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Adam Eaton: No stadium noise ‘worse than a backfield spring training game’

Adam Eaton: No stadium noise ‘worse than a backfield spring training game’

Adam Eaton was the first batter to walk through the silence to the plate in Baltimore on April 29, 2015.

Only players, staff, umpires and reporters were inside the brick venue in downtown Baltimore. Fans were not allowed following the civil unrest spurred by the death of Freddie Gray, who was critically injured in police custody 10 days earlier. Baseball’s first game without fans finished as an Orioles 8-2 win against the Chicago White Sox.

Eaton remembers the silence. The vibe in the stadium was gone, walkup music was off, the only sounds were light chatter and bat cracks.

“It was worse than a backfield spring training game,” he said Friday.

The Nationals are debating whether they will add fake crowd noise to their home games at Nationals Park. Friday’s simulated game provided hints of what will happen: Stephen Strasburg took the mound to "Seven Nation Army." Some music played between innings. Players could be heard talking.

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The stands were empty. The echo from Jake Noll’s home run off Erick Fedde was loud, both at the crack of the bat and when the ball landed in the unpopulated left-center field seats.

This cone of silence will not be a one-off situation in 2020. It will be every day, in almost every park. Four organizations have touted the possibility of fans in the stands before the season -- if it begins. To Eaton, the quiet repetition may be the biggest issue during games.

“I don’t think guys realize what a challenge that’s going to be,” Eaton said. “I did not enjoy the one game I played. Just the energy, the feel, the fans. We’re nothing without our fans. I truly believe the game is completely different. The emotion of the game, the momentum so to speak of a fan base or going into a place with a fan base against you. It’s very difficult. I think the first week will be fine. I think the weeks after that will be very challenging. But, again as professional athletes as guys in our clubhouse who have done it for a long time, I think it’s a challenge we’re going to meet head-on and try to make the most out of the situation.”

Eaton is naturally chatty, bordering on boisterous. His voice is among the few distinct sounds in the stadium since workouts began a week ago. He’s trying to put a positive spin on a tenuous, and muted, situation.

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“I think a couple of the guys, we just want to keep everybody loose,” Eaton said. “Try to enjoy it. As bad as the pandemic is and everything that is going on, we were trying to make the most of our situation. Trying to make guys laugh, keep guys on their toes, anything to kind of get their mind off it and the echo.”

The echo. It stands out among the other oddities in the park. Nationals Park was never empty during its prior use. The team filled half of the stadium for a final spring training game with fans and workers. Even the pregame workouts are covered in the noise of music, stadium shows, and the sounds of a stadium being ready to come alive.

Now, the discussion is what to do about the stadium’s muted existence.

“I don’t really know,” Eaton said when asked about fake crowd noise. “I will say this: If I had to pick one side, I think anything would help. That day, I don’t believe there was even walkup music, there was nothing. It was just straight go out there….So I think any noise will help, any type of -- I know the soccer teams, they’re playing crowd noise. Even if you have that buzz in the stadium, it would help.”

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GM Mike Rizzo 'felt terrible' for Nationals grounds crew after tarp incident

GM Mike Rizzo 'felt terrible' for Nationals grounds crew after tarp incident

Sunday night was one to forget for the Nationals' grounds crew. Washington's clash with the Orioles was called in the sixth inning after the crew was unable to cover the field with a tarp before rainfall made the field unplayable. 

It's a nightmare scenario for anyone working in that particular field. Your job is to protect the baseball field as much as you can from the elements so games can be still be played after a storm passes. Washington's grounds crew didn't get the job done on Sunday, but Davey Martinez and now general manager Mike Rizzo made sure to support their colleagues. 

"These guys work extremely hard and they're so good at what they do, so I just felt terrible for them," Rizzo said on The Sports Junkies Wednesday. "I went down there and tried to make them feel better after they called the game off. We all make mistakes, I've made bad trades and bad signings, [the Junkies] have had bad shows. They had a bad day at the office and their bad days are seen by millions of people.

"I support those guys," he said. "[Director of Field Operations] John Turnour is the best in the business," he said. "He's got a really difficult geographical city to be a head grounds crew member in Washington D.C. The weather is really tricky here and he navigates is terrifically."

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Like any professional, the grounds crew members seem to have learned from their off-game and are working to make sure it doesn't happen again. According to Rizzo, they're already putting in the time to get back on track. 

"[Turnour] had that one hiccup and I guarantee it won't happen again because they're doing drills about it and they're going to practice with how [the tarp] rolls out," Rizzo said. "It was something that if you don't know about tarps and covering fields it's hard to understand what went wrong."

I don't know about you, but I certainly don't know a single solitary thing about rolling out a massive tarp onto a baseball field in the rain and on a tight schedule. Still, of all the regular seasons you'd want to have games postponed for reasons within your control, the 60-game 2020 schedule is not the one.

The Nationals, who already had one series postponed due to a coronavirus outbreak within the Marlins clubhouse, need as much schedule flexibility as possible moving forward. So it's good to see the staff responding in such a productive way following an extremely unfortunate situation. 

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Max Scherzer's first start since hamstring injury was a battle, but one he won against the Mets

Max Scherzer's first start since hamstring injury was a battle, but one he won against the Mets

Better. Though the bar was low.

Max Scherzer worked for six innings Tuesday night in New York. He made it through one roughshod inning during his last outing against the Mets because his hamstring “tweak” was enough of an alarm that he decided to stop pitching.

That was seven days prior to his start against the Mets, which the Nationals won, 2-1. Ostensibly, Scherzer had not pitched for 13 days. He lasted the one inning, needed to work his hamstring problem out, then find a way back to the mound.

Davey Martinez wanted him to stop sprinting -- the initial cause of the hamstring problem -- in between starts. Scherzer did not want to stop sprinting, so he continued to do so once he felt better. He also pitched twice from a mound in the days before the bottom of the first on Tuesday. Both times, he felt 100 percent when pushing and landing. The hamstring was fine. So much so, that he expected to throw the 105 pitches he did to hold off the Mets across the grinding innings they imposed on him.

“Took some shots there early, but didn’t break and found a way to execute pitches there later in the game,” Scherzer said.

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He finished with seven strikeouts across the six innings. Just a run scored. But, there were eight baserunners and Scherzer was in severe trouble in both the first and second innings. Those were the issues as he hunted a path to better out-pitches and location.

“It honestly kind of reminded me of Game 7 of the World Series when he went out there and he couldn’t zone in on the strike zone,” Martinez said. “His stuff was good. His pitch count got high. Once he settled in, we started noticing he started getting through the ball a little better. Balls started coming down. Started throwing a lot more strikes.”

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“Even though my pitch count got out of control, I was just able to just stay with [Kurt Suzuki] and continue to pound the zone and find a way to get through six [Tuesday],” Scherzer said.

The good is clear: He is back on the mound, healthy, throwing 98 mph and 100-plus pitches. Stephen Strasburg returned two days prior, though he is not 100 percent. Scherzer is physically right, if slightly rusty. That combination was sufficient in his first start after the hamstring problem.

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