WASHINGTON -- It was a month ago when the Nationals began re-assembling at Nationals Park. The organization received a waiver from the city of Washington to re-enter the facility for work purposes. Will Harris drove his truck up from Louisiana. Max Scherzer herded the family to leave Florida. Davey Martinez exited his farm in Tennessee.
Since then, the Nationals have existed as their own entity, spending a month inside their personal bubble. Chaos is flowing through the Major League Baseball season. It has touched the Nationals in the form of positive tests and scheduling quirks. However, it has not forced them into the most complicated portion of this wobbling experiment: leaving home.
There was one trip to Baltimore. The club used five buses to transport a road crew up I-295, everyone covered by a mask and wondering about their first foray out of the sanctity of Nationals Park. They played, returned, and stayed. Friday, they took a break. Martinez sent everyone home -- and nowhere else -- for a day. Their weekend series with the Marlins was postponed following an outbreak in that organization, so time off will be followed by group workouts. A little reflection might be in order, too.
“We’re all in this together,” Carter Kieboom said. “I think this is the most unified season that every team is going to have to have this year. It takes every single one of us to be responsible and to go home and do the right things, and come to the park and do the natural protocols you’re supposed to do and respect everybody else.
“I think if we can all respect one another and realize we do have families at home -- it’s not just us we’re around. We’re around a lot of other people. Some guys have their kids and stuff like that. It’s a big factor. It’s definitely different this year. I think we feel even closer because of it. At the end of the day, we’re playing baseball and we’re all excited to be out there playing the game we love.”
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Martinez has warned the team about their prospective off-field activities and the accompanying risks. He wants them to follow a simplistic pattern: home-stadium-home. Repeat.
This, inherently, is the pattern most players use in a normal season anyway. Going out is complicated by tomorrow always being a work day under the bright lights. That doesn’t deter everyone, especially on the road, but it’s a factor not present in every sport.
The Nationals’ ability to stay close has proven to be a benefit -- Juan Soto’s surprising positive test notwithstanding. They already hosted one team without a home (Toronto) and were prepared to host another (Miami) if need be. Fifteen games were postponed this week because of coronavirus-related problems. Eight teams -- Baltimore, Miami, New York, Philadelphia, Toronto, Milwaukee, St. Louis and the Nationals were affected. But, none of the alterations took place because of something problematic within Nationals Park.
“It’s different,” Martinez said of the whole situation. “It really is different knowing we’re still going to be home for quite some time. One, it’s kind of nice. As far as I’m concerned, we won a road trip -- we swept Toronto on the road. But it’s a weird situation. Like I tell these guys, we got to forget everything going on outside and just focus on playing.”
It seems outside will never quiet down. The 60-game season is seven games old. Only a week of the ten on the schedule has elapsed. Virus-related problems have hit almost a third of the league. Meanwhile, the Nationals are watching from home, safely tucked into their bubble.
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