Span, 28, conquered that hurdle, and now the reminders of his next baseball phase are all around him. The Washington Nationals traded their best prospect, pitcher Alex Meyer, to pry Span from the Minnesota Twins in late November. Span moved from the only franchise he had ever known, a team currently at the bottom of the American League, to become the leadoff hitter and center fielder for a World Series contender. In December, he looked at rental houses around Crystal City and Nationals Park. He got lost in Georgetown with his girlfriend, Shadonna, looking for new sneakers. When his family came to his house for dinner one night, they scooped grilled chicken breast and salmon onto their plates using a spatula with a curly W etched into it.
Playing alongside Bryce Harper and Stephen Strasburg, Span may not become the biggest baseball star in Washington. Odds are he will come to be adored, and not just because he gives the Nationals an unfamiliar leadoff threat and covers ground in center field with the speed that once earned him a scholarship offer from Florida — as a wide receiver.
The Twins gave Span an award this winter for his community service work, particularly the time he spent with children who, like him, are products of single-mother homes. In high school, he spent so much time inside the batting cage he made his weary coach regret installing lights. He speaks with his mother every day, he said, or else “it will feel like we haven’t talked to each other in two weeks.” He does not smoke, drink, curse or swing at bad pitches.
“They’re not going to have to worry about him,” said Henry Allen, Span’s uncle.
‘He wanted the ball in his hands’
Span began his preparation for his first season in Washington in December, and it brought him here, to the yoga studio designed like a log cabin, tucked into the woods. He sat cross-legged, forearms on his knees, his thumb and index finger forming a circle. The instructor told Span and his friend, Toronto Blue Jays minor leaguer Kenny Wilson, to focus and expel negative energy with their exhales. Wilson remained mostly quiet. Span, over and over, responded with a forceful, throaty “Hah!” The instructor complimented him on his breathing.