There's not much to like about a 3 a.m arrival at a hotel, but for the Nats in the wee hours Sunday morning, nobody was complaining.
A nice win in the spring finale against the Orioles left the Nats' record at 15-17-2 and it was great to be at Nationals Park, at least for a day.
The 2 1/2 hour flight to Fort Lauderdale was spirited, and the sense of anticipation for a new season was definitely in the air.
As I looked back down the aisle and saw Adam Dunn having a good time with his new teammates, I couldn't help but get the sense that something special can happen this year with this team.
Josh Willingham was nearby and Julian Tavarez was across the aisle, and my mind wandered to how these new veterans can help a club that could use that experience. At the same time, the young guys will have a huge impact as well, and here's my short story on that subject:
I ran into Mike Hinckley in the Nats' clubhouse Saturday afternoon and he, like several of the young guys, was nervous about making the team. I told him, "You had better be on that plane tonight so I can send you a Coke." Knowing the Oklahoma native as I do, I kidded him, "Or something stronger, if you like." He answered, "I'll take a Dr. Pepper." We laughed and went on our ways.
About an hour later, he came up to me with a big smile and said, "I'll have that Dr. Pepper tonight!" I slapped him on the back and congratulated him for making the team.
Mike battled through major injury to make it to the big leagues last year, and it was fun seeing the exuberance of youth on one of the greatest days of his professional career.
At the same time, I saw the disappointment on the faces of Cory Casto and Jason Bergmann, and told both I look forward to seeing them back in DC soon.
Let us never forget that baseball is a sport with wins, losses, stats and highlights, but there's a lot more to it for the men who play this great game. These talented young athletes are also people with families, and their fortunes rise and fall quicker than anyone I've ever been around.
It's time to celebrate Opening Day here in Florida, but there are also opening days in Syracuse, Harrisburg, Woodbridge, Vermont and Viera coming up.
From the National League to the Florida State League, let's hope '09 is a great one for all the young men who play in Washington, and those who dream of taking the field someday at Nationals Park!