Washington Nationals Michael Morse celebrates a grand slam home run against the New York Mets in Washington

I went to Nationals Park and it was good

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I went to D.C. on Friday. The impetus for the trip: my friend, who does business development in the commercial real estate world, was gifted with the use of a luxury suite for the Nats-Mets game. She filled it up with clients and business contacts but, by golly, wouldn’t you know it, she had a couple of tickets left over for little old me.  Oh, providence.

It was my first trip to Nationals Park. Overall: it’s a good place. Not a top-top kind of place, but quite nice.  I think it probably needs a few more years to be lived in and experience the maturation of the Nats as a winning team and the Nats fan base as a whole before a fair assessment can be made, but it’s quite nice.  And even if it does skew a bit bland for now, that will change with time and history. And it’s way better to be a tad bland now than to manufacture all kinds of phony history and character when it hasn’t earned it. Random observations from a nice night of baseball:

    • It wasn’t just me and commercial real estate people in the box. Because my friend had a couple of extra tickets, I invited our friend D.J. Short and his fiance Christine, who live in the D.C. area, to join us. I’ve worked with D.J. for over three years and this was the first time I’d met him in person. The Internet is weird. D.J. and Christine are not, however. They’re pretty adorable actually. And D.J. is a pro: despite being a Mets fan and despite watching Johan Santana get let the hell up again, he didn’t curse the gods or kick anything. See: he even was a good enough sport to smile for a pic:

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  • It was a pretty good crowd for the Nats, I’m told. Not a sellout, but it was the sort of crowd you could expect for most winning teams on a Friday night. And it’s not like it was driven by some promotion or anything. The giveaway was Nats caps with a beer logo on it, so kids couldn’t get them. The Nats are winning and the people are starting to show up. That’s how it’s supposed to work.
  • The park has big wide concourses and, from what I could tell from my stroll, a lot of food options. People talk about the Shake Shack a lot — and the line was crazy — but even the normal ballpark food looked varied and of high quality. I didn’t get a good sampling of the beers, but I pregamed a bit in the bar above left field, and they had some microbrewish options and, oddly, Peroni on tap. Can’t say I’ve ever seen Peroni on tap at a ballpark.
  • The crowd was into the game, but you could tell that it’s still a growing and learning fan base. Almost every time a fly ball was hit, the “that could be a home run!” roar grew a bit until someone caught it in non-necessarily deep left, right or center field. On the plus side, though, the crowd did cheer loudly and naturally at key moments — like when Michael Morse came up in a bases loaded situation — without prompting from the scoreboard (though the scoreboard did prompt often, just after the cheering had already began).
  • About that Michael Morse bases-loaded situation: just as he came up to bat, the woman behind me — who is not really a big baseball fan — said “he’s going to hit a grand slam here, I just know it.” I, the baseball expert who has seen things in this game, said “well, I suppose it’s possible, but I think it far more likely that he’ll hit a single to the opposite field. Two runs will score.”  Of course Morse hit a grand slam. The lesson, as always, is that I don’t know what the hell I’m talking about.
  • Bryce Harper hit a homer. My inner fanboy cheered a lot, bro.
  • No one cares about this but media people, but I was shocked at just how high up in the stratosphere the press box is.  It’s waaay higher there than it is at any other park I’ve been to.  If people ever think Nats broadcasters are missing anything, you can probably blame the fact that they’re so high up that they have to rely on video more than anyone else.
  • My friend and I drove to the game, but we walked by the Metro station near the ballpark on our way in and out.  It’s conveniently located and clearly, based on the development around the park, it’s intended that now and forever the best way to get to games is to take Metro. That said, after the game was over, the crowd trying to get into the station was insane. Backed up all the way up the escalator and way out onto the sidewalk and the surrounding streets. Someone who uses it tell me: does Metro not run more trains than usual after games? Because that looked like a nightmare.

That’s all I can think of at the moment.  Like I said, nice place. Obviously I’d get a good impression of it based on the fact that I sat in the luxury box, but it seemed like a good place to see a game even if you’re a peasant –er, I mean, even if you sit in regular seats.

Angels ink Javy Guerra to minor league deal

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Mike DiGiovanna of the Los Angeles Times reports that the Angels have agreed to terms on a minor league contract with right-handed reliever Javy Guerra. The deal includes an invitation to major league spring training.

Guerra was suspended 50 games by Major League Baseball last July after testing positive for a drug of abuse. That suspension is now over, though Guerra is probably ticketed for the Angels’ Triple-A affiliate to begin the 2016 season.

The 30-year-old made just three major league appearances in 2015 for the White Sox before getting outrighted off Chicago’s 40-man roster. He does own a 2.87 ERA in 150 1/3 career innings, but it has come with bouts of inconsistency and unreliability.

Maybe he can get everything going in the right direction with Anaheim.

Braves sign reliever Carlos Torres

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As first reported by Bill Shanks of Fox Sports 1670, the Braves have signed right-handed reliever Carlos Torres to a minor league contract with an invitation to spring training.

Torres was waived by the Mets in January, somewhat surprisingly, and elected to become a free agent. The 33-year-old ultimately chose Atlanta, where he should have a good shot at an Opening Day roster out of spring training with the rapidly-rebuilding Braves.

Torres posted an ugly 4.68 ERA in 57 2/3 innings last season for the Mets, but he registered a gorgeous 3.06 ERA and 96 strikeouts across 97 innings in 2014.

If he gets off to a good start in 2016, he could become valuable trade bait.

Blue Jays will have a closer competition this spring

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Roberto Osuna became the youngest pitcher to ever play for the Blue Jays last season at age 20 and he rose to the challenge with a 2.58 ERA, 0.92 WHIP, and 75/16 K/BB ratio in 69 2/3 frames. Osuna eventually took over as Toronto’s closer, earning 20 regular-season saves and one in the American League Division Series — a five-out effort in Game 5 to close out the visiting Rangers.

But the Jays upgraded the back end of their bullpen this winter, acquiring Drew Storen from the Nationals in early January for speedy outfielder Ben Revere. Jesse Chavez was also brought to Toronto in a trade with the A’s.

Storen has more experience at closer than Osuna, and Storen struggled when the Nationals tried to put him in a setup role. Storen, in his final year of salary arbitration, also gets paid much more. He’s probably going to enter spring training as the favorite for the Jays’ ninth-inning gig, but there will be a competition …

Blue Jays general manager Ross Atkins told Ben Nicholson-Smith of Sportsnet.ca on Wednesday that he doesn’t expect the team to choose between Osuna or Storen until midway through spring training, if not later.

There’s been talk of making Osuna a starter, so add that wrinkle.

Storen, 28, boasts 95 career major league saves.

Orioles plotting late-offseason push? Gallardo, Fowler, Alvarez, Bruce in consideration

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Baltimore’s front office appears to be lining up a run of potential roster additions leading into the beginning of spring training.

We’ve already passed along the reports suggesting they are close to a three-year deal with free agent starter Yovani Gallardo, but now FOX Sports’ Ken Rosenthal adds that free agent outfielder Dexter Fowler could be next on the Orioles’ target list. It they get those two deals done, the O’s could then chase free agent slugger Pedro Alvarez.

Rosenthal says the Orioles are even eyeing Jay Bruce of the Reds, though the FOX reporter hears the O’s might not have the prospects to pull off that kind of trade.

The focus for the Orioles out of the gate this winter was re-signing Matt Wieters and Chris Davis. Wieters accepted his one-year, $15.8 million qualifying offer in November and Davis was locked up to a seven-year, $161 million contract in mid-January.

Now the O’s are spending a little leftover cash on late-offseason additions to improve their position in what should be a tight 2016 American League East race.