Spring [Training] Is In The Air

While the weather in DC continues to be more “Winter Olympics in PyeongChang” than “opening day baseball at Nats Park,” the countdown is officially on and with just over 2 weeks left before the first regular season pitch is thrown, spring is definitely here and consequential baseball is right around the corner. This year looks to be a pivotal and historic year in our nation’s capital for baseball, with the 2018 All-Star game hosted at Nats Park, a World Series or bust roster, and potentially the final season of DC’s most iconic superstar over the past 5 years, Bryce Harper. There is no shortage of storylines for this team so I did what any reasonable local Nats fan turned beat writer/podcaster would do: I went to West Palm Beach to check out the team in person during spring training.

The pilgrimage to spring training is a rite of passage for any avid baseball fan. But this trip was extra special as I brought with me my 3 year old son, who celebrated his 4th birthday on the trip. Now there will be plenty of time to discuss batting orders and pitching rotations, which young CF should be playing over the other, and what to do with #34’s impending historic free agency and contract. But for now, I thought I would share some thoughts about the overall fan experience at Nationals Spring training complex in West Palm Beach.

The first thing that strikes you upon entering the Ballpark of the Palm Beaches is the sheer beauty of the entire facility. From the larger than life “curly W” to the pristine practice fields and stadium, the whole thing looks completely brand new, which is how it should look being only 2 years old now. But it’s clear the Nationals (and Astros) spared no expense in making this a world class facility for their players and fans.

But let’s be honest: the most important thing for a fan’s experience at spring training is the access to the players. And once again, the Nats are second to none in this regard. The Nats have arranged their practice facilities perfectly so that players walk through rows of fans and are totally accessible. 90% of the players stopped on their way to practice to sign balls for the kids and genuinely seemed happy to do it.

And the way the practice fields are set up, you can catch batting practice on one field while watching the pitchers throw a bullpen session on the other at the same time. So it’s a fan’s dream. It’s quite clear the Nationals have prioritized the fan’s experience in everything they do, be it at the ballpark here in DC or at West Palm Beach, which is just further proof of what a top-flight organization we have here.

And of course, to top it off, we were able to catch 4 innings of the Nats take on the Mets, and more importantly, get our first glimpse of Stephen Strasburg and Noah Syndergaard. Strasburg struck out 5 through 3.1 innings and looked as dominant as he did all of last season, minus a few mistakes that allowed 2 ER. Syndergaard, to his credit, reminded everyone why he’s one of the best in the game, striking out 7 through 3.1 innings and showing off that nasty slider that produced groundball after groundball per usual I imagine we’ll see several of these pitching battles this season between these 2 clubs.

On the offensive side, the team continue to get power production from newly acquired 1B Matt Adams, who homered off of Jeurys Familia in a rough 5th inning for him. Victor Robles continues to produce at the plate as well, with 2 more RBIs, taking his total to 4 this spring. His offensive production, coupled with his flare for the dramatic in CF makes him a tough sit coming off the bench and as he gets better, he’ll push MAT at the CF position. Not a bad problem to have on March 13th.

While this whole trip was a first for me as it relates to spring training, this will definitely become a regular staple of my winter and can’t wait to bring the whole family back for an incredible experience. Kudos to the Nats organization and let’s get this season started!

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