Nationals reaped benefits of first spring in West Palm Beach

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. - The Nationals will gather at The Ballpark of the Palm Beaches one last time this morning, pack up all their remaining gear and head out as one team on a bus ride across the Florida swamp for their Grapefruit League finale against the Red Sox in Fort Myers.

It's a long trip, 126 miles across mostly two-lane highways, consuming 2 1/2 hours. It's not going to be all that pleasant.

Except for the fact this is one of the few times all spring the Nationals have needed to travel so far for an exhibition game, the biggest perk of their relocation from Viera this year.

The Nats had only three trips all spring that required more than a 45-minute bus ride. They had only six that required more than 15 minutes on the road.

Entrance-to-Nats-side-of-BAPB-sidebar.jpgAll told, the Nationals will have traveled 1,238 miles by bus this spring, encompassing 22 hours.

It sounds like a lot, but now let's compare that to last year's spring training in Viera, when the team racked up 2,916 miles spanning 45 hours and 30 minutes.

Yeah, that's a major difference. And it's one the players and coaches have noticed over the last month.

As much as everyone has enjoyed the nicer amenities of The Ballpark of the Palm Beaches, not to mention the nicer accommodations and away-from-the-park options in this part of the state, the biggest difference between Viera and West Palm Beach has been the same one realtors have been espousing for decades: Location, location, location.

The Nationals were able to play three road games against the Astros without ever leaving their own complex. The only difference: gray pants instead of white pants.

They were able to play eight road games against either the Cardinals or Marlins in nearby Jupiter, only 12 miles up Interstate 95, and then three games against the Mets in Port St. Lucie, a 45-minute drive away.

All that made the three long road trips (two to Fort Myers to face the Twins and Red Sox, one to Lakeland to face the Tigers) feel like novelties. Yeah, they made for long days, but there were only three of them the entire spring.

The end result of all that? Players appear to be fresher than they have been at the end of previous spring trainings. More regulars played road games than in the past. And more Nats fans got to see their team in more venues.

True, home attendance was down slightly (from an average of roughly 5,900 per game last spring in Viera to only 5,300 this spring in West Palm Beach). But that could be attributable to the fact there were many more opportunities to see the Nationals play this time. Not only was it a longer spring because of the World Baseball Classic, but there were 19 Nats games inside their home park, 27 games within a 15-minute drive.

Will any of this matter come Monday when the regular season begins? Who knows.

But the Nationals have had nothing but positive things to say about their first spring in West Palm Beach. And they'll very much look forward to coming back for years to come.

Starting lineups: Nats vs. Red Sox in Fort Myers
Nats reach final day in Florida with few remaining...

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