VIERA, Fla. —
Ryan Zimmerman sat Sunday morning in his corner of the Washington Nationals’ clubhouse, not far from the space he occupied seven years ago at the same moment of the baseball calendar. There were no lockers there in 2006, Zimmerman’s first spring training. Back then the makeshift kitchen resided in the corner — a few feet away from the toilets. “Seems good,” Zimmerman said, laughing.
His teammates pulled on gray pants, red socks over white sanitary stockings, hooded sweatshirts and beanie caps, bundling against the sudden cold snap that besieged their first full-squad workout. They scarfed egg-white omelets slathered in hot sauce or ketchup. Down the hall inside Space Coast Stadium, in a lobby converted for Sunday chapel, a smattering of players sat in folding chairs and listened to a preacher. Across the room, minor leaguers and first-timers had already dressed, too anxious to do anything but plop down in their chairs. It was quiet.
The Washington Post’s Barry Svrluga, Chico Harlan, Adam Kilgore, James Wagner and columnist Thomas Boswell recall the journey of the Washington Nationals since the team moved from Montreal to providing Washington its first first-place finish in 79 years, and all the good and bad moments in between.
Insight on the Nationals and all the latest news from Post reporters Adam Kilgore and James Wagner.
“In the years past, it’s been way quieter,” Zimmerman said. “We actually have a team now that’s been together. We kind of know each other.”
The Nationals trudged to back fields for their maiden practice as something they have never been before so soon — already a fully formed unit. Zimmerman remembered the spine of metal-wire lockers that once populated the middle of the spring clubhouse, to house the cattle-call competition. “There was 23 position battles going on, I think, for the 25-man roster,” Zimmerman said. “It’s a little different now.”
Sunday served as a fulcrum of sorts, the point midway between last October and the next World Series. So much happened last year and the Nationals hope so much more will come this season, and in the middle was this tiny milestone: everyone left from last year back together again, on the same field for the first time since Game 5, joined by the sprinkling of other players acquired over the winter meant to lift them a step higher.
“The beginning of the journey,” reliever Craig Stammen said. “It’s a long, long season. Probably the worst part about the way last year ended is, you’re like, ‘We got this far, but now we start back at square one with everybody else.’ It’s kind of neat to start that whole process all over again and see if we can get better from last year. It’s like a new challenge.”
Manager Davey Johnson, 70, strode into the locker room a hair before the 9 a.m. team meeting. Johnson prefers one-on-one conversations to speeches. He gave them his new e-mail address — an overload of spam persuaded him to shed his old one. He told the players he thought they could win the pennant last year, and that now he believed they had a good chance to win the World Series. Then he sent them out into the cold.
The Nationals gathered on Field 1. They killed the moments before stretch by breaking into clusters and trying to keep warm. Temperatures dipped into the 40s. Coaches balanced caps on top of hoods. Reliever Drew Storen fished a pair of batting gloves out of his equipment bag.