AT THE BALLPARK/Rich Galen – Spring Training Washington Nationals vs. Cleveland Indians

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Sunday, March 9, 2008
Third and final day of the Mullings 2008 Spring Training tour. This is a home game for the Washington Nationals at Space Coast Stadium in Viera, Florida. Viera is about 15 miles from Melbourne where I have been camping out at the Hampton Inn and 10 miles from Cocoa Beach (where the Hampton Inn was sold out or I would have stayed there).

This is in the general area of Florida known as the Space Coast (hence the name of the stadium) for its proximity to Cape Canaveral.

According to my Delorme mapping program, it is 34.22 road miles from Space Coast Stadium to the end of NASA Parkway which is right at Launch Complex 14.

Where else do you get this stuff? Nowhere, is the correct answer.

I got here early today – about 10 AM for a 1:05 start because I wanted to hang out at the ballpark and watch batting and fielding practice with no reason to have to talk to anyone.

The real reason was because if I’d stayed at my motel I would have felt compelled to watch the Sunday shows which were, I’m certain without even having seen them, were consumed with Obama winning the Wyoming caucuses yesterday.      

The National Anthem was sung by Melinda Lebo, the 2007 Brevard County Idol winner. Unfortunately she suffered from the same issue which dogged Sen. John McCain when he was here in Florida the other day: Their wireless microphones kept cutting out.

McCain was handed a different microphone (which also didn’t work very well) but Ms. Lebo toughed it out and continued to sing.

Somewhere between watching oer the ramparts and the bombs bursting in air, the crowd decided to help out and by the time there was proof that our flag was still there, the crowd was lustily singing the Anthem along with Melinda then cheered her and itself with heartwarming gusto in the home of the brave.

While sitting in the press box with the columnist from the Washington Times, Thom Loverro, pitcher Jason Bergmann wandered in and sat down to chat. He talked with Thom and me for about 25 minutes. A 26-year-old major leaguer worried, like many of those in camp here, about whether he will start the season at the new ball park in Washington or with the AAA team in New Orleans.

He talked about the difference between being a starter and being a reliever. About the strengths of the Nationals’ pitching staff. About the chances of some of the younger position players (non-pitchers) of making the team. And like that.

He got up and left, Thom and I talked about the fact that we forget that most of these players are kids and most of them are pretty nice kids like Jason.

About an hour later, the lineups came out and neither Thom nor I had realized that Bergmann was to be the starting pitcher today.

This behavior is unknown in the annals of professional baseball. Starting pitchers often have pre-game routines which, if they stay around long enough, develop into highly-developed, almost religious, rites. One of the many unwritten rules of the press box is: NEVER TRY TO TALK TO THAT DAY’S STARTING PITCHER BEFORE THE GAME!

I learned about this rule two years ago when John Patterson was making a rehab start with the AA Potomac Nationals and I went out to Woodbridge, Va to cover it.

Patterson was sitting in the dugout prior to the game, so I drifted by and chatted for a few minutes. When I got up to the press box I told someone who expressed surprise that he would have talked to me because of the aforementioned RULE.

When Zuckerman and Svrluga came back from watching the minor leaguers and found out about the visit from Bergmann they expressed the same shock and surprise.

In the game itself, Bergmann gave up no runs on two hits, struck out four and walked one in four innings of work – a most excellent outing. Loverro and I decided we should make ourselves available to Bergmann to be hired as his pre-game good luck charms.

By the time Bergmann left the game, the Nats were leading 7-0 but that wasn’t what had everyone buzzing.

A crane was.

At the end of the inning, when the Nats trotted off the field toward their dugout outside the first base foul line, the crane walked over with them. After chatting with the Nationals’ bench, he wandered down to the on-deck circle to have a word with Nats left fielder Jose Pena.

He (or she; I’m not that clear on how to determine the gender of a sand hill crane) flew to the third base side of the field and then, deciding that maybe the pace of the game wasn’t to his liking he flew off, perhaps, to look for a professional soccer match.

Which led the conversation in the press box to how many players named “Crane” have played in the majors. The answer is four. An Ed, a Fred and two Sams.

The last Sam Crane ended his Major League career in 1922 playing for the famous Brooklyn Robins. You don’t know from the Brooklyn Robins? Maybe you remember them from their previous names: Brooklyn Bridegrooms, Brooklyn Superbas and more recently, the Brooklyn Dodgers.

The Brooklyn Dodgers were known as the Robbins from 1914 until 1931.

I had never heard that before and even though I’ve checked it on three websites (including the official Dodgers’ historical website),  I still find it hard to believe.

Where was I? Oh, yes, Cranes in baseball. The conversation ended with a brief discussion of Ed Kranepool who first played for the New York Mets in 1962 at the tenger age of 17 and spent all or parts of the next 17 seasons as a player for the Mets until retiring in 1979.

After Bergmann had a chance to get organized, we were directed to the Nats’ locker room for the post-appearance presser. Unlike Tim Redding the day before who had had a dreadful outing and made the case for why it was such a valuable learning experience, Bergmann had a great appearance and so was careful to downplay how good it really was.

“How’ it go?” he asked himself rhetorically. “I thought it went pretty good. I was able to throw some strikes today. But there’s a lot of room for up and down movement. There’s a lot of guys in camp who want this job so I’ve gotta keep working hard.

He was asked if the bird helped or hurt. “The bird was pretty cool. I was afraid for Ronnie [Belliard] though, it was standing right behind him.”

Nationals’ bench coach Pat Coralles has had knee surgery and is still using a cane. Bergmann said, “It stared Pat down when it was right next to the bench. Pat almost had to use his cane. A lot of people in the stands would have been witness to it.”

After the game, Manager Manny Acta answered the usual questions about Bergmann and shortstop Cristian Guzman’s three-for-four day (two home runs, a single, four RBI) and also talked about the crane saying it brought with it a lot of offense.

Walking away he said over his shoulder, “That bird wouldn’t last three seconds in the Dominican Republic. It would end up in a pot somewhere.”

That’s it for the Spring Training tour.

Back to real life tomorrow.

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