Mar 252014
 

Editor’s note: Ever wonder what it’s like at the minors camp? Well, so have I, so when site regular SoulDrummer offered to write a first-person narrative, how could I say no?

My brother and I recently had the pleasure of attending Nationals Spring Training this past Saturday. I love baseball. It has gotten me through one of the most challenging parts of my life. This “vacation,” however, will likely be a launchpad to greatness because I was so inspired by this beautiful game and the wonderful personalities that make up the Washington Nationals.

I had hoped to watch baseball on Friday and spend all day at Nats camp. Sadly, it was an off day for the boys. No games. No baseball after morning practice. I did go to the compound, picked up a free issue of Baseball America, the schedule, and plotted my revenge on the baseball gods for not having my favorite players available at my beck and call. I was going to get up early so I’d be able to watch the players practice.

Michael Taylor and Nats stafferMy brother and I woke up promptly and got to camp around 9:30 a.m. on Saturday. We had resolved to hit minors camp in the morning and catch most of the big club’s game in the afternoon. Simply put, the day is a blur of baseball joy. Right away we got to watch some of the AA/AAA players getting on the bus to head to the away game against Detroit. I got a great pic of Michael Taylor and let him know that I’ve got him pegged for MVP of the Eastern League and an September callup this year.

I then hit the field and watched the players do their drills. You meet great, similar hardcore fans doing this. Antonio is a fabulous guy local who supports the Venezuelan minor-leaguers. He befriended and supported Alcides Escobar when he barely knew English and received the joy of watching Escobar play as a major-leaguer and thank him as a countryman for helping with a hand up not a handout. Got a great pic of the man’s Omar Vizquel autograph. He had gotten the autograph at Tigers game recently because Omar is now coaching for the Tigers.

TwinkletoesBut of course the Nats players were the best. Yes, I did stalk Giolito for about 20 minutes because I knew that you guys would be interested. I clowned him and called him “twinkletoes” for his footwork during the pitchers’ agility drills. He took it in good fun, though. I said that I was giving him a hard time because I know that he gets revenge on everybody else with his blazing fastball. I also let him know that I hope to see him in Harrisburg for my late summer trip and that I know he’s going to have a great year.

me and drew ward!Drew Ward impressed me the most. This kid looks like a man, but he just turned 19. And he is so, so, fan friendly. The pic to the right is me talking to him through a fence. Drew was thankful that I followed him, and I expressed how grateful I was to Mike Rizzo for taking a chance on this high school kid. I asked him what he would study if he had gone to college, and he said “baseball, baseball, baseball.” Imagine being his age, blessed with otherworldly talent, and getting to spend all of his time immersed in the culture of the game that he loves. We are blessed to have Drew Ward as a young prospect, and I am optimistic that he will build on his progress and “master the level” to warrant a midseason promotion. What a preternatural kid.

After failing to catch a home run ball at the fence during batting practice (it was low minors so the players didn’t have as much pop), I went to the central area where you can see several fields and hung out and waited for the game to start. The Detroit Tigers got there first so I decided to whip out my cell phone and play DJ with them for a couple of minutes. I played “Oye Come Va,” a country song by request that I can’t remember, “In the Stone” by Earth Wind and Fire, before regaling them with an impromptu karaoke version of “One In a Million You.” Baseball builds connections. Turns out my karaoke standard was the wedding song of one of the coaches. He’s been happily married for 30 years. What a blessing to meet such great people for the opposition.

Deion WilliamsThe game finally started and I got to watch Jake Johansen throw some smoke. But I didn’t really spend that much time watching the game. Other pitchers from the squad were hanging out, and I was eager to connect with Deion Williams. Deion is making the transition from shortstop to pitcher, and it was fascinating getting his impressions on Johansen’s work. I told him that I would try to make him a star on Nationalsprospects.com so here’s his pic!

After watching the game for an inning or two, I figured I should join my brother, the Mets fan, at Space Coast and we watched that game. Spinner hit a walk off homer and Bryce had two hits in a one-run victory!

What a day.

  21 Responses to “The Minors Side of Viera”

  1. Nice narrative. Since there were numerous crushes mentioned ( lol. All in humor)
    How us Pleff doing ? Aka Shawn Pleffner doing this spring ?
    Lol!

    • Not sure how he’s doing, but we did get a Pleffner pic (just his back with the uniform sitting on a bucket of batting practice balls)! Email me directly at jasoneducator @ g m a i l. c o m and I’ll send it your way. Lot of pics from spring training got left on the cutting room floor for this story.

  2. That’s good stuff! Nice pictures… I have had to opportunity to talk with both Drew Ward and Deion Williams… They are both quality PEOPLE. You can tell that their parents have done an EXCELLENT JOB raising them into young men. Good luck!

  3. SoulDrummer’s comments about the Friday activities were not entirely accurate. That Friday was a Camp Day in that none of the minor league teams travelled and/or played any other teams; however, there were some good intrasquad games that morning. There were several major leaguers who played in those games but they were only there to hit. In the AA/AAA game, Span led off, followed by Desmond and then LaRoach. If/when those guys got on base, they came off the field and a minor leaguer ran the bases for them. Harper and McLouth also got several ABs in that game so, even though that Friday was a Camp day, there was lots to see in the morning before we all hit the links in the afternoon.

    • Thank you very much for correcting me. I knew that there was not much going on in the afternoon. I thought they just practiced in the morning, and I didn’t realize that they played an intrasquad game. I’m very glad that the dedicated commenters of this site correct me when I’m wrong!

  4. Any hints @ whether Ramsey and / or Vettleson
    Join Taylor , Hood and Goodwin on city isle??

    • I don’t know about Vettleson but Ramsey was playing with what looked like the AA team during the week of 17 March. Also, what was odd was that Hood played with what looked like the High-A team that same week. Speculation was that he had a minor nagging injury and that he was with the High-A squad as he may be slightly behind all others in terms of being ready to start the season. Normally, when a player is injured like that, they will not be wearing a jersey with their name on the back but Hood was wearing his jersey so nobody was exactly sure what was going on.

      Also, FYI, I got the word last night that infirlder Adrian Sanchez has also been assigned to AA Harrisburg.

      • You are far more plugged in to the Viera scene than I am. Do you live in Viera? How much of minors spring training have you been able to see? Wish that I had known you were down there. We probably crossed paths without realizing it on the day that I describe in this post!

        • I live in Virginia and am very active in the Potmac Booster Club and I’ve been going to Viera every year since 2009. I usually go the week of St Patrick’s Day each year – when I first went in 2009, I went to Melbourn for a st patrick’s day event where they closed the streets and had bands play with lots of beer tents. I went with several of the players and we’ve continued to make that an annual tradition since 2009.

          I’m one of the Host Families from Potomac so I’ve had over 40 total boys stay with me at some point since 2008. Several of them now play in the majors so I feel blessed that I can consider these boys as close friends – almost like family. I attended Det’s wedding (awesome) plus I’ve visted many of the Latino boys at their homes in the DR and PR. I’m not bragging but I’m very well connected with many of the boys at all levels of the organization plus I know many of the coaches very well (Knorr, Menhart, LeCroy, Cathcart). Going to Viera each spring is thus like a big family reunion.

          You have my email address so pls feel free to email me at any time if have any questions. Also, if you ever want to attend a game at Potomac just me know and I can provide the tickets. Being a Host Family means I can get free tickets. I can also potentially get some Family Room passes for the big Nats if you ever want to attend a game in DC. That allows us to wait just outside the locker for all of the players as they exit the locker room.

          Where do you live?

          • I think that I’m a big fan, but you sound like the biggest and best fan that I know (outside of Luke, of course!). While I do plan to run for Mayor of the Grandstand Section this year, I also plan to attend 10-15 minors games this year, perhaps as early as the opening Bowie BaySox homestand against Harrisburg. Based on the feedback that I’ve gotten for this piece, I’m interested in possibly writing some One Night in Bowie/One Night in Hagerstown/One Night In Harrisburg/One Night in Potomac style pieces. (Never one night in Syracuse, though. Too friggin’ cold!)

            Yes, I do plan to hit Potomac at some point, and I am interested in building bridges with federalbaseball.com to possibly organize a group trip to support the hometown 9. Still working on my scheduling for the summer as I am an educational/musical entrepreneur in a high growth phase.

          • I usually try and attend at least one game per year in Harrisburg so let me know if/when you plan to visit there. We also usually go to Richmond when Harrisburg plays there and we’ve also been to Norfolk for when Syracuse visits there. Been thinking about attending a game in Bowie but have not done that to date. We’ve also been to Syracuse once but that’s a long trip for a weekend. I’m usually at about 90% of the Potomac games so just let me know whenever you want to visit Potomac and/or attend a W-nats game. I can potentially talk to one of the major leaguers and get good tickets but I try to do that sparingly and not bother them even though they keep telling me it’s no problem. Can’t wait till opening day – we treated ourselves to Lexus seats so I can’t wait to get some of that gourmet food and chow down (besides all of the free beer!!).

          • Tom, I’m with you on not bothering the major leaguers about hitting up Nationals Park very often. I just enjoy being in the stadium and listening to the games when I go to Nats Park, and I often have a better time when I can stretch out in my grandstand seats then when I’m surrounded in the lower bowl. If I get a car over the summer and the finances work out, I may hit Norfolk and Richmond too. I usually hit Harrisburg in August when I have my aunt’s car for a week or so while she’s at her annual meeting. Last year, I saw Karns pitch and Billy Burns had a great game. This year, I’m thinking of getting a hotel room so that I can explore Harrisburg a bit and see two or three games. I really appreciate your responsiveness. We are blessed with a great fanbase hear at nationalsprospects.com, and I hope to meet more and more of the regulars around here in person.

  5. Vettleson is a Fangraphs and MLBTraderumors sleeper … I’d want to see him pitch in a game using both arms. That would be very cool. But he is an outfielder … still I wonder how he chose which had he would put the glove on?

  6. Thanks, SD.

    • You’re very welcome. It is and honor and a privilege to contribute to this site and benefit from Luke’s proofreading and editing. I plan on attending more minors games this year than I did last year, and I hope to be able to do more narrative pieces. Sadly, I will not be able to benefit from my brother’s outstanding photography for that work, but one of the pics above is just an iphone job so maybe I’ll be able to do a decent enough job.

  7. If you ever go to Viera, you MUST go to the Carl Barger Minor league complex. Unfortunately the last time I went was 2007. Me and the Mrs went there around 10am before the 1pm game at the stadium. It was the spring after Desmond had been rushed to AA and hit .182 in a 37 game trial as a 20 year old. Chris Marrero and “Smiley NOT” Gonzalez were supposedly teenage millionaires and in their first camp. Got pix of my wife with both. The amazing thing, born out by SD’s pix of him talking to Drew Ward, everybody is RIGHT there! They walk to another practice field and go right by you. You poke your camera thru the fence and get action closeups. Got a great batting shot of Justin Maxwell he latter autographed. Another great one of Glenn Gibson warming up. Even Emiliano Fruto playing with his nephew. You can talk and get your picture with whomever you want. They all seem so happy you know who they are (I brought cheatsheets!).

    It’s neat to see the interaction between players, both minor and major league. Seemed like all the minor leaguers knew and was friends with Desmond, even Smiley who was supposed to supplant him on the depth charts at SS. Proving how little we actually know.

    The major leagues would come, get their ABs or pitch an inning and hang around a bit. Guzzie stole Bowden’s golf cart and took it back to the main building.

    There were even young baseball Annies hanging out, even giving my wife (in her 40’s) the evil eye!

    For fans of this site it should truly be a bucket list item, one repeated as often as possible.

    PS – Another factor in going as soon as possible, if the Nats move to a new spring complex, in other newer complexes access is restricted to the minor league area. So go while you can.

  8. Just wanted to stop in and say, great work SD! Making it to minor league ST is one of the top things on my bucket list. I also hope to get to see all the affiliates play at least once this year.

    • I believe that you’re the Jeff550 from FB. If so, thanks for dropping by my new primary web home in the Natmosphere (I’ll be mostly minors this year until the pennant race methinks). Plus one editor is very supportive of my work and one I’ve made some mistakes with in the past. Probably helps that the editor here has complete and total freedom to build a truly community site.

  9. Great article! I like the behind the scenes view you provided! I think more of these type of well written articles by true fans are needed on more websites. Glad the editor took a chance on you! Also, your karaoke favorite was sung at my wedding also, but we only have 22 years!

    • Thanks so much for dropping by and commenting on my article, Aunt Charlotte. I know that you are still learning the game of baseball as the parent of a brilliant young man who is destined for great things. (I’m a little biased because he’s my cousin!) Hopefully, some of the members of our community can be helpful to you when your son gets better and back in action. #prayforheemteemmw

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