What it’s like being at Nationals Park for summer training

I’ve been getting the question multiple times a day, from family, friends and colleagues, all curious to know: What’s it been like at Nationals Park during these first three days of summer training?

Well, sorry to disappoint you, but the answer is: Pretty boring.

That’s not to say my time spent at the ballpark is worthless, or normal. It’s just been rather uneventful.

Nats-Park-Dugout-Roof-sidebar.jpgFor those who don’t know, media members are allowed to watch a portion of the daily workout (roughly 2-3 hours) from the press box and only the press box. We must adhere to very strict protocols of our own.

Before entering the stadium, we go through a quick medical screening that includes a temperature check. Anyone running a fever is not allowed in.

Our path from the security entrance to the press box is long and winding, not the path we’ve always taken in the past. That’s because we’re not allowed in any portion of the ballpark where players and coaches and other staff labeled as “Tier 1” are allowed. So we can’t even walk past the clubhouse entrance. We certainly can’t be in the dugout or on the field.

Once we’ve arrived in the press box (via three different levels of the stadium and two different elevators), we head to our assigned seat, which is well-spaced out from others. I would say there’s a good 10 feet between seats. A row that might normally include 12-to-14 writers sitting side-by-side now is restricted to four.

Everyone must wear masks except when eating or drinking. (We bring our own meals from home and eat right at our assigned seat, not in the dining room or with others.) The press box windows are open at all times.

What do we do while we’re there? We watch a handful of players work out at a time on the field several hundred feet below. With nobody wearing uniforms and some guys wearing masks, it’s a challenge to ID everyone, even with binoculars. Through three days, I’ve managed to confirm only 26 total players in attendance.

Obviously, there are more than 26 guys working out, though. They’re just spread out over parts of the day when we’re not there in person. According to manager Davey Martinez, the first group takes the field at 7:45 a.m. The last group leaves the field at 5:30 p.m. (On Sunday, reporters were allowed to watch from 11 a.m.-2 p.m., and there was a break in action during a portion of that time, with nobody on the field except groundskeepers.)

Because the workout groups are so small, they really can’t work on much besides individual drills. Batting practice. Bullpen sessions. Grounders and flyballs. Catcher throws to the various bases. At some point, Martinez said, more players will take the field at the same time and they’ll work on larger defensive fundamental drills like cut-off plays and rundowns. But that’s not happening yet.

What about interviews? They are all being conducted via video conference, even though some of the reporters asking questions are in the same building as the players and managers answering the questions.

The whole process has run pretty smoothly so far at Nationals Park. The limited number of security personnel working there have been friendly and accommodating. Everyone seems to be taking the protocols seriously. I haven’t felt any less safe at the ballpark than I’ve felt at the grocery store, and honestly I have fewer up-close interactions with people at Nats Park than I do at Wegmans.

So, no complaints here.

But I am looking forward to games actually being played. What we’re watching right now isn’t particularly interesting.

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