VIERA, Fla. - Maybe Mother Nature just couldn’t bear the thought of watching the Nationals and Marlins play the final Grapefruit League game ever at Space Coast Stadium.
Today’s finale wound up getting canceled after the ballpark was drenched by a storm that swept through Central Florida and left the field and warning track under water. It won’t be rescheduled.
The Nationals desperately wanted to get this game in, both for sentimental reasons - it was going to be their final spring training game after 12 years at this facility - and baseball reasons. After Friday night’s game against the Marlins in Jupiter was rained out, they’ve now been able to play only twice in the last four days.
That isn’t helping the club in its final preparation for opening day. The Nationals have only two more games scheduled here in Florida (Tuesday against the Cardinals in Jupiter, Wednesday against the Mets in Port St. Lucie) and then two exhibitions vs. the Twins at Nationals Park on Friday and Saturday.
“We need to play today,” manager Dusty Baker said this morning, before the rain began. “We need nine. Our (starting position players) are going nine again, back-to-back. If it rains, what are you going to do about it? But we’d rather play today.”
Stephen Strasburg was scheduled to pitch today’s game. He’ll now start Tuesday against the Cardinals in Jupiter, then likely have eight days off before making his season debut April 7 in Washington. Max Scherzer, who was originally scheduled to pitch Tuesday, now will start Wednesday’s Grapefruit League finale against the Mets in Port St. Lucie.
Lineup regulars, meanwhile, were scheduled to play today but then take Tuesday off before playing part of Wednesday’s game. Baker said that plan will remain intact.
Whatever ends up happening, Space Coast Stadium won’t be hosting any more major league spring training games. The 22-year-old complex, which opened in 1994 as the spring home of the Marlins, isn’t being torn down, but it won’t have any major league tenants in 2017 once the Nationals relocate to West Palm Beach, where they will share a new facility with the Astros.
Given the bad weather, Monday afternoon start time and unpopular opponent, today’s crowd wasn’t expected to be particularly large. Those who arrived early and waited out the rain from the concourse level or the couple of covered sections of the grandstand lingered around even after the cancelation announcement, snapping one last photo or simply lounging in their seats, not wanting to say goodbye for good.