What to expect as Nationals go to work in West Palm Beach

The day has arrived. This morning in West Palm Beach, Fla., Nationals pitchers and catchers will take the fields outside The Ballpark of the Palm Beaches as a group and conduct their first official workout of 2021.

It's quite all right if you need a moment here to compose yourself, wipe a tear from your eye or just take a few seconds to enjoy the meaning of all this.

If it feels like a long time coming, it is. And it's not just that the 2020 season ended 3 1/2 months ago. It's how little baseball there was prior to that point.

In a typical calendar year, there are 8 1/2 months of baseball. That's 1 1/2 months of spring training, six months of regular season and one more month of postseason. But over the last year, there were only five months of baseball (one month of spring training, one month of summer training, two months of regular season and one month of postseason).

The lack of baseball has been tough on everyone. But at last, it's back. And (with a little luck and a lot of vaccinations) we'll have baseball continuously for the next 8 1/2 months.

nats-spring-training-pitchers-2018.jpgThat doesn't mean it will look entirely like normal baseball. As outlined here before, this will be a spring training unlike any other, with social distancing, mask-wearing, staggered workout groups, limited travel and limited media access.

About that last point: With reporters permitted only to watch some workouts from one less-than-ideal location and games only from the press box, and with all interviews conducted via Zoom instead of in person, I'll be covering this camp from home. It's the first time I've ever missed Nationals spring training, and I don't need to tell you how disappointing that is.

But there's no sense grumbling over it now. We're going to do the best we can to provide the best coverage we can under the circumstances. It may look different at times than what you've become used to, but it won't be for lack of effort.

What to expect today: Pitchers and catchers will begin their workout around 9:30 a.m. The club is providing a live video stream for reporters to watch from afar. Davey Martinez and Mike Rizzo are then scheduled to hold press conferences around 11 a.m.

And then they'll do it all over again Friday, with another pitchers-and-catchers workout followed by press conferences with Martinez and a player or two.

Position players will join the fray for the first full-squad workout Tuesday. Then the 24-game Grapefruit League schedule commences Feb. 28 against the Cardinals in nearby Jupiter.

By the time March 29 rolls around, the Nationals will have trimmed their massive 71-player camp roster down to nearly 26 as they head north. And on April 1, they'll host the Mets in a nationally televised opening night showdown between National League East rivals.

A lot can - and will - happen between now and then. Hopefully, nothing that forces a significant change to that schedule or a delayed start to the season. But as we learned in 2020, assume nothing and be prepared for anything.

Baseball season is here. It may look and feel different, but for those of us who have been waiting and waiting for this day to arrive, it still brings a smile to your face.

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