WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. - The final day of workouts of spring training featured the familiar (music on the field, pitchers throwing in the bullpen, hitters taking batting practice) and the unfamiliar (sliding practice, Bob Henley showing off his knowledge of old-school hip-hop).
We’ll get to that last eye-opener in a moment.
With teams dealing with a compressed window for getting all workouts in before Friday’s Grapefruit League opener against the Astros - the Nationals had only three full-squad workouts - they’ve had to squeeze a lot into these sessions. But they managed to cover all the bases, from popup drills to rundown drills to live BP to this morning’s sliding drill, which saw players come barreling into plastic mats, three at a time.
Not much left to do now but start putting all this practice to work in actual games.
Because they reported to camp five days earlier than position players, pitchers tend to be ahead of hitters at this juncture. But there still are some notable moments of offensive might.
“I have to say the pitchers (are ahead) a little bit,” manager Davey Martinez said. “But the guys are looking good. They really are. As someone brought up, (Ryan) Raburn hit a ball off the top of the batting cage in left field. It’s pretty impressive.”
Indeed, Raburn, the 36-year-old outfielder trying to make his way back onto the roster as a non-roster league invitee, wowed onlookers by launching a ball 400-something feet to left field onto the roof of the batting cage that sits beyond Field 3.
Now about Henley and hip-hop ...
You may or may not remember that the Nationals third base coach - the lone member of Dusty Baker’s staff who was retained by Martinez - has a new responsibility this year as the club’s outfield instructor. (No, he never played outfield professionally. He was a catcher.)
Henley makes up for his lack of outfield experience with lots of enthusiasm. As he was hitting fungos to his players today, he was chatting up a storm, whether encouraging players to go hard after grounders or declaring “The deuce is loose!” after Adam Eaton (who wears No. 2) tracked down a tough ball to his left.
“He’s got a great energy,” outfielder Michael A. Taylor said. “He’s someone that makes certain things fun that could become kind of routine a little bit. He’s injected some energy into our drills and he’s given us the freedom to communicate the sort of things we’re working on as a unit.”
Henley also proved he can buck his small-town Alabama reputation. Bryce Harper got to pick today’s music selections, and the 25-year-old slugger chose a collection of ’80s and ’90s hip-hop tunes. As each new track started up, Henley correctly yelled out the artist’s names, from Eazy-E to Run-DMC, stunning everyone else watching and listening.
“Bob knew all those songs,” Martinez said. “That was pretty impressive.”
Did the players realize Henley had that kind of hip-hop knowledge stored away in his brain?
“I did not,” Taylor said. “But he’s got a lot of surprises.”
When you’re a catcher coaching outfielders, you have to have some versatility.