This was our seventh and final visit to Nationals Spring Training in Viera, Florida. While we hope to continue the Spring Training tradition for many years to come, the Washington Nationals will be moving next year to a new home in West Palm Beach.
Space Coast Stadium has been a wonderful place to get ready for baseball and allow my toes to breathe after a cold and snowy winter. Everyone at the park is friendly and we greet some of the staff and fellow fans as old friends, expecting to always find each other in the same place when we return. And there were the local restaurants and their owners we visited each year. The departure will be an economic hit on the area and will make for a much quieter season. While the new ballpark complex will be fabulous with all the latest amenities and quick access to many more teams, I will miss the relaxed pace and smaller town feel of the old park.
There is a great sense of pride to the Space Coast. This is the stretch of Florida where NASA has had its greatest achievements and failures. The stadium has at each foul pole huge pillars memorializing the Challenger and Columbia shuttles, tragedies that will forever mark the region and nation. And a trip to Cape Canaveral, just an hour away, is a visit through space history super-sized, as is everything associated with the space program.
And then there’s the baseball. In the spring it really isn’t about the score. How is the team looking? Who are those new faces? Will some of my old favorites finally be pushed out by some young player, fighting for his place in the big leagues? Spring is a time for wild aspirations and the recognition that for some the best days have passed.
Who have I watched in particular? Well, Ryan Zimmerman (Spring, 2010) and Ian Desmond were stalwarts. While I knew Ian was gone, it was strange not to see him on the field. Stephen Strasburg’s very first pitching appearance as a National. And we had tickets – our first day ever at Spring Training! But a dumb cluck luggage cart driver at DCA disabled our plane and we were 5 hours and 5 innings late. And just missed his first trip to the mound.
We saw Pudge Rodriguez (Spring, 2011) teaching the young players from the top step of the dugout as his career on the field was coming to an end.
And we’ve watched Bryce Harper mature in every way possible. (Spring, 2011-13)
(Below Spring, 2014-16)
And I’ve taken it in up close and personal, right behind the netting each and every year.
Going forward, I think the sounds and feel of Viera will still remain a part of my Spring Training, regardless of the Nationals’ home. It’s like your first elementary school classroom – it’s the place where the magic began.