game.

And finally, The Challenger and Columbia Space Shuttle Memorial Foul Poles are a very nice touch.

Quote Of The Day:

"Felipe Lopez is walking past The African Queen. He is looking right at her. Sohna says: "Hi Flop, how you doing?" Without hesitation, FLop responds: "Great!!, good to see you too." I nearly died laughing. Felipe Lopez not only knows his nickname, but accepts it. Way To Go Flop!! You made my day!! Felipe's nickname has become an endearing name--which we enjoy calling him.

Picture Of The Day:

Congratulations to Jose Rijo--Special Assistant to Our General Manager. On January 27th (Yesterday) his wife, Teddy, gave birth to a baby boy. Jose Alejandro Rijo was born in Central Florida. Both Teddy and The Baby are doing fine. Do notice that Old Number 27's baby was born on the 27th. Mr. Rijo planned this one out perfectly. Sohna's "Diplomat"--as she likes to call Jose--is one very Proud Papa. And, said he would be honored if we announced the good news on The Nats320 blog.


Anonymous said...

Once again great insight. Always my first blog stop of the day. See you guys at the yard. Travel safely.

Anonymous said...

Any opinion from you on Ryan Church bad-mouthing the the Nats and throwing the front office under the bus saying that he was benched strictly so the team wouldn't have to pay him more in arbitration?

Good riddance Church. Never quite understood why you liked the guy SBF. He's clearly an ass.

paul said...

I'm not sure we need to spend much time dwelling on these players' comments. Church is an ideal fourth outfielder; I'm sure the Mets (and perhaps he) will realize it soon enough.

Anonymous said...

SBF: Thanks for the report. Heading to Viera in a few weeks -- dividing the weekend between the Nats and Disney (a family compromise). Your post makes it sound as if catching warmups before the game are as good (or better) than the game itself. Is that right? Can anyone walk up to the training/warmup sessions? What time do they start (on days when there's an afternoon game)? Your guide to spring training has been very helpful to at least this reader!

Screech's Best Friend said...

Anonymous: Practice is open to the public. What's special is the ability to chat, get an autograph--have an opportunity to see players in their element, up close. During the Exhibition Games--there is far more limited contact. A game is being played and only so many get into action. During Spring Camp--every single player is out on the fields doing something. The atmosphere is relaxed and for us is far more enjoyable than just watching another game. On weekdays practice starts between 9:30A and 9:45A-the players begin arriving around 9:15AM. Before and after practice many players sign autographs or take pictures with fans.
When there is a 1:05PM start--there is less accesibilty. The players hit in batting cages away from the stands and the pitchers do some drills on a side field. Not much else.