The Nats’ clubhouse vibes? Electric. The reason? Baseball cards.

The Nats’ clubhouse vibes? Electric. The reason? Baseball cards.

Tooba Shakir 54 years ago 0 0

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. — After workouts late Friday morning, as players filtered back into the Washington Nationals clubhouse to bide the time before their spring training game, a circle formed around Riley Adams. Washington’s backup catcher was wearing purple latex gloves and holding a box of baseball cards. Closer Kyle Finnegan was holding a hat with small pieces of paper in it. And for some reason — one that was initially a mystery to players who arrived midway through the process — everyone was yelling.

“A Joey Votto!” Adams yelled, as confused infielders Nasim Nuñez and Darren Baker, bags on their shoulder from the workouts, walked in on the commotion.

“Are they gambling?” Nuñez wondered aloud. Baker marched directly to an opening in the circle, bat still in hand, and tried to figure out what was happening. Somewhat surprisingly for a baseball clubhouse, where fantasy sports and golf wagers are a part of life, the answer to Nunez’s question was no. They were not gambling. They were collecting.

A group that included Adams and Finnegan, right-hander Cade Cavalli, outfielder Lane Thomas, catcher Drew Millas and others had chipped in money to buy a box of rare baseball cards. They were pulling names out of a hat to see who got to keep which card.

Adams was the emcee, lifting each card out of the box with care, showing it carefully with his glove-clad fingers, then announcing just how rare the card claimed it was. An Edgar Martínez was one of five. A Ken Griffey Jr. was one of four. A David Ortiz autograph was highly coveted. Everyone was very polite when a Dansby Swanson rookie card ended up with Cavalli. But the biggest prize was undisputed.

“Shohei!” Adams said, holding up a shiny Shohei Ohtani card as the circle tightened slightly. It was Thomas’s turn to pick a name from the hat. He looked at the paper. The name written on it was his. The room exploded.

About that time, new National Joey Gallo wandered over to the circle. Few people in it had as much experience as he does, and few clubhouses he has inhabited have been as young as this one.

“It’s been really fun. Even just stuff like that happening,” Gallo said, motioning toward the circle. “It’s a great clubhouse. Very fun to come in every day, to interact with our guys. It’s a young group, but that’s a good thing, too. Everybody’s energetic. It’s been a lot of fun. I’m very happy that I’m here, honestly.”

Gallo felt some quad soreness earlier this week that has limited him to hitting only over the last few days, though he insisted that if this were the regular season, he would be playing. He played first base earlier this week and he seems likely to play plenty of innings in the outfield, too, once the leg is healed.

But because of his caution, Gallo did not participate in the drills Bob Henley orchestrated for his outfielders Friday — throwing drills that included homemade targets Henley had prepared. Those targets were pictures of the faces of Thomas and Victor Robles. Henley reported his outfielders, not coincidentally, showed pinpoint accuracy.

Among the Nationals’ other outfield options is veteran Jesse Winker, who started in left field against the Houston Astros on Friday afternoon. Winker, 30, was an all-star in 2o21 with the Cincinnati Reds who slimmed down dramatically this winter after struggling with consistency and injuries in 2022 and 2023. When healthy, he has 20-homer power, something the Nationals lacked last season and could use as they wait for their corps of young outfielders to break into the big leagues.

“[Winker] has lost so much weight, he’s moving a lot better. He can also play some first base and DH. We took some groundballs over there and he looked about as natural as you can look,” said Nationals Manager Dave Martinez, who added that he hopes to rotate Gallo, Winker and Joey Meneses between the outfield, first base and designated hitter spots.

“That way, we keep them all healthy. We need these guys to hit,” Martinez said. “I want to keep them on the field as much as possible, and if I can get them off their feet here and there and let them DH, I’ll do that.”

The only other injury the Nationals are monitoring is that of reliever Dylan Floro, whose throwing shoulder tightened up last week. Martinez said Floro threw a bullpen Thursday and that he should be able to start throwing live batting practices soon. Otherwise, the young Nationals seem something close to carefree, as energetic as people around them can remember this time of year, hopeful that progress is in the cards.

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