WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. – Sometime around 9:30 a.m. today, every pitcher and catcher in Nationals camp will emerge from the clubhouse and gather on the adjacent agility field outside for the first of 37 planned “Circle of Trust” morning meetings. Davey Martinez will set the tone for the day – and the spring in general – with some combination of instruction, wisdom and laughter. Perhaps a live animal will be involved. It’s happened before.
The World Series champions will be loose and free, happy to be together again and determined to begin their path toward defending their title on a positive note. Truthfully, this may be the single most optimistic day in Nationals history. What about it could anyone possibly not be happy about?
At that very same moment, a mere 1,000 feet away, Jim Crane, Dusty Baker and several Astros players are expected to hold a press conference to open their spring. The mood on that side of the shared complex will bear zero resemblance to its counterpart. The topic (presumably) will be the electronic sign-stealing scandal that has engulfed baseball all winter. And the words coming out of everyone’s mouths (presumably) will be apologetic. Well, except for Baker, who was brought in to help clean up the mess others created.
Talk about a wild way to open spring training.
The contrast between co-occupants of FITTEAM Ballpark of the Palm Beaches could not be starker. For the Nationals, this figures to be a spring of celebration, one that will even include a victory parade on Clematis Street in downtown West Palm Beach next week. For the Astros, this will be a spring of remorse, with players atoning for their role in the sign-stealing scheme that perhaps helped them win the World Series in 2017 but has since led to the suspension and firing of manager AJ Hinch and general manager Jeff Luhnow.
This very well could be the first time a defending World Series champion draws less attention on the first day of spring training than the team it beat the previous fall.
The Nats won’t complain one bit. They’ll happily go about their business and get to work on the field as a group for the first time in 2020. Some pitchers will throw off the bullpen mounds. Others will partake in the first of countless drills fielding bunts, covering first base and working on pickoff moves. It’ll be the most fun they’ve ever had doing these mundane fundamentals.
If you’re in town and want to attend, admission and parking are free. Fans may begin entering the complex at 9 a.m. Everything should wrap up before lunchtime. A good time will be had by all.
That’s on the Nationals side, of course. Smiles may be far less abundant on the Astros side.