By SEAN KINSLOW
As the residents of the Washington, D.C. area continue to freeze, the area’s baseball team is heading south to sunny and warm Viera, Florida. The Washington Nationals first regular season game is not until Monday, April 6, but the team is set to begin their annual Spring Training, a series of individual workouts, team practices, inter-squad simulated games and exhibition games against other teams in order to prepare for the upcoming Major League Baseball season. Pitchers and catchers reported for camp on Thursday, Feb. 19, while position players were not required to report until Feb. 24.
All 30 Major League Baseball teams attend Spring Training. Each team has its own training facilities in a warm location for ideal training conditions, while many fans are still stuck in the cold. Half of the MLB teams, mostly from the Eastern part of the country, train in Florida. These 15 teams compete against each other in exhibition games throughout the month of March and make up what is referred to as the Grapefruit League. The other half of the teams, mostly from the western half of the country, train in Arizona. These teams also compete against each other in the month of March to form the Cactus League.
Spring Training is just the start to the very long baseball season. These games do not count for anything and are just used for preparing for the regular season, when the games begin to count toward making the playoffs.
The preseason training is very beneficial to teams though. It gives teams a chance to get an extended look at the young talent within their organization. It also allows teams to give older players a second change at making it in the big leagues. Players who ended last year injured now have a chance to reestablish themselves before the season starts.
One of the most talked about aspects of Spring Training is the final roster cut down. Teams have at least 40 players at Spring Training (their entire 40-man roster), plus many more non-roster invitees. This season, the Nationals have 20 such players for a total roster of 60 players at Spring Training. This number needs to be trimmed to just 25 players before Opening Day (generally 12 pitchers, two catchers and 11 position players). Generally, a team already knows who they are going to keep as they head into the regular season, leaving only a few spots on the final 25-man roster up for grabs. That is a very large number of players for just a few roster spots, making the competition level high.
One of the biggest storylines to follow for the Nats during this Spring Training is how the team responds after a disappointing showing in the playoffs last season.
Additionally, Ryan Zimmerman will be switching from third base to first base. The question remains of how seamless that transition will be.
Many other issues will be main topics of interest as fans watch the Nats in Spring Training. Will Jayson Werth’s injured shoulder be healthy in time for opening day?
How big of impact will new players such as Max Scherzer, Yunel Escobar and Casey Jannsen have?
Will the team be able to overcome the loss of fan favorites Tyler Clippard and Adam LaRoche?
Finally, and arguably most importantly, with all the pressure in the world to be one of the best teams in baseball again this year, how do the Nats respond?
These questions should begin to be answered over the next few weeks as the team prepares for Opening Day against the New York Mets. Some of the Nationals’ Spring Training games will be televised on MASN, which UMW fans can watch on Mary Washington channel 60.