The Nats have “bought in.” Their transformation — their talent level, their expectations and their demands on themselves — may still surprise many in baseball. But the team itself has seen this coming for two years.
“Guys can’t wait to get started. We were almost ready for spring training the last day of last season,” 43-save closer Drew Storen said.
“Pretty amazing,” Manager Davey Johnson said. “Not sure I’ve ever seen it. Nobody asked ’em to do it. Is anybody not here?”
Well, utility man Mark DeRosa is somewhere nearby in Florida, but not yet sighted. If he shows Thursday, with the first required full-team workout not due until Friday, he’ll be the “latest” man on the squad by at least three days.
Most are like Wilson Ramos who, despite playing winter ball for many weeks even after his kidnapping and release in Venezuela, was so enthused that he came to Florida 20 days ago. “I’m excited to be here with my friends, getting ready to play baseball,” he said. “I’m really, really happy to be here.”
Ramos’s words, of course, have a powerful double meaning. But, in their simplicity, they also apply to the transformed mood of this entire camp. Even Johnson, 69, is so reenergized after his 11 years away from managing that he barely slept Monday night. In his team meeting, he asked how many players did not have iPads or iPhones.
“Three guys actually raised their hands — ‘You’re not up with the times.’ I told ’em, ‘Get one. If you have any problem, maybe I can help or if you’re not where you’re supposed to be, if you text me, I can protect you.’
“I know, oldest manager in the big leagues — dinosaur. Okay,” said Johnson, who took courses at Johns Hopkins in computer science as an Orioles player. “I’m pretty high tech and I could always keep up with the geeks.”
Three years ago next week, Mike Rizzo replaced Jim Bowden, who resigned under pressure, as general manger. Coincidence?
“I see enthusiasm throughout this camp. Guys were weeks early. They are in here working every day,” said Rizzo, who inherited a pitching staff that allowed a horrific 825 runs in 2008 and would go on to permit 874 — one of the worst pitching staffs in baseball in decades — in the 103-loss 2009 season.
If it seems that Rizzo and his beefed-up “scouting-first” front office have supervised a minor miracle, they almost certainly have. “I don’t think about it in those [multi-year] terms,” Rizzo said on Tuesday. “I’m just trying to get through today without anything going wrong.”