October 22, 2020

Washington Nationals Spring Training Postcards: Impressions of a 13-year old lifetime fan

Spring Training Postcards is a series of the fans’ perspective of Washington Nationals Spring Training. If you’d like to share your spring training experience, email us at comments@districtsportspage.com.

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by Katie Edwards, Special to District Sports Page

The author waiting for an autograph. (photo courtesy of T. Edwards)

When I first decided I wanted to write about Spring Training, I was thinking about doing a game article. But after the game today [ed.–Saturday at Kissimmee vs. the Houston Astros], I decided to take a different path. I thought it would be much more interesting to write about how I think the Nats have changed in the 7 years I’ve been coming.  Those who know me (my close friends and family) already know that my passion is Washington Nationals baseball.  Those who know me from Twitter as @natsgrl1 also know that.  Another thing they know is that I absolutely love the bullpen.

As I mentioned above, this is my seventh spring training. Yes, I’ve been to every Spring Training with the exception of the first one.  At six years old, I was sitting in RFK during the inaugural season as they were giving away trips to Spring Training for the following year. I asked my dad what it was and all he replied with was something like, “We can go if you want. I’m sure you’ll love it.”  Of course at six I still didn’t understand what it was but I did know that I loved being at the baseball stadium.

My first love was Vinny Castilla (I have no idea why, but I just knew I liked him), then I moved on to John Patterson.  That was when I first fell in love with pitchers.  I had no idea what an ERA, batting average, RBI, or even cared, what a win or loss was, but as soon as I walked into the park I was happy.

Off we went to our first spring training [2006].  The first game was against the Astros in Kissimmee.  And just by a stroke of luck, our seats were in the same place as they were today. The Astros don’t have a bullpen so the relief pitchers are right in front of you.  The only thing separating you from the bullpen, is a 3 foot high wall — it’s just like they are the next row of the section.  The bullpen coach for that first Spring Training was John Wetteland.  John Wetteland and the pitchers talked to me the entire game; they gave me bubblegum, sunflower seeds, and baseballs. In the eyes of a 6 year old, that was great.

That same year, the second game we went to was in Viera.  I remember standing above the bullpen and watching the players joke with each other.  Again, I got baseballs and bubblegum.  Nobody in the bullpen had a clue what was going on in the game.  John Wetteland’s motorcycle was parked in the middle of the bullpen.  He got on his motorcycle in the middle of the game and revved the engine loud enough for the whole stadium to hear.  I thought this was hilarious, but my dad, not so much.

The 2006 regular season began with red carpets going into the stadium and multiple games where the players were actually at the gate handing out the promotional items.  One game, Frank Robinson was at the gate.  He thanked us for coming and patted my dad on the shoulder.  As a side note, my dad is a D.C. native and has always loved baseball.  When he saw Frank Robinson he was almost in tears.  Again, the last game came and there was no talk of spring training but everything was about how it was Frank Robinson’s last game as the Nats’ skipper.  When they were recognizing him I started crying. Again, I had no idea why I was doing what I was doing but I could just feel that it was gonna be a sad day.

When Manny Acta first got hired as the new manager, I asked my parents if I could send him an e-mail to congratulate him on getting the best job in the world.  We guessed and got lucky on an e-mail address.  He replied only 2 hours later.  He agreed to let me interview him.  For my next 3 spring training trips he sat down with me after a game and let me ask any questions I wanted.  We talked about baseball, the make-up of the team, the outlook of the season and even his daughters. He also allowed me to interview players. There was never a conversation with him that didn’t involve asking how I was doing in school, what subjects I like and what my grades were.  I know a lot of people didn’t like Mr. Acta, but he is a role model to me and one of the best people I have ever met.

My two visits to spring training under Jim Riggleman were fairly uneventful.  All I really remember was getting autographs from the big time players like Strasburg, Harper, Werth etc.  During these years we started coming to Spring Training a little early to see practices as well as actual games.  A lot of new coaches came in these years and the practices and workouts appeared to be more organized and focused. I never really liked Jim Riggleman until the day Mr. Acta told me he was a good baseball man and really cared about the players.  This made me feel better about him but like a lot of other Nats fans, I still had a bad feeling about him.

That’s the roundabout path that leads me this year’s spring training.  To date, I have seen no kidding around, no practical jokes, and I even heard Steve McCatty tell two players what they owed in the form of a penalty for arriving after the team had already started stretching.  The biggest thing I noticed is hustle.   I have seen all the players running as fast as they can.   Bryce Harper hit a routine fly ball to right field and by the time the fielder caught the ball, Harper was already at second.  This year’s team is focused, dedicated and clearly has an eye on a prize.

It was amazing today to sit in a visiting stadium with so many Curly W’s in sight.  To the right of me was a young couple making their first trip to spring training excited to see the Nationals play.  To the left of me was another couple who had relocated to Tampa from Milwaukee also excited to see the Nats; young talent.  They drove 2 hours from Tampa just to see OUR team!

I have always had the same excitement level and counted the days until it was time to go to spring training.  People constantly teased me about rooting for such a “bad team”. This year it’s different, people are telling ME how good a team we have. I have had two Phillies fans tell me they are actually scared of the Nats this year.  The view from the same seat seven years later sure looks a whole lot better.

Photos from the first spring training game of 2012 – Nats v. Astros in Kissimmee, March 3:

Edwin Jackson warming up. (photo by K. Edwards)

Bryce Harper warming up. (photo by K. Edwards)

Ian Desmond gets ready for game against Astros. (photo by K. Edwards)

Jesus Flores prearing for game against the Astros. (photo by K. Edwards)

The author getting an autograph behind Space Coast Stadium. (photo by T. Edwards)

 

About Dave Nichols

Dave Nichols is Editor-in-Chief of District Sports Page. He is credentialed to cover the Washington Nationals, Capitals, Wizards and Mystics. Dave also covers national college football and basketball and Major League Soccer for Associated Press and is a copy editor for the Spokesman-Review newspaper in Spokane, WA. He spent four years in radio covering the Baltimore Orioles, Washington Redskins and the University of Maryland football and basketball teams. Dave is a life-long D.C. sports fan and attended his first pro game in 1974 — the Caps’ second game in existence. You can follow him on Twitter @DaveNicholsDSP

Comments

  1. beautifully done katie. you brought tears to my eyes, which is a sign of good writing!

  2. Great Post Katie! Rock on!

  3. Dave Butler says:

    Katie, wonderful stuff as always. You make me want to go to FLA!

    I’m sure I’ll see you at a few games this year.

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