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Spring Training Fan’s Guide Part 1: The complex

Feb 6, 2014, 1:00 PM EDT

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As you can tell by the countdown clock to your right, we are now down to the final stretch of a long offseason. Nationals pitchers and catchers (not to mention yours truly) report to Viera in one week as baseball season officially begins.

And, from what I gather, a good number of you plan to make the trip down yourself to witness spring training firsthand. If you’ve been before, you know the great experience that awaits. If you’re making your first trip this year, you’re in for a real treat. And if you’ve never gone before … well, it’s not too late to make plans.

Before you head to the airport or gas up the SUV, though, you’ll want to read our annual Fan’s Guide to Nats Spring Training. It’s broken into two parts: Today we detail the complex at Space Coast Stadium and what you can plan to see, and tomorrow we’ll look at the rest of Viera and the surrounding area with advice on where to stay, where to go and what to eat while you’re there.

The Nationals, to be honest, aren’t exactly thrilled to be opening their 10th camp in Viera (it’s the franchise’s 12th spring there). As you’ve heard numerous times before, they are trying to relocate to another spring base, preferably on Florida’s Gulf Coast, perhaps in Central Florida, almost certainly not in Arizona.

To date, those efforts have been thwarted by various local governments that don’t want to foot the bill to either construct new facilities or renovate existing ones. So the Nationals, whose biggest issue with the current setup is the long drive (minimum one hour) to get to any other Grapefruit League site, reluctantly head back to Viera this spring.

That’s not necessarily a bad thing for fans, though, because there may not be a more fan-friendly spring training complex in all of baseball, offering the kind of up-close access to players you just won’t find anywhere else in Florida or Arizona.

This is especially true when it comes to first two weeks of camp, before the games begin. The Nationals spend those days holding morning workouts at the facility adjacent to Space Coast Stadium, and the access for fans is spectacular.

The first official pitchers and catchers workout is scheduled for Feb. 15. Position players are scheduled to join them on the fields beginning Feb. 20, though you’ll still find plenty of early arrivals prior to that date. Workouts (and parking) are free to the public and generally run from about 9 a.m. through noon (though we don’t know Matt Williams’ exact schedule quite yet).

The practice facility includes four full-size fields arranged in a cloverleaf pattern, plus a half-field used for baserunning and infield drills and a huge bullpen where as many as 10 pitchers can throw off a mound at the same time. Players rotate from field to field during the course of the workout with a specialized drill being taught at each station (pitchers’ fielding practice, pickoff moves, bunts, baserunning, batting practice).

Pitchers typically throw off the mound every other day for about 10 minutes at a time, and you can watch it all right from the bullpen fence, a few feet away from the players. Yes, you can stand 10 feet behind Stephen Strasburg and watch just how much his curveball breaks.

You can also watch the other drills from behind the fences that surround each field and co-mingle with players as they jog between stations. (Just don’t be offended if they won’t sign autographs at those moments. Most everyone is happy to do it after the workout ends.)

As they move into the second week of workouts, you’ll see the entire squad take the field together for defensive fundamental drills, baserunning exercises and my favorite drill: live BP. That’s when pitchers take the mound and throw their full repertoire at teammates, who take full hacks. Perhaps this spring we’ll finally get our first Strasburg-vs.-Bryce Harper encounter.

The daily workouts continue through Feb. 27, after which the Grapefruit League season commences and the center of attention becomes Space Coast Stadium. The team still holds a full morning workout prior to those games (in addition to the regular batting practice they’ll take during the regular season, they also spend extra time in the morning working on defensive and baserunning fundamentals) but unfortunately those aren’t open to the public. Stadium gates open one hour before first pitch, though spring season ticket holders are allowed in two hours before first pitch.

The games themselves are low-key affairs, and you may find yourself surprised just how relaxed they are, especially early in camp when most starting position players are done after four or five innings and most starting pitchers are done after two or three innings. If you’re coming to games in late-February or early-March, be prepared to see a whole lot of backups, minor leaguers and anonymous players called up from minor-league camp for the day.

Also be prepared to see plenty of backups and minor leaguers from the opposing teams. Yes, teams wearing Tigers and Yankees jerseys and caps will make a couple of trips to Viera this spring, but don’t count on seeing Miguel Cabrera or Derek Jeter. Veterans usually don’t make many road trips, especially the longer ones to remote locales like Viera. Prepare to see a lot of guys destined to open the season in Toledo and Scranton, not Detroit and New York.

The same theory applies when the Nationals go on the road. You’ll get to see a regular member of the starting rotation and a couple of regular position players, but you certainly won’t see all of them at the same time. Most stay back in Viera for a morning workout inside the stadium (closed to the public, unfortunately).

You can still watch some live baseball in Viera even on days when the Nationals are playing elsewhere. Those workout fields the club used during the first two weeks of camp are used for minor-league camp and games beginning in early-March. Those intrasquad games (often played in front of less than a dozen fans) can be fun to watch themselves, especially when a rehabbing big leaguer is sent over for the day to get some extra work.

One note about the weather: While it certainly will be warmer in Viera than it is in D.C., be prepared for just about anything. It can get surprisingly chilly down there, especially during the first part of camp. It’s always windy, especially out on the back fields, and that makes it feel much colder than the actual temperature. But also make sure you bring plenty of sunblock, especially once the games begin. Space Coast Stadium has a rare, south-facing orientation, so nearly every seat in the park is in direct sunlight.

That should pretty much cover it all. Check back tomorrow for Part 2, on Viera and the surrounding communities. And between now and then, please feel free to share your own experiences from past springs, offering whatever advice you may have for others.

  1. Scooter - Feb 6, 2014 at 1:09 PM

    Yay! I love Spring Training Guide time.

    I’ll be down there in 15 days. But who’s counting?

    • zmunchkin - Feb 6, 2014 at 1:50 PM

      Me too. My wife and I plan to be there on the 27th and then will drive to Port St. Lucie on Friday the 28th for the game against the Mets before continuing south to visit family.

      So now a question for Mark – any insights on what the daily schedule it? I read that Matt Williams has mapped out every day. It would be nice to know at least the times when there will be something to see each day.

    • ArVAFan - Feb 6, 2014 at 1:58 PM

      We’re going really early (Feb. 15th through 19th) so we’ll be seeing mostly pitchers and catchers (and Mark Z. And position players who get cold and come to Florida early). But we figure our host will post the schedule once it’s known, or at least what times they are working out on the 15th so we can guess at the 16th-19th.

      Last year, the day before the first game was the photo day, so the big leaguers weren’t practicing on the field–although they were doing some exercises inside the (closed) stadium. Minor league guys were practicing that day. Of course, not sure whether the schedule would be the same this year, but thought I should mention it since zmunchkin is only going to be in Viera the one day.

      • Scooter - Feb 6, 2014 at 3:00 PM

        Sorry we’ll miss seeing you, ArVAFan. But I’m glad you’re going down early, like my dad and I are.

        I’ve probably said this before, but I’m not sure, so here goes: folks, don’t go to spring training to watch games! You’ve got all summer to do that. The real treat — what makes the spring different from the rest of the year — is watching professional ballplayers do their drills on the practice fields.

        If your schedule is already set, and you’re going down after games have started, fear not! You can watch the minor-league players (the accelerated-camp guys, if full-blown minor-league camp hasn’t started yet) work out in the morning (again, about 9 to noon). Then, if you want, go watch the big guys’ game in the afternoon or evening. It makes for a day that positively drips with basebally awesomeness.

      • jd - Feb 6, 2014 at 5:31 PM

        scooter,

        You are exactly right. I enjoyed walking around the practice fields seeing all the drills, talking to some unidentified coaches etc. The games were anti climactic, it’s hard to get into a sporting event where the outcome is irrelevant.

        .

      • zmunchkin - Feb 6, 2014 at 9:02 PM

        Thx. My wife and I decided to look at our schedule to see if we could fit two days in. So we now might be in Viera Thursday and Friday the 20th-21st. If we do that, it looks like we will miss you by one day ArVa.

    • Faraz Shaikh - Feb 6, 2014 at 4:25 PM

      thanks for the insight. Will keep in mind if I ever make down there.

    • janebeard - Feb 6, 2014 at 6:11 PM

      Is Lily going with you?

  2. websterj2014 - Feb 6, 2014 at 2:03 PM

    Thanks for the guide, Mark. It increases my eagerness to get on the road. We’ll be arriving March 1 for 2 weeks, with our first game Sunday against Marlins.

    • Bob in Orioles' territory - Feb 6, 2014 at 4:01 PM

      Should buy my tickets I’m advance or at the gate on game day?

      • naterialguy - Feb 6, 2014 at 10:35 PM

        When are you going to be there

  3. ronnowinarlingtonnotreston - Feb 6, 2014 at 2:14 PM

    Waaaahhhhhh, I wanna go!!!

    One of these days I’ll get there, and hopefully before they leave Viera. I can’t imagine that kind of intimate atmosphere.

  4. Nats128 - Feb 6, 2014 at 2:43 PM

    I like early Spring Training better and mixing up traveling on road games.

    The competition for backup catcher and backup middle infielder and 5th starter might make late Spring real intense.

    As far as I see, all starters are set with Rendon at 2nd and starters 1-4. The bullpen could shakeup if Detwiler goes to the pen.

    Lots of storey lines for Mark and that doesn’t include any late signing like Lobaton.

  5. natsfan1a - Feb 6, 2014 at 2:52 PM

    In addition to Mark’s current write-ups, fans who are going may also wish to read previous write-ups and the associated fan tips/comments. There are links to each in the original Nats Insider Drinks Owed spreadsheet (specifically, see row 10 of the “how-to” page):

    https://docs.google.com/spreadsheet/ccc?key=0ArHMZg5A8wSXdGViSG8xUGQxUlZzaUVxekJFNHFRcEE#gid=2

  6. tcostant - Feb 6, 2014 at 3:21 PM

    LInk to Jonah Keri interview to discuss the Nats and O’s TV deal and why it is such a debacle:

    http://washington.cbslocal.com/audio/1608-grant-danny/

  7. micksback1 - Feb 6, 2014 at 3:41 PM

    I may make it down there, I hope I can work it out

  8. alexva6 - Feb 6, 2014 at 3:55 PM

    Good info Mark, thanks as always

  9. Another_Sam - Feb 6, 2014 at 4:14 PM

    I’m in. The third week in March seems to work well for me, and that’s what we’re doing again this year. See you there. I’m ready.

  10. Another_Sam - Feb 6, 2014 at 4:15 PM

    Mark — thank you for the writeup.

  11. jd - Feb 6, 2014 at 4:25 PM

    We went last year and had a nice time. We went in late February so the camp was in full swing. The outer practice fields are easily accessible and some of the minor league coaches are very friendly and will talk to you casually if you are so inclined. When we were there we could not get any access to the big league players, I think the season ticket holders were allowed into the stadium earlier and they could meet and talk to the players.

    The games are fairly boring, the PA announcer is redundant with the jingles he plays and you find your mind drifting especially when our minor leaguers are playing against the opposition’s minor leaguers after about the 5th inning.

    The weather is usually great and there are a couple of nice (decent) restaurants in the area. If you are interested in the Orlando attractions it’s a bit of a schlep. When we were in Fla last year so were the Canadiens so we drove to Tampa and caught a game, that was a blast.

    Overall it was a fun experience but I don’t feel the need to do it again. I much prefer as couple of visits to DC to catch some real games.

  12. Faraz Shaikh - Feb 6, 2014 at 4:28 PM

    Mark, Thanks for the guide. I intend to use it soon. If not this year, next year.

  13. efowl4 - Feb 6, 2014 at 4:28 PM

    Does anyone have any insight on the golf courses down there? In particular which courses the players play? Trying to dovetail a spring training trip in with a golf trip. Thanks.

    Big things this year for our boys!

    Also it appears that Bryce is feeling healthier and healthier… look what he did at the driving range.

    http://www.natsenquirer.com/2014/02/bryce-harper-hit-a-356-yard-bomb-at-the-driving-range-on-saturday.html

    • scnatsfan - Feb 6, 2014 at 5:46 PM

      I hear you. Golf in the morning with afternoon baseball sounds alright.

  14. jd - Feb 6, 2014 at 4:29 PM

    Also, It was great to meet and talk baseball with NatsJack and NCNatsie.

  15. Eugene in Oregon - Feb 6, 2014 at 5:48 PM

    Separate subject: So the Marlins have now signed Carlos Marmol to go with Henry Rodriguez. If you’re one of the tropical fish in the tank behind home plate, you’ve got to be getting very nervous about the coming season.

    • ArVAFan - Feb 6, 2014 at 5:58 PM

      Never mind the fish . . . how about the opposing hitters who don’t have inches of plexiglass protecting them?

      • Eugene in Oregon - Feb 6, 2014 at 6:00 PM

        When those two are at their worst, the hitters don’t have to worry one bit. Maybe the guy in the on-deck circle or the batboy, but not anyone near the middle of the plate.

    • janebeard - Feb 6, 2014 at 6:12 PM

      Hilarious, Eugene!

      • ArVAFan - Feb 6, 2014 at 6:22 PM

        Good point. Henry almost hit himself with a wild pitch. That was memorable–for the wrong reasons, although it’s funny now in retrospect.

  16. sunshinebobby - Feb 7, 2014 at 12:22 AM

    I am not going but I’m doing the second- and third-best things: reading Mark’s reports and NatsJack in Florida’s eyewitness accounts. Good luck and godspeed to all NI’ers going. Be careful driving!

  17. naterialguy - Feb 7, 2014 at 12:42 PM

    My friend and I went for the first time last year. We had such a blast that this year we decided to bring the wives to keep us out of trouble (though they do have a certain weakness for Tiki Bars) so I’m not sure who will be watching out for who. It takes a village.
    We will arrive Wed night the 26th, Watch workouts on thursday drive to Port St Lucie on Friday for the Mets, go to the Marlins and the Barves games saturday & sunday and then to see the Yankees on Monday before flying back to the great frozen tundra.
    I will have a red Nats hat on so if you see me say hi!

Archives

NL EAST STANDINGS

W L GB
WASHINGTON 75 56 --
ATLANTA 68 64 7.5
MIAMI 65 66 10.0
NEW YORK 62 70 13.5
PHILADELPHIA 60 72 15.5
Through Tuesday's games

UPCOMING SCHEDULE
WED: Nats at Phillies, 7:35 p.m.
THU: OFF
FRI: Nats at Mariners, 10:10 p.m.
SAT: Nats at Mariners, 9:10 p.m.
SUN: Nats at Mariners, 4:10 p.m.
MON: Nats at Dodgers, 8:10 p.m.
TUE: Nats at Dodgers, 10:10 p.m.
Full season schedule

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ON THE RADIO

As ESPN-980 AM's Nats Insider, Mark makes daily appearances on the station's various shows. Here's the 2014 schedule (subject to change)...

MON: 12:45 p.m.
TUE: 2:30 p.m.
WED: 4:30 p.m.
THU: 2:30 p.m.
FRI: 1:30 p.m., 5:30 p.m.
SAT: 10:30 a.m.

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