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Celebrations firmly behind them, Nationals' prep for 2020 is under way

Celebrations firmly behind them, Nationals' prep for 2020 is under way

WASHINGTON -- Stephen Strasburg trudged through the lower hall of Nationals Park with a stream of fans in his wake. He was wading through the second day of Nationals WinterFest, filled with interviews, autograph sessions and an escort to guide him from station to station.

Trea Turner pivoted to head up an external ramp on the concourse. A security guard pulled a temporary gate closed to allow him separation between fans and his path. The concourse, in general, was less populated than Saturday as the event wound down. Two stellar days of weather and a World Series title put the event in a space it lacked last year when it was cold and raining after a flop of a season.

It’s mid-January. Max Scherzer and Adam Eaton are already at the team’s spring training facility in West Palm Beach. Other players and coaches will be arriving progressively, most well before the mandatory reporting date of Feb. 17. Howie Kendrick and hitting coach Kevin Long began working together in Arizona, where both live in the offseason, about two weeks ago. The season starts in 10 weeks.

It’s next year, in the literal and metaphorical sense, for the defending champions. WinterFest brought several of the players back in front of each other for the first time since a booze-soaked close to the season in Houston. The roster is situated outside of Josh Donaldson what-ifs and wonder about Ryan Zimmerman’s future.

Players left the park Sunday to return to their respective places. Strasburg remains in the District. Sean Doolittle is back to Chicago to work on his mechanics via a portable mound in his garage. Coach Bob Henley trekked to lower Alabama to work on his fish pond. Turner planned to rest some more before heading to Florida. 

Two players on the current roster, relievers Hunter Strickland and Will Harris, have experienced the “season after.” Strickland won the World Series with San Francisco in 2014. Harris won with Houston in 2017. Strickland explained over the weekend the perspective for what’s to come.

“It’s over,” Strickland said. “We wake up the next day and somebody’s wanting to beat you. Somebody’s want to take the ring the next year. So, you can’t get too caught up in it. You’ve got to enjoy it as the moment goes but you can’t get too caught up in it. We still have a job to do. Realistically speaking, nobody cares about last year now. It’s what we do now.”

Reminders are everywhere. Merchandise handed out by the organization was covered in World Series champions logos. A patch on the right sleeve of players’ jersey over the weekend commemorated the win. Typically, some marketing maneuver is tacked on to the jerseys to prompt fresh buys. “It always seems like there's a patch every year,” Max Scherzer said. But this one was organic.

More signage, hoopla and general cashing in will come with the season. The home opener will finally include a banner raising. The “Division Champions 2017” signs and others of that ilk will be butted aside for World Series-winning reminders. 

While that is being planned, preparation is intruding on the celebratory space. General manager Mike Rizzo is waiting for Donaldson’s decision. Pitchers are at home doing work to correct things from last year (for Strickland, better mobility; for Doolittle, maintaining the smoothness of his mechanics) or pacing themselves after pitching so long in 2019. Overall, the time to move on has arrived.

“We’ve been at go stage for about a month now,” Rizzo said. “It’s a beautiful cycle, baseball is, where you finish one and start another season. There’s no rest for the weary. We realize we have a target on our backs this year. Everybody’s trying to knock us off the mountain, and it’s my job to put together a roster that can compete with that and give our guys a chance to win another world title.”

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On this date: The Nationals played their first game ever

On this date: The Nationals played their first game ever

It seems like eons ago that the Washington Nationals played in their first game after departing from Montreal.

Saturday marks the 15th anniversary of their inaugural game as they brought professional baseball back to the District of Columbia.

The Nationals opened up the 2005 season on the road at Citizens Bank Park with a matchup against their future rival in the Phillies.

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The game didn't go as planned for Nats manager Frank Robinson, with his squad dropping the first game of their 162-game slate with a defeat, but it was a return to normalcy for baseball fans in the nation's capital who had longed for a team to root for since the Senators left town 34 years prior.

The Phillies beat the Nats 8-4 on Opening Day, but for fans in the District, there was now a team to cheer on when they returned home a few days later for the home opener at RFK Stadium.

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Nats GM Mike Rizzo displays Commissioner's Trophy in neighborhood during quarantine

Nats GM Mike Rizzo displays Commissioner's Trophy in neighborhood during quarantine

Now this is the type of content we love to see. 

Nationals GM Mike Rizzo found a pretty cool yet responsible way to bring some cheer to his neighborhood in the midst of social distancing on Thursday. 

On the day that should have been the Nats’ 2020 home opener Washington’s GM Mike Rizzo displayed the World Series trophy in the window of his home in Navy Yard.

According to The Washington Post’s reporter Barry Svrluga, Rizzo’s gesture was “in honor of Opening Day!” 

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Of course, fans loved this idea. I mean who wouldn’t? 

Fans passing by even stopped to take a picture with the trophy. 

Although we were all thrilled to return to Nationals Park to celebrate the defending World Champions, Rizzo’s trophy display was a way to spread some joy until we can reunite again. 

On a recent conference call Rizzo told reporters, “This is going to be a very, very special Opening Day for us when it happens, so we still have that to look forward to... On the brighter side, the glass half full view is that we’re the reigning world champions and we still are clutching hard to that trophy. We’ve got ourselves a banner-raising ceremony coming, we’ve got ourselves some beautiful rings that we’re going to be able to wear around D.C. in the very near future, so although we’re thinking daily and hourly about the humanity of what’s going on right now, we also have that to look forward to when we get through this thing and we come out the other side and baseball begins again.”

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