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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