As new season begins, Nats happy to return to normalcy

It’s finally here: Today is opening day!

You can’t help but be excited for the start of a new season (especially after a 99-day lockout). Opening day is just a special day on the calendar, no matter a team’s expectations.

The Nationals have a new organizational direction this season after last summer’s sell-off at the trade deadline. But players, coaches, fans and media alike can’t help but be optimistic at the start of a new season.

I guess the saying is true: Hope springs eternal.

Along with new hopes and expectations, this season also brings a return to normalcy for ballplayers and media members.

Wednesday’s workout was the first time I entered the press conference room and home clubhouse at Nationals Park since Game 5 of the 2019 World Series. It was a familiar feeling, while also feeling weird to be back in person after two seasons of Zoom calls.

We were able to walk into the clubhouse and see Sean Doolittle back at his old locker. We noticed Juan Soto took over Ryan Zimmerman’s old locker in the back of the room, sandwiched in between Nelson Cruz and Josh Bell. We saw opening day starter Patrick Corbin at his normal locker next to Stephen Strasburg’s, the lefty awaiting his neighbor’s return to D.C. after recovering from thoracic outlet surgery.

We were able to stand on the warning track without masks and watch the Nationals practice infield drills and take batting practice. We were allowed back in the dugout to get an up-close look and one-on-one interviews.

And we sat in person while manager Davey Martinez answered our questions about his team’s upcoming season.

It all sounds trivial, but it’s an important aspect of our jobs. And even the Nationals were happy to be back to normal.

“It’s actually pretty awesome that I’m not staring at a screen,” Martinez said to open his press conference. “I get to see you guys’ faces. It’s been a long time. And I’m glad that you guys are all back. And I’m glad we get to work together again in person. Like I said, I’m a people person, so having you guys back means there’s normalcy again. So that’s good.”

It’s sometimes fun for players to poke fun at the media for always being in their business. I mean, they are our business. But after being apart for the last two years, they even admitted they missed having us around.

You don’t know what you’ve got until it’s gone.

“It was pretty emotional for me to come back to D.C. and see the city around again,” said Soto. “And everything in the stadium, my locker, everything was fine. It was fun for me to be back again, have all the media around again, all the people that I didn’t realize how many people we have. It feels like 2019 again like we used to be. Everything was normal.”

Some players are returning to D.C. in more ways than one. After becoming a staple in the Nationals bullpen and fan favorite over parts of four seasons between 2017-2020 and then spending last season in Cincinnati and Seattle, Doolittle made his return to the District earlier this week.

Now that he’s back, it’s like he never left.

“It feels right. It feels like home,” Doolittle said. “We got back (Tuesday night) and kind of almost by like autopilot, I came right to this spot, my old locker. So no, it doesn’t feel weird at all, it feels like I’m home.

“I just have so many incredible memories here with this organization, with the people here around this organization from the clubhouse staff to the training staff to support staff. I knew I was really lucky to play here at all the first time. And so to be back for a second go-around, I feel incredibly lucky. I’m really grateful. And I can’t wait to get the season going.”

Oh right, the season. That starts tonight. Back to baseball.

Hopefully, tonight’s game gets played without any weather issues. The Nationals moved the start time back from 4:05 p.m. to 7:05 p.m., when the forecast looks a lot better.

Whenever the first pitch is thrown, Corbin will be the one throwing it for the Nats as the opening day starter.

This will be Corbin’s first opening day start since 2018 with the Diamondbacks, and he’s hoping it will be the beginning of a bounceback year for him. After a strong first campaign with the Nats in 2019, he has struggled in the two most recent seasons.

But he’s taking this season one day at a time and focusing on his job against the Mets tonight, while also feeding off the energy of a packed stadium.

“The atmosphere is electric,” Corbin said of the crowd at Nationals Park. “I think everyone was just excited to get back up here, get some real games going after, usually, a longer spring training. Guys down there get them a little sick of it. So it’s always fun to get up here. Get in front of our home fans (tonight), be a packed house and I’m just excited to take the ball. Anytime you get that honor to take it. I’m honored to be able to go out there (tonight).”

Then we’ll be off and running. A normal season of 162 games. A normal season with filled stadiums. A normal season with face-to-face interactions.

I’m excited for tonight. I’m also excited to say I’ll be bringing you Nats fans more coverage and content throughout the season on all platforms. I’ll be writing more alongside Mark Zuckerman. I’ll be doing more video content on the digital side with Bob Carpenter and Kevin Frandsen that you will be able to find on our social media channels, MASN app and even on MASN itself. And of course, I’ll be hosting the “MASN All Access Podcast” with Amy Jennings, which will include special guests and exclusive interviews.

I’m excited to bring all of that to you this season, and I hope you’re excited, too.

Opening day is always a fun and special celebration of baseball. But what will make tonight that much better? I think Soto put it best.

“Win. Beat the Mets,” he said. “Beating those guys is gonna be pretty fun for me.”

 

Game 1 lineups: Nats vs. Mets
2022 Nats media season predictions
 

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