Feb 4, 2014, 4:08 PM EDT
Heading into a year he hopes to make the Nationals’ roster out of spring training, infielder Zach Walters put in extra time this offseason playing winter ball in Venezuela. The experience in the South American country, however, got off to an ominous start.
Walters fell ill on the second day there with a virus and had trouble keeping food down. The 24-year-old shared the experience at Nats Fest in late January.
“I was in Venezuela and unfortunately I got a stomach virus my second day there,” he said. “I felt weak. I couldn’t eat anything, I couldn’t drink anything. It didn’t really do my body very good.”
Getting sick in a foreign country was difficult for Walters who does not speak Spanish. Communicating with trainers and doctors became a challenge.
“I wouldn’t say it was scary. I was more so worried because no one’s out there. I didn’t know anybody. Everybody speaks Spanish. How am I going to tell somebody that I can’t communicate with, ‘Hey, my stomach…’ And he’s like, ‘food?’”
Walters said actually flying to the country might have been even worse.
“The scariest part I think was flying for me because I can’t sleep on a plane. I was just up the whole time, people speaking Spanish and yelling at me when I had no idea what they were saying.”
Despite getting sick and an unfortunate travel experience, Walters enjoyed his time in Venezuela.
“I had a good time out there. It’s very different,” he said. “Baseball, you know you hit a pop-up and all of a sudden you got a marching band in the audience. They go crazy, there are drums, people yelling and dancing. It was fun.”
Walters knows the upcoming big league camp will be an important one for him. He could play his way back to Washington, or find himself back in Syracuse where he spent most of 2013.
Walters is prepared for either scenario.
“For me personally, if they want me anywhere I’ll be there,” he said. “If I’m up with the team, that’s great. If I’m not, it’s great for me. I’m not worried about that.”
If given the choice, however, Walters would obviously pick the big leagues.
“The food tastes better, the air is crisper, it’s the life,” he said. “It’s unbelievable. You’re getting paid to play a kid’s game. You’re around guys that love doing what you do.”
Walters recorded three hits and scored two runs in eight September games with the Nationals. His call-up was a reward for a terrific season at Syracuse where he hit 29 home runs in 134 games.
This year Walters hopes to improve his play in the field, be a good teammate and a more mature player overall. Part of that process, he says, is following instructions from veteran players.
Last year Walters was told by Jayson Werth to take off a pair of custom shoe laces he had on his cleats. Next time Walters will know better.
“If Werth asks you to do something, you make sure you do that.”
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