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On to the Space Coast!

Thursday began with a trip to the east coast of Florida. Last night I mentioned I was going to the city of Viera. Well that was a mistake. Viera is not a city! It's barely a town! As far as I could see, there were no stores, no gas stations, and no restaurants within an earshot. And while we're at it, there were barely any fans either!

The ballpark itself isn't really that bad a place. The seats are nice, albeit teal (built for the stadium's former residents, the Florida Marlins) and the sight lines are good. The press box blows away its counterpart at Osceola. And it too, has wireless internet access. The clubhouses are roomy and fairly modern, but remember, I have not been to the Braves locker room yet. The players had a nice assortment of food including some great smelling ribs! (I'll get back to the food thing in another article soon!)

The Nationals media staff is top notch and very friendly and professional. They were there to assist in any way possible.

I arrived at Space Coast Stadium with time to spare today...plenty of time. I watched Washington take batting practice. Standard stuff, and I got plenty of pictures (See Spring Training - March 23, 2006 ). The buzz around Alfonso Soriano moving to the outfield seemed to have worn off. The players were laughing and joking and the swarms of media had dwindled to a few.

I was scheduled to interview John Patterson and Ryan Zimmerman. Unfortunately, Patterson was receiving treatment on his arm. And by the time Zimmerman was available to talk, I was only able to get in 5 whole words. I was promptly dismissed from the clubhouse by the team's equipment manager once 12:30 rolled around. So goes the life of a reporter!

Let me digress a little and talk about clubhouse etiquette. The clubhouse can be an intimidating place. The players are in their own element and know this is their territory. Most are very willing to talk to the media, but they really prefer to do it on their terms. Personally, I prefer arranged interviews to clubhouse discussions. You spend too much time waiting around. It's just uncomfortable, and I'd rather do something more productive than watch players eat and get dressed. But it's part of the deal so you just go with it.

Anyway, the game began under cloudy skies and the crowd of a few thousand took their seats. You know attendance is low when you can hear the infielders yell "I got it" on a pop up to second base!

Bruce Chen was on the hill for Baltimore and Ramon Ortiz was on the mound for the Nationals. Both pitchers faired well from the start. Ortiz looked uncharacteristically good...throwing harder than he may have in years (6 IP, 5 H, 0 R, 0 BB, 2 Ks). Chen, on the other hand, mixed in changeups and a wicked curve to offset the lack of velocity on his fastball (5 IP, 3 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 5 Ks).

This game featured some interesting story lines. First of all, Alfonso Soriano did start and play in left field for the Nationals. He made a few fairly routine catches on fly balls and looked surprisingly comfortable in the outfield. Unfortunately, he didn't look as good at the plate, striking out his first two times up.

The game also showcased two of the leagues most promising rookies in Nick Markakis of the Orioles and Ryan Zimmerman of the Nationals. And neither disappointed. In his first three plate appearances, Markakis rocked the ball for a hard single and two doubles. Zimmerman lined a shot off the foot of Bruce Chen for a hit, stole a base, and later scored on a sacrifice fly by Royce Clayton. Ryan also prevented an Orioles run by starting a play that lead to a 5-2-6-5 rundown and putout. Both players looked impressive to say the least.

Baseball News and Notes

  • Jose Guillen is now 0-for-8 since coming back from his wrist injury
  • Javy Lopez , who has struggled this spring, started at catcher for the Orioles...not 1B
  • While Soriano was in LF for the Nationals, Marlon Anderson played 2B, not Jose Vidro.
  • The scoreboard at Space Coast Stadium is manually operated.
  • Nick Markakis has one of the sweetest left-handed swings I've seen in years!
  • Elsewhere around the Grapefruit League, scouts were seen watching John Thomson over at Disney today. Rumors continue to surface that the Braves may be looking to move the veteran starter to improve their ailing bullpen.

General Observations of the Day

  • The temperature again started out around 80 degrees and dipped to around 70 by the 7th inning. At the end of the 8th inning, the skies opened up, and it began to pour.
  • Rain seemed to be a big topic in the area, even a bigger topic than the Nationals! Apparently the Melbourne/Viera area has not seen rain in a month.
  • There were at least 5 broken bats during the game...not sure if that's due to good pitching or lousy hitting.
  • Not only was the sound system at this ballpark horrible, we were "treated" to such songs as "Juke Box Hero," "YMCA," and a few others I found a way to tune out.
  • On I-95 going to and from the stadium, the speed limit is 70 mph. I've never actually seen a limit that high before! I was excited!

Quote of the Day
"You think baseball would stop if they refused to play "YMCA" and "The Chicken Dance" at stadiums? - An anonymous member of the Nationals media

Up Next
There's a double dip on tap for us tomorrow as we head to Winter Haven to catch the Cleveland Indians take on the new look Toronto Blue Jays in the afternoon. Then, in the evening, we work our way back to Disney to watch the Nationals (again) go up against the Braves. Maybe we'll be able to snag a few special guests this time!

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