AT THE BALLPARK/Rich Galen – Washington Nationals vs. Houston Astros

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Saturday March 8, 2008
Today’s game is another away game, this time against the Houston Astros at their spring training center in Kissimmee, Florida which is just outside Orlando. Kissimmee has a city slogan which, according to a local internet site is: “Favored by Nature; Developed by Nerve.”

According to the same site, “In 1912 Kissimmee had a population of only 4,000 people; now it has well above 5,000” which I suspected may have been a typo on an order of magnitude so I went the official site of the City of Kissimmee and, indeed, the 2007 census had the population at just over 61,000.

All of which is very interesting but the central question I wanted answered: “How did Kissimmee get its name” did not come up on any of the historical websites.

When I got to the stadium, I used the standard maneuver of waving my press credentials from the Nationals at the parking attendants and got directed to press parking. At the gate a woman asked to examine my backpack, but I showed her the same creds and got waved through. I found my way to the press box which, even though I was over an hour early for the game, had all the good seats taken with only the seat behind the post remaining.

Reporters do the equivalent of reserving lounge chairs around the pool: They leave an article of clothing or a backpack on the chair they are claiming then go off to do their pre-game stuff.

John Dever, the Nats’ media wrangler, had a seat next to his assigned spot and he invited me to sit there. It was far from perfect, but better than having the entire middle of the field blocked out.  

John Dever, the Nats’ media wrangler, had a seat next to his assigned spot and he invited me to sit there. It was far from perfect, but better than having the entire middle of the field blocked out.

No one in the press box answered to the call of “Astros Media Staff?” so I went out to find him or her.

I was directed to the media relations office which is behind the press lounge. The office was open but no one was in it so I poked around to see what I could have stolen including the contents of a box of credentials saying MEDIA, STAFF, and SCOUT which were good for all of spring training at all locations.

Remembering my previous discussion about not having had the confidence to get around a ball park, I couldn’t find the Astros media guy, so I walked down the grandstand and let myself onto the field.

No one stopped me, no one even questioned me. I found the Nats’ media wrangler, John Dever and asked him if he’d seen the Astros’ guy. He said he’d been on the field a minute ago, but didn’t see him now.

As I already had access to the field and had put my things in the press box the notion of game credentials were just as important as they had been the day before, when I never did get my day pass.

I was preparing until the press folks game in and said that the Nats General Manager, Jim Bowden, was sitting in the press lounge and if everyone wanted to drift over

I drifted over in time to hear the conversation about Shawn Hill, one of the two pitchers who are supposed to be the cornerstones of the Nats’ pitching staff (the other being John Patterson).

Hill had two surgeries over the Winter but was supposed to be ready to go this Spring. He has had pain in his arm and, for good reason, the Nationals have been anxious about having him throw at full speed for fear of doing permanent damage.

It was reported in this morning’s papers that Hill was scheduled to throw yesterday and was told that if he had pain – stop.

He had pain. And he stopped.

Bowden was explaining that Hill’s MRI did not indicate anything wrong and so they don’t know why he’s having the pain.

He said that someone had suggested a cortisone shot into the area of the pain.

The effects of a cortisone shot, according the Bowden, lasts “four to six weeks” which was a fact apparently only unknown to me as I had asked the question which – bless them – did not elicit heavy sighs of frustration from the regular reporters, all of whom did know that fun pharmaceutical fact.

Bowden went on for a little longer, then the media guy said the obligatory “thank you” and everyone put away their digital recorders, but no one left the table so Bowden continued to hold court.

Bowden got up to go to where ever the General Manager from the visiting team goes to watch the game when Washington Post beat reporter Barry Svrluga asked to chat with him and they walked out of the eating area.

Twenty seconds later they came back and Bowden announced that the Nats had renewed the contract of third baseman, and fan favorite, Ryan Zimmerman.

Someone asked if that had slipped his mind in the discussion about Hill, but Bowden said he was going to wait until after the game to make the announcement, but he didn’t want to be in a position where he had to tell Svrluga – who had obviously been tipped off – that he had “no comment” only to announce it three hours later; and didn’t want to make everyone else made by giving Svrluga a three-hour head start when he had just been sitting there with everyone.

I am not at all certain that Barry Svrluga agreed with this egalitarian approach, but Bowden went on to talk about the good relationship the team has with Zimmerman and his agents as they try to work toward a long-term contract.

Zimmerman will make a salary which is in the neighborhood of $465,000 which is not chickenfeed in real life, but it chicken you-know-what for a Major League Baseball player.

As I understand less than nothing about how Major League salaries are structured, the rest of the conversation (which was off the record anyhow) might have been about the finer points of quantum mechanics.  

The game started at 1:06 and the press box announcer informed us that the game time temperature was 63 degrees with “the wind out of the west-northwest at 22 miles per hour gusting to 36 miles per hour.

At just about the same moment that announcement came across, a weather alert popped up on my computer screen for Alexandria, Virginia:

Sustained winds of 20 to 35 mph with gusts up to 50 mph are expected through Saturday evening. The strong gusty winds may lead to some power outages.

Both pitchers had control issues in the first inning which resulted in a total of four walks, a hit batter, two runs and only one hit.

With the wind blowing out, it was not a surprise that homeruns would abound, which they did leading to press box humor in the third inning (when the score was 5-5 on three homers) that the was beginning to look like a mid-80’s run-and-gun NBA game.

The Nats’ starter, Tim Redding did not have a good outing what with the walks, the hit batter, the home run and all. After he had gotten his shoulder wrapped the word came into the press box that we could talk to him in the locker room.

The five Washington-based reporters walked down the right field line to the Nats’ locker room and Redding did what Major League players are taught to do: Speak with reporters whether they want to or not.

He talked about the conditions, especially the wind:

“For me,” he said, “it dries out my hands and it’s hard to get a grip. I was constantly going to my mouth to try and get a grip. I don’t use resin that much, but I even used resin to try and get a grip which made me have too much of a grip ”
“It was good to have get familiar with throwing off-speed pitches behind in the count with guys on base; off-speed pitches for strikes”

And like that.

Everyone walked back up to the press box which had, like the stands, begun to empty.

I decided to walk to the seat farthest from home plate down the right field line and this was the quintessential pitcher-batter scene.

By the end of the 8th Inning the score was 12-8 and my theory about spring training games ending well before 4 PM was completely shot. As the Astros were the home team they were goin
g to bat in the bottom of the ninth so the game would probably go until 4:30.

In the end the time of the game was 3:10 meaning it ended at 4:16 and the Nats won 12-10.

Tomorrow – a home game in Viera, Florida at Space Coast Stadium.

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