By: Jason Smith
West Palm Beach, Florida – if you have never been, it is a BEAUTIFUL area. It is also the location of the year-old Washington Nationals’ spring training facility. The Nationals share this facility with the defending World Series Champion Houston Astros. Speaking with fans that attended games at the Nationals previous location in Vera, Florida, leaves the impression that the new facility is top of the line. The best part about the facility is the intimacy. I walked right up to the fields that the players were taking infield on, hitting batting practice, and throwing bullpen sessions, and this was by far my favorite part of the trip! Watching Brandon Kintzler throw live batting practice to Bryce Harper, Trea Turner, and Matt Wieters was a great experience. At one point Kintzler asked Turner why he did not swing at a pitch, Trea replied, “I thought the pitch was going to be high in the zone.” The pitchers are trying to perfect their craft during every pitch and by throwing live to their own teammates, they are able to get feedback on areas they may need to work on.
As for the new stadium, FITTEAM Ballpark of the Palm Beaches, it in itself is beautiful. With palm trees lining the outfield and multiple concessions, this stadium has everything you could ask for from a spring training facility. The particular game I attended happened to be considered an Astros home game. It was fitting since this was the first game they have played since clinching the World Series Championship this past October. The team also unveiled their Championship banner to celebrate their season. In order to pay respect to the senseless act of the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida (only an hour from the stadium), the Nationals and Astros both wore hats with the letters “SD” on them. Along with wearing the hats, a senior from Stoneman Douglas sang the National Anthem.
The game itself did not see very many “big name” players. Wilmer Difo, Brian Goodwin, Howie Kendrick, and Matt Adams all got starts, but only saw two at bats each in the game. Victor Robles entered the game in the 5th inning and made a spectacular diving catch in centerfield. A guy who had an incredible spring training last year and saw some time at the big league level was Andrew Stevenson. He started right where he left off last spring with a double and a run scored against the Astros.
On Saturday, the Nationals traveled 30 minutes north to Roger Dean Stadium in Jupiter, Florida to face off against the Miami Marlins. Something interesting that manager Dave Martinez decided to do was only bringing players that were going to see playing time to the game. All the other players stayed back at the complex and took batting practice. The biggest take away from this game was seeing J.T. Realmuto go 2-for-2 with a single and a solo home run. If Realmuto was indeed auditioning for Mike Rizzo and the Nationals front office, he did his part.
Overall the spring training experience was wonderful and I HIGHLY recommend it to anyone who considers him or herself a baseball fan. The intimacy and access you have to the team’s practices alone makes it all worth it. My hope is that seeing the Astros unveil their banner and celebrate their World Series victory in front of the Nationals will spark a little fire in the players, their window is closing and the time is NOW!