Snow coated the ground and flurries fluttered toward South Capitol Street on Monday, down through cranes and growing buildings, into the empty seats at Nationals Park and onto a 53-foot semi-tractor trailer parked at the loading dock on Potomac Avenue. From that side of the stadium, one cannot see the U.S. Capitol, where home runs and stolen bases probably feel rather inconsequential these days. But the bats and balls and shoes Nationals staff carried on a chilly January morning conjured memories of the escape they can provide on warm summer evenings, when home runs and stolen bases do matter somehow.
“Truck day,” as the Nationals call the annual process of packing for spring training, took place at Nationals Park on Monday morning. Clubhouse manager Mike Wallace and his staff pushed dollies of equipment out of the Nationals’ clubhouse and up toward a ramp, where moving staff placed it into the truck, which will be filled to capacity before departing. Last season, and for seasons prior, the truck drove 864 miles or so to Space Coast Stadium in Viera, Fla. This year, the truck will leave Potomac Avenue and head 985 miles south to West Palm Beach, where the Nationals’ new spring training home is near ready and waiting for its inaugural spring.
If all goes well, the truck will arrive at the Ballpark of the Palm Beaches on Thursday. Pitchers and catchers are due Feb. 14; position players must report Feb. 17. When they arrive, they will find their new neighbors, the Houston Astros, as well as 16,800 baseballs and 600 or so bats, because a 53-foot truck cannot fit everything.
Monday morning, that truck hardly seemed room enough for Jayson Werth’s shoes, which required several cardboard boxes and a forklift to move them. Boxes upon boxes of bats, from Louisville Slugger, Hickory and many others, also made their way up the ramp to the truck, where workers lifted them past a stuffed Teddy Roosevelt doll and into the hold. The real Teddy — or at least, the real Presidents’ Race Teddy — also appeared, along with Abe Lincoln and Screech the Eagle, whose presence made the whole thing stranger somehow.
Screech sledded on a dolly and found himself pinned to the wall by a rogue rolling pack of boxes. He recovered almost immediately. Teddy tried to luge, but physics would not allow it, and he floundered on the ground. Abe was more focused, moving boxes and less engaged in the theatrics, cheering on the effort. As usual, their presence was more absurd than anything, and the frivolity of it all established a striking contrast. Not far up South Capitol Street, Congress confronted the policies and style of President Trump. At Nationals Park, big-headed likenesses of former presidents sledded down a truck ramp while a bald eagle crashed into boxes for giggles.
Such is the shelter that stadium might provide two months from now. Such is the levity baseball might bring when the Nationals open their season April 3 against the Marlins. Monday morning, the Nationals loaded up the truck for another season, another six months of daily distraction, and another push toward October. When that truck returns, a team will come with it, and a 13th season of baseball will begin in the nation’s capital — which might need it more than ever.