Denard Span was anxious. He took a few wrong turns on his way from his hometown of Tampa to Viera on Tuesday night. Thankfully his navigation system guided him but his drive was an hour longer than it should have been. He arrived in Viera at 12:30 a.m. Wednesday morning, laid out his clothes (red shorts, a black t-shirt and shoes) at the foot of his bed and couldn’t sleep, eager for his first day in Nationals camp like the new kid before first day of school. It’s easy to understand his eagerness; he’s been with one organization, the Minnesota Twins, for his entire 10-year professional career.
“It seems like spring training took a little bit longer to come, it seemed like. I’m so excited about just everything, a new chapter, coming to a new team and finally to get here last night after a three-hour drive,” he said, standing at his locker Wednesday morning, a blue Twins bag of his gear at his feet. “I didn’t sleep much. I think I went to sleep about 4:30 but kept waking up every couple hours.”
Span, 28, met some of his teammates for the first time at NatsFest a few weeks ago in Washington and on Wednesday morning, in an nearly empty clubhouse, he still hadn’t seen any fellow Nationals because the pitchers and catchers were receiving their physicals. He unpacked some of his belongings and introduced himself to the clubhouse attendants, trying to learn their names. Span said he always reports early to camp, but had more reason to do so now with a new team.
Because the Nationals have long sought a leadoff center fielder like him for years, a reporter asked if Span felt any pressure as a result. Span’s response elicited laughs: “Not yet. ‘Til you asked me that question. Nah, I don’t think so, because the team was already in place. I don’t feel like I have to come in here and do a whole lot. I just gotta do half of what I’ve done in the past and I’ll be alright. They already had a good team here. They’re just looking for me to play good defense and put good at-bats together.”
One of Span’s biggest goals this season is to improve his base-stealing. Despite his defensive prowess, a result of his speed, Span has stolen over 20 bases in a season only twice in his five major league seasons. He played only 198 games over the past two season because of a concussion but stole only 23 bases in 30 tries. He understands that he will have to learn a new league’s worth of pitchers and their moves.
“Base stealing is an art,” he said. “It’s not all about speed. I get it all the time, people are like, ‘As fast as you are, you should have 50 stolen bases every year. You get on base a lot.’ Base stealing is about reading pitchers and reaction and all base stealers aren’t the fastest either. There’s a lot that goes into base stealing.”
But the same way Span will have to study the National League’s pitchers and their quirks, they, too, will have to adjust. Span has spent his entire career in the American League, where he was known as a hitter who could foul off pitches and work pitchers.
“Pitchers are going to have to adjust to me as well, too, because they haven’t seen me as much,” he said. “So I think it should be even, I think, to start out. I’ve been in the majors out for a while. The scouting report is out on me.”
Span’s nerves will settle. He vowed to plan his route better Thursday morning from where he is staying to the Nationals spring training complex. His excitement about joining the Nationals, however, will likely persist. “This is by far the best team I’ve been on in my short career, coming into, on paper,” he said.