RtO: Spring Training

Y.S. Fing | E-MAIL | Roaming the Outfield Archive

Each week, author and poet Y.S. Fing looks at the state of baseball, the movements of the game, the ebb and flow and soul of America’s pastime in Roaming the Outfield. This week: “Spring Training”

From my spot in the outfield, I watch as the players prepare for the games. I especially like Spring Training because the weather is good. Windy, but good. Once the games move up north in April I never know what’s going to happen. Sometimes the clouds get in the way and I can’t even see.

I’m especially pleased, as I view Spring Training this year, because the Washington Nationals look like they’re in a fine position to make their own baseball history. Things changed in August 2009 when Mike Rizzo officially took over as GM and brought Jayson Werth and Davey Johnson in. I wish I could claim some credit for that, but it was either the Lerner’s own free will or it was determined by some other force than my own.

Nationals Spring Training

The Nationals looked formidable in Spring Training 2013. (Brad Barr-US PRESSWIRE)

We were all amazed when the Phillies brought Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee, Roy Oswalt and Cole Hamels together. I thought it was one of the most formidable pitching staffs ever, and I’ve been watching since conception. Turns out 2011, the only year they were together, was not in the top 20 WAR seasons for a staff. But look at the Nationals: Strasburg, Gonzalez, Zimmermann, and Detwiler, none of whom is over 28. Of course, the season hasn’t begun yet. I’m aware of the myriad things that can go wrong, and with pitchers often do. But the possibilities entice.

Both infield and outfield defense look as solid as any team in the league. But what of Ryan Zimmerman’s arm on routine throws to first? Keeping down opposing teams’ steal percentages? Beyond those, where is the weak link in that chain? From the outfield, I see none.

Last year on a team that won 100 total games, offense was not consistently produced as I expect it will be this year. Newly acquired Denard Span and Werth (or Ian Desmond, or maybe Danny Espinosa – if he’s hitting well) batting one-two. Adam LaRoche carried the Nats through the cold, early season, and no one else was hitting particularly well at the end, nor in the playoffs. Michael Morse is gone, but his hitting may not be missed. This is a lineup that looks very likely to rake.

The bench and the bullpen are full of hungry young professionals fighting to contribute to a team that may very well give them the greatest pleasures of their professional lives. Names like Bernadina and Lombardozzi, Moore and Clippard and Storen, these men would all be starters (or closers) on many other teams. And it’s possible that they will become those things in time. But as for now, they are the support structure for an edifice that appears designed to impress.

That is why I watch baseball from my perch in the outfield: for hope. When you know the game, when you see time moving forward and an organization slowly and steadily progressing, individuals being tempered in the fire, maturing, and coalescing as team, you watch the ups and downs of a season or of a career in perspective. Time is renewed, perspective gained, painful losses soothed by the opening of another season, recognition of both the control one has in baseball and the ultimate lack of control. To me, these Nationals of 2013 are par excellence in the sport. To others, their teams.

We seek, we struggle, we suffer because what we want is always held away from us. I know this from my place in the outfield. I see every single person on this earth propelled by motion in time toward some constructive or destructive journey. When a baseball team is on the destructive journey, they lose 100 games in consecutive seasons (see Nats 2008-2009). But the ashes of that destruction brought the constructive opportunity to draft Strasburg and Harper (among the most fortuitous acquisitions for any team in history). In our suffering, the seeds were sown. Now, we reap.

Other teams are strong, and Washington will have to deal with injury, just as it did last year. There is no prophecy in hope, it’s simply the proper way to approach a long, hard task. Hope is the thing that gets us through the Winter and fuels our excitement for Spring. And having a good reason to hope is the best of all possible worlds.

Y.S. Fing is an author and poet working out of Washington, DC. He roots for the Nationals when he isn’t composing beauty.