VIERA, Fla. - A very pleasant good morning to you from Florida’s Space Coast, where the sun is shining, the temperature will approach 70 degrees this afternoon and the four best words in baseball will at last be uttered after a long winter: Pitchers and catchers report.
Yes, it’s the first official day of spring training and it all gets underway shortly at Space Coast Stadium.
It’s at this point when I’m compelled to offer this disclaimer: Reporting date is kind of a misnomer. Pitchers and catchers must merely arrive in town today, or simply let the club know they are arriving. There’s no formal workout scheduled. Plenty of guys won’t even set foot inside the ballpark today.
But that’s mostly technicality. As far as we’re concerned, spring training begins today, and there should be plenty of activity at Nationals camp.
Many pitchers and catchers (and some position players, too) already have been here for a while, working out on their own. It’s always interesting to see who the early arrivals are and how many there are. I’d caution not to put too much stock in that - guys can show up at the last minute and be in perfectly fine shape and ready to go - but the ones who do report early often have some kind of statement to make to the organization, to their teammates or even to themselves about what they want to prove over these next six weeks.
Personally, I’m interested to see how this camp compares to previous ones. The Nationals have experienced it all over the last 11 years: optimistic camps, tense camps, high-drama camps, low-drama camps. And with each managerial change - incredibly, Dusty Baker is this franchise’s sixth full-time manager since it arrived in town in 2005 - there is a new tone.
I expect Baker’s camp to be lively. He’ll make sure everyone gets their work in, but I sense he’ll also want to make sure everyone has fun doing it, too. My initial impression of Dusty since he was hired in November is that he’s kind of a hybrid of Frank Robinson and Davey Johnson (and I mean that mostly in a positive sense). He’s been a well-regarded, well-known figure in this game for a long time, and he’s seen it all (and is happy to share every story).
Baker is going to let his players be themselves. He’s going to bring a confidence and a swagger to the clubhouse and the practice fields. And he’s going to try to make it all fun, something that felt lacking at times last year.
There are plenty of big personalities in this clubhouse, and we’ll see how Baker’s influence rubs off on them. The focus these first few days, of course, is on pitchers and catchers. And no one will draw more attention right off the bat than Jonathan Papelbon, who nearly five months removed from his suspension for choking Bryce Harper in the dugout in the middle of a game finally will speak publicly about the aftermath of that incident and his return as the Nationals closer.
Papelbon’s approach to this whole matter certainly will set the tone for this camp. Can he sufficiently make amends and put it all behind him, or will he only keep this story alive? We shall see.
We’ll also get our first glimpse of new bullpen members Shawn Kelley, Trevor Gott, Oliver Perez and Yusmiero Petit, as well as a re-introduction to returning starters Max Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg, Gio Gonzalez, Tanner Roark and Joe Ross.
And, of course, at some point in the next few days, the reigning National League Most Valuable Player will stroll through the doors for the first time this spring. If history is any indication, he might just have an interesting thing or seven to say.
We’ll chronicle it all for you right here, so be sure to check back throughout the day and throughout the spring for the latest from Nats camp.