In March, I got the unique opportunity to spend all month in Viera, Fla., following the Nationals during their 2011 spring training campaign. I run the online rag known as Nationals Inquisition and spring training is usually the Super Bowl of my blog. I've attended the Nationals' Viera sessions since 2007 and have seen many curious and wondrous things in the Sunshine State during this time. But on March 25, I saw something at a Nationals game that was plain inspiring.
The game was one of the few night games of the Nats spring training and it was against the St. Louis Cardinals. The Redbirds were out on the field for batting practice before the game and I was snapping pictures and blogging behind the Nats dugout. Suddenly, I heard some commotion and looked over to the visitors' side where fans, mostly Cardinals fans, had started to rise to their feet and cheer.
Down the left-field line from the outfield was a lone Cardinal player coming in from shagging fly balls. His stride spoke of confidence, power and maybe a pinch of boredom, for he was probably ready, as most players are that late in spring training, for the real games to begin. He walked glancing at the batter in the cage, seemingly unaware of what he was causing around him.
As he passed the stands, fans started standing. Cameras and smart phones were pulled out to try and capture his image. Many started clapping, some tipped their hats and few merely mumbled a name, a first name, one of the ultimate signs of respect and personal connection from fan to player. It was as if he were a conquering general riding out among his troops before battle to build morale. Even on the Nationals' side, home fans pointed, took camera shots and whispered that same first name not in an attempt to get his attention, but to merely recognize him and his commanding presence: "Albert. Albert. Albert."
Indeed, Albert Pujols had arrived.
OK, so it really wasn't a feel-good Nationals story; I might have laid it on a bit thick for a player outside of Washington, but there is no denying Pujols causes respect to ooze from the pores of baseball fans everywhere. What makes this story of any interest to Nationals fans is nthat othing says this might not be a feel-good story a few years from now - but a Nationals story. There is a strong possibility that Pujols, one of the most feared hitters the game has ever seen, will become a free agent at the end of the 2011 season. If this happens, he will be looking for both a huge contract and different pastures where he can continue to contribute.
Ironically, there is this team in this place called Washington, D.C., that not only is in dire need of offensive contributions to its young and growing team, but also has the richest owners in baseball. I think you can see where I am going with this: If Pujols takes one step into free agency, the Nationals need to get on that as soon as he does.
There really is no excuse not to. Pujols has the stats. Pujols has got the hardware. Pujols has got the adoration of the fans, legions of fans. Some of those fans will have wallets, too. The marketing, alone, would be a dealmaker. Imagine that section of Strasburg, Zimmerman, Espinosa and Harper jerseys in the Nationals team store in 2012. Now put in a row of Pujols jerseys. I get visions of sugar pennants dancing in my head.
Nothing says the Nationals can't do this.
Well, except a recent report saying the Nationals will most likely look to spread their money around rather than go after just a single player - a player that would instantly make their lineup dangerous and put D.C. on the map as a big free agent destination.
Spread it around? Come on, Nats. We aren't talking hot buttered croissants here. Don't "Pujols" NatsTown's leg. Get in there, get dirty, get it done, get that man a uniform with a Curly W.
Drew Kinback blogs about the Nats at Nationals Inquisition, and gives his take this week as part of MASNsports.com's season-long initiative of welcoming guest bloggers to our little corner of cyberspace. All opinions expressed are those of the guest bloggers, who are not employed by MASNsports.com but are just as passionate about their baseball as our roster of writers.