Saturday, February 23, 2008

Spring training day in photos: I forgive you, Aaron !@#$&% Boone

Aaron Boone looks at me like I'm stupid. He wants to say to me, "Are you serious? I'm trying to sign this bat. Stop taking photos! Let me concentrate! Does this look easy to you?"

Aaron Boone plays catch with Dmitri Young.

Aaron Boone does fielding drills with inferior teammates.

It was day two for me at Washington Nationals spring training. It was day one with my new 18-200mm zoom lens ... with vibration reduction. Some shots came out all right. Others did not. I've learned a lot I can do differently tomorrow.

The position players arrived today, and the workout started a bit late - at 10 a.m. instead of 9:30. I was there for the entire thing. And boy, was it great.

The weather has been warmer than usual, but it isn't humid as it usually is, so it felt like a hot summer day in Maine. It was bearable, but I now have a red face and arms because of it.

The first player I noticed was Aaron Boone, the much-hated former third baseman for the New York Yankees. Much-hated, that is, to Red Sox fans. He was the one compared to Bucky Dent and credited for perpetuating the Curse of the Bambino when he cranked an 13th-inning homer over the left-field wall to give the Yanks the American League Championship over the Sox.

Live and let live, though. He's not working for the Evil Empire anymore. He's a good guy now.

Players split into four groups and scattered first to the batting cages, then to four separate practice fields for situation drills in fielding, hitting and base-running. It reminded me of my high school glory days at second base: The professionals get the same couching in the fundamentals that I did.

Some drills take tremendous mental sharpness. As catcher Johnny Estrada hit, the couch tossing the easy cheese barked out situations, demanding that the hitter react in a matter of seconds and do the right thing with the bat.

"Man on third, nobody out." He drills a fly ball to center field.

"Man on second, nobody out." He grounds a sacrifice to first base.

"Man first, two out." Base hit, right field.


The concessions (above: workers smiling because I befriended them) were surprisingly cheap. Two bucks for a hot dog. Two bucks for a soda. I would rather not pay two George Washingtons for a Diet Coke, but the hot dog was worth it.


As the players were walking off the field, fans again swarmed around them. Mostly, they were bugging Barry Larkin, above, the former Cincinnati Reds star shortstop who works for the Nats in some capacity. I was taking a lot of photos, but I wasn't interested in autographs. But I asked myself, "Why not? Duh, you only live twice. You might as well."



So I paid $8 for a Nats logo-emblazoned baseball and got signatures from Larkin, Boone, wannabe first baseman Nick Johnson (both photos above, also a former Yank), wannabe first baseman Dmitri Young, right-fielder Austin Kearns and shortstop Felipe Lopez.

Man, if I got that many autographs of that great quality, imagine what I could do if I actually tried.


The best part of Friday was when a local ABC sports reporter from Washington asked Young, above, about the meaning of playing in D.C.

"New York is a nice city and everything. That's where all the money is," he said. "But Washington is our nation's capital. There's nothing better than our nation's capital."

Well, it's a close second behind Maine.

Christian Guzman plays toss with a special, nearly pocketless infielder's glove meant to facilitate quick and easy transfer from glove to throwing hand.

Lovable catcher Johnny Estrada models his tats.

Catcher Paul Lo Duca says, "Ball. ... Ball ball ball ball ball ball. Yaayyyyy. Ball."

At least one of the fans at the fence was suspicious of the clicking behind him.

The workout wasn't very physical, but these players found the need to jog. Slow down, guys. You're gonna have a heart attack.

Uh, it's a basket of balls on one of the practice fields.

This is the souvenir trailer where I dished out the eight smackers for a ball for autographs.

The Boys of Spring home

No comments: