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Nats open new $150 million spring training site with walk-off win

Nats open new $150 million spring training site with walk-off win

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. – Bryce Harper drove in the first run, the rain stayed away and a festive crowd saw a game-ending homer. All in all, a nice start on opening day for The Ballpark of the Palm Beaches.

Shared by the Houston Astros and Washington, the teams met Tuesday in the first spring training game at the new $150 million complex. The Nationals won 4-3 on Michael Taylor's drive with two outs in the bottom of the ninth.

The biggest draw for many of the 5,987 fans seemed to be the racing president mascots, who made the trip south from Nationals Park. Instead of Teddy Roosevelt, George Washington, Thomas Jefferson or Abraham Lincoln, the opener featured William Taft, Herbert Hoover and Calvin Coolidge.

"I miss Teddy, George and Jeff," said David Blackwood, who made the trip across Florida from Sarasota for the game. "These are like the spring training presidents. They haven't made the squad yet."

There are still more permanent fixtures that need work at the park that holds over 7,000 -- some concession stands won't open for a few more games, not all bathrooms had hot water. But what was accomplished in 15 months since the ballpark's approval is being lauded by players, coaches, fans and Commissioner Rob Manfred, who was in attendance.

"The stadium bowl itself is absolutely first rate, but I think the back fields and practice areas are amazing, as well," Manfred said.

The Astros and Nationals each have one back field that mimics the dimensions of their home ballpark, plus five other full-sized practice fields apiece.

Along with clubhouses that rival most of those at major league ballparks in both size and number of televisions, the Nationals' side of the facility also features a training pool, which began to be filled on Monday.

"A diving board would have been nice -- maybe a slide," joked Jeremy Guthrie, who threw the first pitch of the game after morning rain cleared out.

For the record, Daniel Murphy got the first hit and Carlos Beltran launched the first homer. Harper doubled home the first run.

Players raved about field conditions, which offered dimensions of 335, 406 and 336 feet from left to right. The bullpens are down the lines behind the outfield wall, with a green berm where fans can stretch out and watch the game.

Beyond the left field berm resides the Houston executive offices, which Derek Norris hit on one bounce for a home run. From the upper level seats fans can glimpse several of the back fields.

Taylor's homer over the left field foul pole marked the first spring training game in West Palm Beach since 1997. The Nationals' franchise once called West Palm Beach home, back when they were the Montreal Expos. The Braves and Expos shared a complex in town for years.

The Nationals explored options on both coasts of Florida as a replacement for their previous spring training complex in Viera, two hours north of their new residence. The Astros moved from Kissimmee, more than two hours away.

About 15 minutes from the new ballpark in Jupiter is Roger Dean Stadium, shared by the Cardinals and Marlins.

"I love the idea of spring training baseball in southeastern Florida," said Manfred, who has an apartment close to West Palm Beach. "I actually think it's not just personal, it's good for the game to have two centers of baseball in the state of Florida. It allows teams to keep their travel time down, but you do need a certain number of teams to make it all work."

While in Viera, bus rides of two and three hours were the norm for the Nationals. This spring 27 of their 34 games will be played in Palm Beach County. Three more will be played two counties north at the Mets' facility in Port St. Lucie, less than an hour away.

"Riding on the bus for four hours is not that fun so having fewer trips like that is definitely better," said Taylor, who set up his winning homer by throwing out a runner at the plate to end the top of the ninth.

There is one potential pothole that Nationals manager Dusty Baker didn't face when the club camped in Viera. In West Palm Beach and the surrounding area, there are plenty of attractions to occupy a player's time away from the ballpark -- and some of those places remain open until 5 a.m.

"We were in Viera, there wasn't anybody staying open," Baker said. "It was nice, but, you know, it was easy to get your rest."

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Nationals to wear throwback Expos signature powder blues on July 6

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Nationals to wear throwback Expos signature powder blues on July 6

Bring out the powder blues!

In the decade and a half since the Nationals franchise relocated from Montreal to Washington, D.C. in 2005, the Nationals have only worn throwback uniforms honoring the Washington Senators, who played in the Nation's Capitol from 1901-1960 before the franchise moved to Minnesota and became the current Minnesota Twins. They have not once worn any Expos throwbacks.

That all changes on July 6, when the Nationals will sport the signature Montreal Expos powder blue uniforms against the Kansas City Royals as the Nationals celebrate the franchise's 50th anniversary, according to the Washington Post.

The uniform features powder blue jerseys and pants, with the tri-color red, white, and blue signature Expos cap.

The Royals will also be donning throwback uniforms from their inaugural 1969 season, taking the field in their original road grey uniforms with a cursive "Kansas City" across their chest in Royal blue.

The Nationals are honoring the Expos in more ways than just sporting their old uniforms. Nationals Park will also be going through a makeover, as the Expos 'M' will replace the Nationals 'Curly W' across the park for the afternoon. Additionally, concessions will offer traditional Canadian food, such as poutine, Montreal smoked brisket sandwiches and more. 

Expos legend Vladimir Guerrero will also be in attendance. Other members of the Nationals, such as manager Dave Martinez, third base coach Bob Henley, and MASN broadcaster F.P. Santangelo will be honored for their contributions to the Expos as well.

July 6 should be an exciting day at Nationals Park.

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Mike Rizzo: Max Scherzer's season performance thus far is 'historical'

Mike Rizzo: Max Scherzer's season performance thus far is 'historical'

It's no secret that Max Scherzer has been having the best month of his career. As whispers of a fourth Cy Young begin following his commanding starts this season, Nationals GM Mike Rizzo joined the chorus.

"We're seeing something from a major league pitcher that we’re very fortunate because we get to see this every fifth day and this is historical stuff," Rizzo said on The Sports Junkies Wednesday. "This is one of the great pitchers of our time and a hall of fame caliber guy and a guy who leaves it on the mound each and every day."

To add to his dominant June, Scherzer allowed only one run and recorded 10 strikeouts over eight innings in the Nationals' 6-1 win over the Miami Marlins Tuesday night.

"He wills himself to win and he wills himself to go the extra inning, the extra pitch," Rizzo said.

Many are calling Scherzer's consistent greatness this month the most dominant time of his career. According to NBC Sports Washington's Todd Dybas, the only month in his career that comes close to his June 2019 dominance is June 2017, when Scherzer boasted a 0.99 ERA, pitched 36 ⅓ innings, recorded 51 strikeouts, six walks, and a 0.55 WHIP. This June, Scherzer has more strikeouts and a lower ERA.

"He's one of the best pitchers in the league," Rizzo said. "Day in and day out, start in and start out, he gives you an opportunity to win, he gives you his best, he leaves everything on the mound each and every time."

Scherzer has one more start left this month against the Detroit Tigers, the three-day series in Detroit beginning Friday. Until then, Scherzer can rest his arm with two remaining games in the three-game series with the Marlins Wednesday and Thursday at 7:10 p.m.

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