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Nationals, Astros wade into first spring training game after polar opposite weeks

Nationals, Astros wade into first spring training game after polar opposite weeks

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. -- It’s tough to blot out the sun and joy in south Florida. Friday was an exception. The temperature dropped into the 60s, clouds won the day and if West Palm Beach can be labeled dreary, the title fit on Friday as the wind whipped around.

The poor weather forced the Nationals into a truncated workout before their first game of spring training. Typically, the Grapefruit League opener for each team would be a signifier of the creeping regular season. It’s not a thing. Certainly not a thing, thing. But that will be the case Saturday night when Max Scherzer faces the still-reeling Houston Astros.

The week has not been kind to the Astros. Meanwhile, the Nationals have mixed goofing around with standard practices.

Houston absorbed shots from multiple players, notably including Atlanta outfielder Nick Markakis, who said every Astros player “needs a beating,” which prompted Houston manager Dusty Baker to retort Markakis must have had his Wheaties that morning. Earlier in the week, a fan ran up and banged a garbage can when José Altuve and others were taking batting practice, then took off.

Washington was busy with a cabbage race on National Cabbage Day and mercilessly pelting the head of its public relations director with water balloons on his birthday. Music played, Scherzer tussled with Starlin Castro, Trea Turner and Adam Eaton when throwing live batting practice, and Howie Kendrick held a rematch with Will Harris for the first time as teammates.

No one talked about death threats, which Houston outfielder Josh Reddick did on Friday when mentioning some of the social media backlash he is managing. No one on the Nationals’ side prompted hi-jinks from fans. The air horn signalled when to move, modern rap or the gravelly of Chris Stapleton bellowed from large speakers, and everyone generally went about their business.

The question about Saturday is if anything out of the ordinary will happen. What if Scherzer loses command of a pitch in his first outing and hits an Astros player? Who decides intent? Baker is so concerned about retaliation against his players, he publicly called on the league to warn other teams. Commissioner Rob Manfred said he did as much when talking to a large chunk of managers at his annual spring training press conference. Tony Clark, executive director of the MLBPA, said Friday the issue remains on the minds of the Astros.

“When you have comments publicly that suggest certain things may happen on the field, it’s hard to ignore those,” Clark said.

Clark spent roughly four hours meeting with Astros players on Friday. A large “2017 World Series champions” sign was one of the few things above the 6-foot-8 head of the players’ union. He said Houston players were “contrite and direct” in their discussions with him and they were concerned about “making sure the game is in the best place possible moving forward.” Clark’s comment came at lunchtime the day after the Nationals went through a parade through downtown West Palm Beach to yet again celebrate winning last season.

Houston will not play its regulars Saturday. Washington will play a few. Joe Ross will pitch after Scherzer. Everyone will watch Carter Kieboom in the field at third base. Baker and Martinez should cross paths. In the stands? Who knows? Every stadium is filled with metal garbage cans and beer vendors.

“I’m hoping that on our side, I can’t tell you anything about the Houston Astros or what they’re going to do or whatever, but for us we act professional, we go about our business and we get ready for the season,” Martinez said. “Go out there and compete and just get ready to play.”

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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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