The Nationals will leave Viera behind this week. For a decade, fans young and old chased autographs on the paths down by the practice fields, or near the first-base dugout. For a decade, fans took home balls tossed to them by players who wouldn’t be so close during the regular season, or pictures they wouldn’t be near enough to take at Nationals Park.
Memories will be stored in those souvenirs, many of which will sit idle on shelves, on dressers, or on eBay. Joe Stanfield’s will sit in his Viera driveway. Then he will sit in it, and drive away, too.
Since he moved to Viera two years ago, Stanfield drove his golf cart to Space Coast Stadium most February and March days to watch the Nationals play. Confronted with the Nationals’ departure for West Palm Beach next spring, he decided to have the players sign it.
“I’d lose a baseball,” Stanfield said. “I don’t think I’ll lose a golf cart.”
Stanfield served in the military for 20 years, an army veteran of three tours in Iraq. He is a disabled veteran, and used to live in Georgia, where he would drive three hours one way for care at a V.A. hospital. He and his wife began looking for a more tenable setup, and settled on Viera, where a V.A. clinic sits “about 200 yards past the bullpen,” as Stanfield measures it. He and his wife moved a few blocks away from Space Coast Stadium, in a development where many of the players spend their springs, and wave as they drive by.
“A month after I closed (on my home) is when they started talking about the move thing. Last year, they finalized it,” Stanfield said. “I’m devastated. I’m not a Nationals fan. I’m a baseball fan. This is part of why I picked it. We’re not only losing them. We’re going to lose the minor league team, too.”
Stanfield played second and shortstop when he was younger. He graduated from Englewood High School in Jacksonville, Florida – the same school where Nationals second baseman Daniel Murphy starred.
“[Murphy] was great,” Stanfield said. “He came out and wrote on the golf cart, ‘Class of 2003.’ ”
Stanfield grew up a Braves fan, when a young outfielder named Dusty Baker broke in and broke out under the tutelage of Hank Aaron. He found Baker again this spring, and chatted about his time in the military.
“Bryce Harper heard me talking to Dusty about the military, since he was in the Marines six years,” Stanfield said. “I said I had three tours in Iraq, and baseball, every day here’s a good day. Bryce heard that. Then he wrote ‘Every day’s a good day. Luke 1:37, Anything with God is possible.’ It went from there. I’ve enjoyed it.”
By the time spring training games began, Stanfield had tracked down nearly every National. Most were willing, he said. Many were amused.
Stanfield’s wife joked the couple may have to bolster the security on the golf cart now, with an entire major league team’s worth of signatures on it.
“I’ll have to get some insurance on it or something,” Stanfield said. Viera has a great deal of golf cart traffic, with stores and clinics and restaurants all within a short distance of many of the new residential communities. Stanfield plans to keep driving the golf cart around town. He just won’t stop at the stadium anymore.