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Spring training storyline No. 1: Williams takes over

Feb 12, 2014, 6:00 AM EDT

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As the countdown to spring training reaches its final day, we’re counting down the Nationals’ five biggest storylines of camp. We conclude today with storyline No. 1: Matt Williams’ first spring as Nationals manager…

Matt Williams has been stepping onto spring training fields in Arizona and Florida for nearly 30 years, but never as his team’s manager. So when Nationals pitchers and catchers gather on the fields adjacent to Space Coast Stadium for the first time Saturday morning, more eyes will be trained on the guy barking out orders than those receiving them.

Williams has prepared for this moment his entire baseball life, and those who have known him through the years long ago predicted he would find himself in this situation some day. They also seem to have a good idea what kind of manager the 48-year-old will be: authoritative, intense, upbeat.

But until Williams actually sets foot on that practice field — and, really, until he takes his perch in the dugout at Citi Field on March 31 — we won’t know for sure what to expect from this rookie skipper.

This much we do know: Williams won’t be under-prepared for his first spring training with the Nationals. He long ago mapped out all 41 days of camp, right down to the minute. He knows which pitchers will be throwing at what times, which infielders will be taking grounders on what days, which veterans will be making which road trips through the Grapefruit League.

Baseball, of course, is unpredictable by nature. Williams can set a starting lineup today for a March 12 split-squad game in Kissimmee, but there’s no way to know which players might be injured, which pitchers might need more innings or which trade his general manager might pull off before then.

Big-league managers ultimately are judged less on their preparation skills and more on their ability to adjust to whatever situation presents itself at a given moment. We’ll find out far more about Williams when something unexpected occurs this spring, not when everything goes exactly according to plan.

Nationals players are genuinely impressed with their new manager so far and eager to find out how he’ll run a morning workout, an afternoon ballgame and a clubhouse full of differing personalities. He should be a stark departure from Davey Johnson, who believed in a relaxed spring and trusting his veterans to prepare themselves as they saw fit.

Williams’ spring workouts are likely to be shorter than Johnson’s sessions, but higher-energy, with more purpose and focus. Take the field, get your work done in an efficient manner and head home for the afternoon.

It’ll be up to Nationals players to hold up their end of the bargain and help guide their first-time manager through his first camp in Viera, putting themselves in the best possible position to take the field for real six weeks later.

  1. joemktg - Feb 12, 2014 at 7:13 AM

    Three months of filler (sans the GM meeting). Now for some red meat, and with a forecasted 12″, the red meat couldn’t come any sooner.

  2. natsjackinfl - Feb 12, 2014 at 7:14 AM

    Along with the shorter workouts, I hear Matt has scheduled a team building day at this year’s Daytona 500.

    • nats128 - Feb 12, 2014 at 7:23 AM

      NJ, Interesting. There had been some debate on the chosen few going to Daytona last year while other team members played in an exhibition game.

      A team building day there seems to be a smart idea to keep everyone together but I have a feeling there will be some players who have little to no interest in going.

      Im curious to see how that unfolds.

      • natsjackinfl - Feb 12, 2014 at 7:28 AM

        Uhhh, I was joking.

        But you are correct. Team building days like that are the kind of things that ” Wierd Wuss” over in Tampa (well, Port Charlotte) would do.

      • Joe Seamhead - Feb 12, 2014 at 8:05 AM

        I laughed as soon as I read Jack’s contribution this morning..

      • Nats128 - Feb 12, 2014 at 10:01 AM

        Good one NJ. Now watch Williams actually do it.

    • sjm308 - Feb 12, 2014 at 7:35 AM

      Good one!

    • Steady Eddie - Feb 12, 2014 at 8:33 AM

      Trying to lure JayB back here, NatsJack? Nah ah.

      OT, I’ve got 4 extra reserved seat tix (sec 207 I think) to the home game with the Cards on Sunday March 9. They were STH bennies and are free to good NIers home if anyone is interested.

      • natsjackinfl - Feb 12, 2014 at 9:21 AM

        Just so happens Gator John and I are in town that weekend, Steady. Are you on twitter?

      • natsjackinfl - Feb 12, 2014 at 9:26 AM

        Oops, sorry. Got excited thinking you were talking regular season. But I do have someone bugging me for that game.

      • Steady Eddie - Feb 12, 2014 at 9:48 AM

        NatsJack — I’m “at”PMetzger98.

  3. tcostant - Feb 12, 2014 at 8:57 AM

    I will miss Davey, but am williing to give Willaims plenty of rope.

    Now for something completely different:

    http://hardballtalk.nbcsports.com/2014/02/11/gio-gonzalez-caught-a-big-fish/

  4. Theophilus T.S. - Feb 12, 2014 at 9:48 AM

    Amidst all of the admiration of Williams’s planning, I hope he keeps in mind the maxim of Helmuth von Moltke the Elder: “No plan survives initial contact with the enemy,”

    • Eugene in Oregon - Feb 12, 2014 at 10:36 AM

      I’ll think I stick with Dwight Eisenhower’s “…I have always found that plans are useless but planning is indispensable.”

  5. 3on2out - Feb 12, 2014 at 10:22 AM

    I like that Theo! Truer words…

    • Nats128 - Feb 12, 2014 at 10:45 AM

      John Steinbeck: “The best laid plans of mice and men often go awry”

      Planning is essential, effectively changing proactively is the key for success.

      Tom Peters: “Winners must learn to relish change with the same enthusiasm and energy that we have resisted in the past”

      • RPrecupjr - Feb 12, 2014 at 12:32 PM

        The actual quote is from Robert Burns’ 1785 poem “To a Mouse, on Turning Her Up in Her Nest with the Plough” and reads:

        The best-laid schemes o’ mice an’ men
        Gang aft agley

        I tried reading the rest of the poem but my eyes fell out ;)

        Steinbeck did take the title for “Of Mice and Men” from the line, obviously.

        And yes, I’m bored too, wondering if my office will be open tomorrow (we basically never close for weather issues)

      • natsfan1a - Feb 12, 2014 at 12:33 PM

        Technically, Steinbeck owes Robert Burns a hat tip on that one. ;-)

        John Steinbeck: “The best laid plans of mice and men often go awry”

      • natsfan1a - Feb 12, 2014 at 12:34 PM

        LOL, RP, we’re on the same page there (I think I was possessed by my departed mother, the English major there).

      • RPrecupjr - Feb 12, 2014 at 12:40 PM

        Coke Zero, por favor :)

        And my mother is also an English major, currently editor-in-chief for a research association journal. My late father was an attorney (and a Latin and Greek scholar), so you can imagine what conversations around the dinner table were like when my sisters and I were growing up :)

      • natsfan1a - Feb 12, 2014 at 12:44 PM

        I’ll add it to your tab. My late father was an (electronics) engineer, so your family conversations may have had ours beat. :-)

        Coke Zero, por favor :)

        And my mother is also an English major, currently editor-in-chief for a research association journal. My late father was an attorney (and a Latin and Greek scholar), so you can imagine what conversations around the dinner table were like when my sisters and I were growing up :)

  6. Faraz Shaikh - Feb 12, 2014 at 10:43 AM

    http://www.fangraphs.com/fantasy/a-collection-of-five-category-hitters/

    I would be very disappointed with Harper’s line if it comes true.

  7. Nats128 - Feb 12, 2014 at 10:56 AM

    Mike Tyson: “Everyone has a plan until they are punched in the face”

    Yogi Berra: “if you don’t know where you are going, you’ll end up someplace else”

  8. Jb - Feb 12, 2014 at 11:08 AM

    A man. A plan. A canal. Panama.

  9. sjm308 - Feb 12, 2014 at 11:13 AM

    “Practice doesn’t make perfect – Perfect practice makes perfect”

    “Nothing great is ever achieved without enthusiam!”

    “Don’t look back, something might be gaining on you”

    I got a million of em!

    Go Nats

    • tcostant - Feb 12, 2014 at 11:25 AM

      “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it” – George Santayana

      So we better work on:

      1) Holding runner on (or teams will con’t to steal on us)
      2) Make contact with runners on 3rd with less than 2 outs (or we’ll con’t to leave runs on base)
      3) Hit the cuttoff man (guys will con’t to take the extra base)

      Okay guys, that your to do list.

      • Jb - Feb 12, 2014 at 11:40 AM

        O yay como vah – Carlos Santana.

      • Nats128 - Feb 12, 2014 at 11:52 AM

        Truth there in the written words.

  10. Faraz Shaikh - Feb 12, 2014 at 11:21 AM

    did I miss a notice of some contest going on here?

    • sjm308 - Feb 12, 2014 at 11:52 AM

      Every day here is a contest!

      I love it

      • nats106 - Feb 12, 2014 at 12:42 PM

        “Okay you guys, pair up in threes!”
        ― Yogi Berra

  11. water47 - Feb 12, 2014 at 11:45 AM

    Yes… The “we are really bored as no news has come out lately” contest. Maybe Burnett signing somewhere will change that.

  12. Chazz - Feb 12, 2014 at 11:59 AM

    “Hermione, when has any of our plans worked!? We plan, we go in, all hell beraks loose, and we improvise.”

  13. natsfan1a - Feb 12, 2014 at 12:40 PM

    On topic (after my literary digression above), I’m putting out the welcome mat to say “welcome, Matt.”

    I attended his Q&A session at Nats Fest and was intrigued by his allusion to plans for a “defensive matrix.” Can a Photoshop and/or t-shirt be far behind? (Trench coats optional, ’cause they could kinda get in the way when one is fielding.)

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