Changing teams can leave players feeling like the new kid in school

VIERA, Fla. - Roger Bernadina’s World Baseball Classic journey will continue for at least another week, as the Nationals outfielder delivered an RBI single early this morning, helping the Netherlands defeat Australia to advance to the second round of the WBC.

The Netherlands will now fly from Taiwan to Japan for second-round action, which will start later this week. Bernadina, who is racking up some impressive frequent flier miles on this trip, now has two hits and three RBIs in three WBC games.

Back here in Viera, Dan Haren will take the mound for the Nationals this afternoon as Bo Porter and the Astros make their first trip to Space Coast Stadium this spring. Porter, the former Nationals third base coach and now the manager of the Astros, was very well-liked by his players while with the Nats, so it should be a nice little reunion today.

While the vast majority of the 2012 Nationals stuck around and are a part of the 2013 squad, there are obviously a few new faces, Haren and Denard Span among them.

When players join a new team, there are often questions about how they’ll fit into the on-field dynamic. Fans wonder whether the new make-up of the batting order will be effective. Reporters ask about how the players will need to build up their rapport from a defensive perspective, learning each other’s tendencies while in the field.

What many people don’t see is the time that these players spend around each other when the games aren’t being played. Players often arrive to the ballpark more than four hours before games during the regular season, and can be with each other until late into the night. They take lengthy flights together, spend days together in new cities and, in spring training, are stuck in one city away from home for up to seven weeks straight.

And that’s why the off-field dynamic and finding a way to mesh into a new clubhouse can often be the toughest transition for a player who has just switched teams, tougher than anything he encounters while on the diamond.

“I was probably worried about that more than worried about on-the-field (stuff),” Span said.

Said Haren, who’s now playing for his fifth different major league team: “Anytime coming into a new clubhouse, it’s difficult. You’re basically thrown in with a bunch of guys and you have to become friends with them. I’m more of an introverted personality, so that’s more difficult for me. But I’m starting to get to know the guys. Guys are starting to open up to me, I’m starting to open up to them. It’s going to be a journey.”

The baseball world is a big fraternity. Guys know each other from their stints in the minor leagues, from college ball or from various All-Star teams along the way. But even if you’re already friendly with a few guys on your new team (Span said he knew somewhere around five to 10 Nats players before throwing on a Nationals jersey this spring) you’ve got a whole new front office and coaching staff to learn.

“Meeting new guys, new everybody,” Span said. “Just trying to learn everybody’s name and trying to gel off the field as opposed to on the field. I know when we get on the field, we’ll be fine. We’ve been doing this since we were 5 years old. So, yeah, for sure. I was definitely more concerned - or not concerned, but worried about it.

“Top to bottom, everyone. Scouts, coaches, clubhouse guys, cooks, everybody. I still don’t know everyone’s name, I’m going to be honest with you. But each day that’s gone by that I’ve walked through the doors, it’s been better than the day before, and more comfortable. And a lot of it is from the way the guys have treated me, the coaches that have made me feel comfortable. It’s just a good feeling.”

Haren comes into Nats camp as by far the most accomplished starter on the staff. The 32-year-old owns the fifth-best strikeout-to-walk ratio in major league history and has just one fewer career win than Gio Gonzalez, Stephen Strasburg, Jordan Zimmermann and Ross Detwiler combined.

Still, there’s also an element of players feeling like they need to prove themselves when they join a new team. Regardless of a player’s background, that can put added pressure on some guys, who feel like they need to show their worth to their new teammates.

“You gain respect from your peers by going out there and performing and winning and doing well,” Haren said. “I think that’s how you get respect from people. My track record is good, but of course I want to go out there and compete and show the guys I’m going to be good.”

There aren’t rules saying that players have to become tight with their teammates or say hello to every team employee that they pass in the hallways. Some guys are just more reserved and prefer to go about their business without focusing much on the outside stuff. But for most, players try and do their best to fit in and become a part of the group.

Haren’s locker is right next to Gonzalez’s, and so Haren has already been chatted up by the bubbly left-hander on more than a few occasions. Span was made a part of a mass-text message among Nationals players after the Nats traded for him this offseason, allowing him to feel like he was a part of the team before even stepping foot in Space Coast Stadium. It’s a slow process, but for most players joining a new team, acclimating to the guys in the clubhouse is an important one.

“I definitely don’t want to say chemistry off the field is more important than the play on the field, but if everyone’s on one accord off the field, it’s going to make everything on the field a lot smoother,” Span said. “And it’s even going to make the season less stressful, whether you’re winning or losing. When everybody’s getting along and having fun, it makes coming to the field more enjoyable.”

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