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‘The first spring break of my life’: Jayson Werth, still unemployed, takes in son’s ballgame

Jayson Werth joined Stephen Byrd, left, and Curtis Carpenter, right, in the broadcast booth in Vero Beach, Fla., on Tuesday. (Courtesy of Curtis Carpenter)

For free agent outfielder Jayson Werth, there’s at least one silver lining to being out of a job two weeks before Opening Day for the first time in his 20-year professional baseball career. While the Washington Nationals hosted the New York Mets in a Grapefruit League game in West Palm Beach, Fla., on Tuesday night, Werth was at a high school baseball field about 80 miles north, watching his oldest son, Jackson, a 16-year-old freshman at Flint Hill School in Oakton, Va., play against Vero Beach High.

“This is the first spring break of my life,” Werth said during his guest appearance on Vero Beach’s live broadcast of the game. “I’ve always been playing and going to spring training, so this is it. … [Seeing your kids] is one thing you miss out on a lot of when you’re playing. Your schedules are crazy. You see a game here and a game there, but you really miss out on a lot.”

Werth, who will turn 39 in May, hasn’t found a new home since the Nationals made it clear they had little interest in bringing him back after he hit .233 with a .724 on-base-plus-slugging percentage over his last three injury-marred seasons in Washington. He called baseball’s tepid free agent market this spring “head-scratching” and is still hopeful he will find a place to play a 16th major league season.

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“I’m sitting around waiting for a phone call, really,” said Werth, who didn’t attend the spring training camp for unsigned players organized by the Major League Baseball Players Association last month. “They always say spring training is too long and it’s kind of unnecessary, so I’m going to put it to the test this year, hopefully, if I get a chance.”

Werth said he is doing “all the normal stuff” to stay in shape but will need “two to three weeks of actually playing baseball” to get ready for the season.

“It’s not totally abnormal for guys, when you’re older, you don’t sign until after the season starts,” Werth said, recalling the time the Philadelphia Phillies signed 37-year-old Pedro Martinez to a one-year deal in July 2009. “So we’ll see. If not, no regrets. Great run. I get to watch my kids play finally.”

Jackson Werth, a switch-hitting natural shortstop who played third base  Tuesday, has a swing that looks uncannily like his dad’s, at least from the camera angle behind the plate. Flint Hill is scheduled to play four games in Vero Beach this week before returning to Virginia for the start of its regular season.

Werth’s guest appearance on the broadcast wasn’t planned. Play-by-play man Curtis Carpenter, a die-hard Los Angeles Dodgers fan, noticed Werth standing by a concession stand when he left the press box to adjust a camera early in the game, but he didn’t want to bother the major leaguer. Before the top of the second inning, the stadium’s public address announcer made an announcement that a money clip had been found and could be claimed in the press box. The next time Carpenter turned around, Werth was standing there to claim his lost cash. While Carpenter wrapped up an in-game interview with a local city councilman, color analyst Stephen Byrd, who pitched on the same Vero Beach staff as free agent pitcher Alex Cobb in the early 2000s, introduced himself to Werth, who agreed to put on a headset.

“We didn’t prepare for it. We didn’t have questions laid out for him,” Carpenter said during a phone interview Wednesday. “If you listen to the broadcast, it is amateur hour. We have no clue what to talk to the guy about. But it was good. It was fun. He kept joking about how it was better sitting up in the press box than standing by the concession stand, and we had a lot of fun with him. It was a blast.”

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Carpenter, who realized Werth’s son played for Flint Hill while doing his pregame research, made Werth the answer to Tuesday’s trivia question: Who holds the Illinois state high school record for most runs in a season? Werth scored 80 times for Glenwood High in 1997, the year the Orioles drafted him in the first round.

As Carpenter relayed during the broadcast, he and Werth had actually met once before, under far less enjoyable circumstances, in March 2005. Werth was entering his second season with the Dodgers, who held spring training in Vero Beach until moving their facilities to Arizona in 2009. After Werth was drilled by an inside fastball from Florida Marlins pitcher A.J. Burnett, Carpenter was the technician who shot his X-rays.

“There are HIPAA rules, so I was a little bit concerned about telling that story, but I was like, ‘S—, it’s Jayson Werth,” Carpenter said Wednesday. “He’s not going to care. He’s not going to say anything.”

“I thought you looked familiar,” Werth, who was initially diagnosed with a broken left wrist and underwent surgery to repair a torn ligament after struggling through the 2005 season, joked on the air.

Werth said he still keeps in touch with a few guys on the Nationals and had talked to them about maybe getting together one night while he was in Florida this week. When asked about potential places to continue his career, Werth made it clear he can’t afford to be picky.

“At this point,” Werth said, “I’d take anything. I want to keep it going. … I want to keep playing. If there’s an opportunity to get a lot of at-bats, that’s probably where I want to go.”

Werth stuck around on the broadcast until Vero Beach took a 10-0 lead in the fifth inning. With nowhere to be, Werth would have preferred the umpires hadn’t called the game because of the mercy rule.

“Keep it going. Let’s keep playing,” he said.

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