Feb 12, 2014, 6:00 AM EDT
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.
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