VIERA -- This is an odd request to start off an article, but you can believe in anything you set your mind to (or so they say). I want you to scratch this article on your computer monitor. Go on, scratch it. Now lean in and take a sniff. If you get a whiff of a citrus-like essence that resembles the unique smell of grapefruit then you either just used a fresh monitor cleaner or you can tell this article comes directly to you from Florida and Grapefruit League Spring Training action.
Greetings from the Sunshine State. I am in Viera, Fla., where the Washington Nationals are in the midst of their first week of Spring Training. I will be here for a little under a week and have already seen the Nationals battle and rally in the ninth to tie the defending World Champion St. Louis Cardinals 3-3 and I've seen the Nats offense completely dissect Houston Astros pitching on the way to a 8-0 shutout. All in all the weather is gorgeous, the orange juice and rum are flowing freely, the smell of hot dogs and beer hangs over Space Coast Stadium like a honeyed cloud, the sound of the ball hitting leather is music to everyone's ears-- baseball is officially back.
So what can you learn from the Nationals the first week of Spring Training? Not a whole lot, to be honest. The boys are just getting revved up. At the time of this article, we are about 24 hours away from the first round of cuts and Spring Training stats, while fun, do not ultimately mean a whole lot, if anything at all. Everything right now is just about getting your licks in, reconnecting with teammates and getting back into "baseball mode." So far, it looks like the Nationals are doing just that and taking it in stride.
This is my fifth year making the pilgrimage and in years past there is always a blogger or beat writer who comes down here and cracks the words, "This team has a new attitude this season it did not have previously" or some other similar play on the saying. It has become a cliche in the Rolodex of baseball scribes and I hate it with a passion, but I have to confess: this team has a new attitude this season it did not have previously. It isn't just with the team either. The fans also have come to Viera with a new attitude because there is a universal sense of hope and belief that finally, after seven years, Washington has a real baseball team.
In years past the team and players toted the company line that "this year will be different" even though you could tell they didn't necessarily believe it. The fans certainly weren't buying it. Nothing against John Lannan, but can anyone take a professional baseball team seriously that had Lannan as its ace? In 2012, however, there is a new energy and feeling and a lot of it comes from some of the Nationals' newer additions to their roster.
Edwin Jackson and Gio Gonzalez have been exciting to watch in games and workouts. They both have intense, youthful energy that they bring to every moment of every drill and game. They have acclimated well with the rest of the team and are always willing to help a teammate out-- as well as pull the occasional prank or joke. Both pitchers have been class acts with fans and they seem to have a genuine desire to be among their new fan base. I have seen Jackson pitch in a game and the guy is absolutely solid when he is on. Though he faced a Houston scrub squad Thursday, you got the sense he knew what he was doing, was confident and that he was in complete control. As a lover of fine pitching, I was in heaven.
Can you mention Spring Training without thinking about Stephen Strasburg or Bryce Harper and get away with it? Of course not. Strasburg still commands an overpowering presence on the field, even during throwing workouts. A lot of times you can catch the other pitchers glancing at Strasburg or stopping their workout all together to watch him at work. Harper is indeed being watched closely and there is much excitement on the team with him being in camp. Unfortunately I have not seen him play this Spring Training yet due to him tweaking his calf on Thursday.
Right now the only concerns the Nationals seem to have, aside from figuring out who is playing center field and who is going to be on the bench, is getting their Opening Day roster out of Brevard County and into D.C. in one piece. Harper, Michael Morse, Adam LaRoche, Chien-Ming Wang, Jayson Werth and Chris Marrero, all either starters or possible bench pieces, have already sustained some type of injury or ailment that has had them miss game time.
A wise man on a mountain (or on a computer) once said that in Spring Training hope springs eternal. This is true for all clubs, but the Nationals hope it carries over from Spring to Summer to even, possibly, the Fall in 2012. They've got a long way to go, but every journey begins with a first step-- just like every baseball season begins with Pitchers and Catchers reporting.
Right now, the Nats seem to be on the right track.