ANNAPOLIS — The Nationals spent their Saturday at the U.S. Naval Acadefmy, arriving early in the morning to eat breakfast with midshipmen and officers then touring the grounds alongside the Red Sox, two opponents escaping their baseball monotony together for an experience that provided some perspective before the two played an exhibition game at Max Bishop Stadium. It was the final tuneup for both clubs before they open their seasons Monday at their respective home ballparks. The game ended in a 4-4 tie.
Of course, the result was insignificant, but this meaningless game was different. It held meaning beyond the diamond.
“It was great,” Nationals Manager Dusty Baker said. “I can’t say it was expected because it was unexpected. I mean, they were first class. They treated us with honor and dignity and our guys did the same thing.”
Baker said the highlight of the off-field events was breakfast, where players and coaches got to mingle with students and learn about their days in the Yard, and seeing the dorm rooms at Bancroft Hall, the largest single dormitory in the world. They then split into two groups for a tour, which included a walk through the cafeteria, climbing aboard a pair of Humvees and boarding a ship. Several midshipmen joined, many of whom herded around Bryce Harper at every stop.
“It was a lot of fun,” said Harper, who wore a special pair of USA-themed cleats for the game and hit an RBI double in them.
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Over at the ballpark, there were 800 uniformed midshipmen among the intimate crowd of 1,030 and a helicopter flyover at the end of the national anthem. A couple players noted the atmosphere was unusual. In addition to the field being a turf surface, the venue seats just 1,500 so there wasn’t a second deck and the stands didn’t extend beyond the dugouts. Then there was the noise, or lack thereof.
“It was quiet,” Ryan Zimmerman said. “It was almost like they were too polite to yell or talk. It was weird. The first couple innings it was really quiet. I don’t know if I ever really played in an environment like that, but it was cool to see all those guys that normally don’t get a chance to do something like that.”
The midshipmen eventually warmed up. According to Matt Wieters, at one point during the game, Red Sox first baseman Brock Holt fouled a pitch off his leg and was in pain when some midshipmen called to him to rub some dirt on it and get back in there.
“With most, I would get upset,” Wieters said. “’But you know what? You guys actually are the one group of guys that can say that to him.”
>> As for the game itself, the Nationals held a 4-3 lead entering the ninth inning, which prompted Blake Treinen’s first appearance since he was officially named the club’s closer. It didn’t go as planned.
After allowing a single to Mike Miller and issuing a walk to Matt Dominguez, Treinen got Joseph Monge to strike out swinging and appeared to induce a game-ending double play from Chris Young. Instead, second baseman Bryan Mejia dropped a precise throw from third baseman Brandon Snyder, which allowed Miller to score to tie the game. Treinen then issued another walk to load the bases but escaped with consecutive strikeouts.
“I think he handled it well,” Baker said. “He made some quality pitches when he needed to … In his defense, he hadn’t thrown in like five days, which is quite a while.”