Scenes from Spring Training: Phun with the Phillie Phanatics Part 1

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Bright House.jpgAfter  a stormy Thursday night and Friday, I woke up to a bright, clear and crisp Saturday morning. It would be my last day of baseball on this trip, and the fates smiled upon me, not only with the weather, but with a good game at a great spring training park. Phillies vs. Twins at Bright House Field in Clearwater.

Bright House may be the most organized and easiest to navigate park in the Grapefruit League, at least from the media’s perspective.  The parking is ample. The administrative offices are open and welcoming. I walked into the facility, which is really an office building connected to the stadium, and was greeted by pleasant smiles and efficient workers. I gave my name and a press pass appeared almost instantly. Newbies like me usually have to figure out the lay of the land at the ballpark, but the young woman at the front desk immediately pointed out the clubhouse entrance (to the left) the media room (to the right) and the press box (the elevator behind you, third floor, follow the walkway up the third base line). It wouldn’t have shocked me if someone appeared from out of nowhere to take my bag and offer me some ice water with lemon in it.

I gave the media room a miss, and headed straight to the press box. On the way there I passed several Philly employees, ranging from front office types to grounds crew. Everyone was wearing shirts that denoted the team’s recent success. Several “2008 World Series Champion” patches. Many more “2009 National League Champion” logos.  Like all the ballparks I saw last week, the walls at Bright House had several framed pictures, plaques and displays depicting team history, but there were also photo collages of team employees, promotion days and the like. Who knows what it’s really like to be, say, an intern there, but the place gave the impression that it was a friendly place to work.

I got up to the box and set up my laptop.  Lots of room and — what’s this? — Coke in the fridge.  I know there are more important things in the universe than cola wars, but I’m a Coke guy, and I’ve been mildly bummed all week that every park had Pepsi in it.  It’s not going to make me root for Philly to lose any less once the season starts, but if you’ve learned anything about me from these spring training dispatches, you’ve learned that little stuff makes a big impression on me.

Squared away in the press box I headed down to the clubhouse and the field.

Columnist bashes Bryce Harper’s fundamentals, “write it,” says Nats player

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Tom Boswell of the Washington Post wrote a column over the weekend about how the 2019 Nats are looking really, really good. And for the most part it’s a column that makes a lot of sense. The Nats added some key pieces this offseason and, because so much of their underachieving 2018 season was based on health, particularly in the bullpen, there is reason to be optimistic this coming year.

There is one weird passage in the middle of the column, though: a swipe at Bryce Harper, his fundamentals and his attitude. The upshot: Boswell is arguing that losing Harper to free agency is addition by subtraction:

Though few mention it, subtracting Harper, while it will cost 34 homers, a .899 career OPS and some amazing hair flips, would help any team improve its attention to fundamentals. When the most famous player on the team can’t go 10 days without failing to run out a groundball or overthrowing a cutoff man by 15 feet or throwing to the wrong base or being caught unprepared in the outfield or on the bases, it’s hard to demand total alertness from the other 24.

“Write it,” one prominent Nats vet said.

The “Write it” is what has me most fascinated.

It could possibly be read in two different ways. One way would be for that to be the non-committal reaction of a player when Boswell bounced his Harper-is-a-slacker theory. Saying, in effect, “you write that if that’s your take.” It seems far more likely to me though, that Boswell is echoing the off-the-record sentiments of Harper’s former Nats teammates and the “write it” is an encouraging plea to give public voice to that which the player has chosen not to.

If it is the latter, this would only be the latest of many anonymously-sourced disgruntled sentiments from the Nats clubhouse over the years. Former manager Matt Williams had a full-scare revolt on his hands that made it into the media. Last year Dave Martinez’s clubhouse had someone saying negative things to the press as well, and it was so bad that GM Mike Rizzo sent off a useful reliever — at a time when the Nats really, really needed a useful reliever — because he was the suspected source. If Boswell is giving voice to some anti-Harper sentiment in Nats camp, it’s just more soap opera from a bunch that, historically, can’t seem to handle their issues in-house.

As for the substance: I don’t watch Harper as much as Nats fans do — and I can’t say that I’ve ever heard anyone describe him as some sort of lazy slacker — but sure, there are players who are more fundamentally sound than him. It’s also the case, though, that Harper has always been judged more harshly for his deportment than a lot of players in the league, so I’m not prepared to totally defer to word of mouth — especially anonymous word-of-mouth — to someone slamming him on that stuff.

It’s still pretty interesting, though, that in an offseason in which the average fan’s take is that Manny Machado is the no-hustle slacker who should be avoided, that Machado’s former teammates have had no complaints about him, while Harper’s former teammates seem to have the knives out for him.