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A long, strange trip for Nats


A long, strange trip for Nats
The Grapefruit League is always an exercise in resilience, a month spent crisscrossing the highways of Florida for exhibition games at ballparks across the state.

This spring - and this week in particular - is testing every last ounce of resiliency the Washington Nationals have.

With Opening Day so tantalizingly close, the Nationals must first complete their toughest stretch of the exhibition season. From the time they departed for Jupiter, Fla., on Sunday morning through their season opener against the Florida Marlins on Monday, they will have played eight games in nine days in eight cities.

They will have traveled 1,056 miles by bus and 3,240 miles by air and will have gone from Clearwater, Fla., to Miami via Norfolk and the District. And when it's all over, they get to start a 162-game season.

"It's mind-boggling," right-hander Jason Bergmann said.

And out of the Nationals' control. A perfect storm - the Los Angeles Dodgers' departure from Vero Beach after 59 years, a pair of required exhibition games against the Baltimore Orioles in Norfolk and the District, Opening Day on the road against the Florida Marlins - led to this marathon trek.

When the Dodgers moved to Arizona this year, the Nationals lost their closest Grapefruit League neighbor. Now it's 54 miles from Space Coast Stadium to the nearest camp, the Houston Astros' complex in Kissimmee. That forced the Nationals to travel farther to fill up their exhibition schedule, leading to games Wednesday and Thursday in Dunedin and Clearwater - on the other side of the state.

"Usually we counted on that Vero trip being the shortest one," Bergmann said.

It won't help that the Nationals, despite playing back-to-back days against the Toronto Blue Jays and Philadelphia Phillies (whose complexes are three miles apart), won't be spending the night in the area. They will bus 150 miles each way both days, a cost-cutting move that didn't please many players or staff members.

Not wanting to subject his regulars to that kind of travel schedule, manager Manny Acta decided to let most of them stay in Viera on Wednesday for an intrasquad game against the club's Class AA team. Only a handful of major leaguers, including left-hander John Lannan (whose turn in the rotation comes that day), will make the trip.

"We are sorry if we're not bringing our 'A' team to Dunedin," Acta said. "But for our good, we just can't afford to bring all those guys to Dunedin, back over here and then back to Clearwater the very next day."

The club will close up shop in Viera on Thursday morning and bus to Clearwater for the Grapefruit League finale against the Phillies, then board a plane for Norfolk, where the Nationals and Orioles will play Friday afternoon.

As soon as that game is over, the team will bus to the District, spend one night in its hometown and then head to Nationals Park for a fan-related event and one last exhibition against Baltimore on Saturday night. The home "dress rehearsal" has become a tradition, with proceeds going to charity.

The game won't be charitable for Washington's players, though, who will fly immediately afterward to Fort Lauderdale, Fla. After arriving in the wee hours Sunday morning, they will get some rest and then head to Dolphin Stadium for a light workout.

"We have a whole day in Miami," third baseman Ryan Zimmerman said. "We'll have plenty of time to relax and get to bed. We have our own plane, our own rooms. So it's not a hassle. I don't know if it's the smartest thing to do, but I'm not worried about it."

At long last, the regular season begins at 4:10 p.m. Monday against the Marlins, with all the pomp and circumstance of Opening Day and the excitement of the season's start.

That is, if anyone has any energy left by then.

"It's going to be a little tough, but hey, there are tougher things in life," Acta said. "Once that bell rings on Opening Day and the national anthem is being played, guys get re-energized. So no excuses."


Author:Fox Sports
Author's Website:http://www.foxsports.com
Added: March 31, 2009

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