Tuesday, January 25, 2011 7:43 pm
By Miss Chatter
As we await our first major snowstorm (or yet another major anticipation fail), it's time to look forward to spring training and hopefully basking in Space Coast Stadium seats in sunny warm Florida taking in the familiar Nationals and the newbies. Pitchers and catchers report in 22 days, and players filter in shortly after for rotating drills on the practice fields in Viera, Florida. Actual exhibition games begin on February 28th against the familiar NY Mets. That's one month and some change away. Woo! (is that a flake I see? Oh wait, too soon!). So who's going and when? Naturally, I'm making an annual pilgrimage down, but as usual not for the whole month plus (that luxury is left to the full-time beat guys).
I've been down observing various stages of spring training each year. I think my favorite time to go so far has been before exhibition games began when all players were performing drills and bullpen sessions in the mornings. Fans have (or at least had then) free range to roam from field to field to see the drills up close and personal. Players marched in procession past fans as they moved from one practice field to the next. One can stand behind the batting cage and watch, although there's so little light in the batting area, it's hard to see what's going on in there. As for the sunny warm basking? I have not managed to nail down the ultimate best weather window yet. Each year has been incredibly wind-blown and chilly. But still, warmer than DC and snowless.
I lived on the west coast of Florida for ten years before I moved to the DC area. I had a job that required travel all over the state, remaining in each location for only a few days at a time (but if I told you what that job was, I'd have to...). I also had a cheap boss who didn't want me spending much on hotels. Most of Florida was not touristy at the time and I made it a mission to find cheap beach hotels when I was working anywhere near the coast. They were usually one story concrete block construction with linoleum floors, an AC window unit and short on any luxuries. But they also usually had a kitchenette and were unique, unlike the chain hotels that all look the same. Usually a room on the beach at such a place ran about 25 a night, which was also far less than the mega-chains. Unfortunately, times have changed and while those places still exist like a throwback to times of old, they now run a little more competitively priced to the beach resorts. Still, I'll pay that for the no-frills room, private beach and nostalgia feeling, so I returned to seeking them out once I started heading down for the Nationals spring training. I found just such a place in Cocoa Beach a few years ago. While the drive to the stadium is 20 minutes as opposed to 5 for the closer La Quinta Inn, it's well worth it. Traffic is never an issue. Well, unless you're leaving a well attended game with the rest of the area as I expect the YankeesNats game on March 12th will be.
So yep, that's the weekend I'm going -- from March 11-14. I'll be trying to capture glimpses of Bryce Harper and the new additions such as Adam LaRoche and Jayson Werth. Yes, they have stats and numbers, but I don't want to draw any conclusions and get my hopes up or vice versa, be negative Nelly until I see them play in person. And hopefully I'll get a chance to spot new relief pitcher Todd Coffey sprinting in from the bullpen next to right field.
Timing a spring training trip can be tricky because if you want to see upcoming prospects who will definitely not be on the 25 man roster, you have to go relatively early in the exhibition game schedule before they get sent to minor league camp. On the flip side, that also means you'll see a lot of replacements around the 4th and 5th inning with players you've likely never heard of. The final weeks of March are when the roster becomes more whittled down and a clearer picture of what the opening day roster will look like emerges.
I'm also most definitely looking forward to reconnecting with other Nats fans and returning to my 'baseball family' after a long cold winter. From what I hear, the DC area will be well-represented in the stands that weekend. By night, I'll be offloading photos sitting next to the Atlantic before falling asleep to the real sound of waves, not electronically generated replications. Ahhh! I even think returning to this beach motel instead of the shady place I stayed last year will let me avoid another "C.O.P.S."-like incident involving being scolded for drinking wine out of a plastic cup outside my room. Hopefully.