VIERA, Fla. - For many ballplayers, the drive to spring training is a long and arduous one, with plenty of opportunities for reflection and goal-setting. For Daniel Murphy, the drive has never been much to think about. Just hop on Interstate 95 from his home in Jacksonville, Fla., head south and exit three hours later in Port St. Lucie, longtime spring home of the Mets.
"Just stop an hour short," Murphy said with a laugh Sunday afternoon, his car needing go no farther than Viera, where red curly W caps and pullovers awaited the Nationals' new second baseman.
After a decade in the Mets organization, capped by last October's record-setting postseason performance, Murphy now finds himself playing for New York's current top rival. He chose to sign with the Nationals, who offered the free agent a three-year, $37.5 million contract over the winter. And on Monday, he got his first taste how life looks and feels on the other side.
"I'm definitely excited to be here," he said. "I got a really nice welcoming from everybody here. I've been competing against these guys for so long. There's a lot of familiar faces in here. Very welcoming."
Murphy certainly had plenty of opportunities to get to know members of the Nationals over the years. Between 18 regular season matchups and typically another 5-6 spring training contests, New York and Washington face each other over the course of seven months perhaps more than any two other teams.
Not that there's a whole lot of time to do more than exchange pleasantries with the opposition.
"A lot of them get on base a lot, so I saw them at second base quite a bit," Murphy said. "It felt like (Anthony) Rendon and (Bryce) Harper and (Ryan Zimmerman) and (Jayson) Werth, all those guys were coming through second. So I saw them a lot. You get to speak with them before the game at batting practice. You get to know them in passing. I'm really excited to get to know them at a more intimate level, on a day-to-day basis, than 18 times a year."
The Nationals believe Murphy is a particularly good fit for them: a left-handed bat known for his ability to make contact, two traits they have lacked in the past. And if Murphy's breakthrough power stroke in October - he became the first player in history to homer in six consecutive postseason games - was a sign of things to come, the Nats will have themselves a much more-rounded hitter as well.
Though he has seen Murphy only from afar, new manager Dusty Baker started falling in love with the second baseman after watching him during the playoffs and discussing him with ex-slugger Gary Sheffield while the two worked together on TBS' postseason studio show.
"That was one of his favorites, talking about Daniel Murphy," Baker said of Sheffield. "And I felt like I kind of know him a little bit through Gary Sheffield. This guy comes to play. And he says, 'Hey, whatever you need. I'll bat wherever you want me to bat, I'll play wherever you want me to play.' He just wants to win big time."
Murphy reiterated that willingness to do whatever is asked during an offseason phone conversation with Baker. He has played both third base and first base at times in his career, and the Nationals could use him as insurance at both positions, though the club fully intends to make him its everyday second baseman for now.
"Coming into it, the understanding is this is about winning baseball games," Murphy said. "How can we do that as a group collectively? I'm going to do whatever I'm told. I've always felt that if you get to the end of a season and you accomplish all the goals that you set as a team and individually, it's going to look the way you want to. That ends up being a secondary aspect, I think, of the season. Whatever Dusty wants to do as far as positioning, batting order and all that stuff, he's putting in a lot of work. We get to do the fun part, which is go play."