Coast to Coast: Back on Base

Manager Bob Henley and Coach Cesar Cedeno lead the Viera Nationals through a series of baserunning drills.


I spent yesterday at the Washington Nationals’ minor league training complex in Viera. It’s very similar to the Angels’ Tempe Diablo complex, where the minor league facility is across the parking lot from their spring training ballpark.

It very much had an “alternate universe” feeling to it, as I’m so used to being with the Tempe Angels. It’s Tempe with an ocean breeze — which, this time of year when it’s 110 degrees in Phoenix, is a good thing.

The Nationals are referred to as the “Nats,” not to be confused with “gnats” which seem to be everywhere as much of Viera was once swamp land. The Brevard County Manatees, who play in Space Coast Stadium at the southern end of the complex, are a Brewers affiliate in the Florida State League, an Advanced-A league which is the same level as the Rancho Cucamonga Quakes. The Viera Nationals are in the Rookie-A Gulf Coast League, which is the same as our Rookie-A Tempe Angels.

Like I said, it’s an alternate universe.

The Manatees get a little coverage in the local paper Florida Today, but no one pays attention to the GCL Nats. That probably explains why they were so welcoming, because this is where major league careers begin and no one knows all the hard work and effort that go into making that happen.

The Nationals haven’t had a lot of positive publicity in recent years, as the transplanted Montreal Expos are the worst team in baseball and their front office has been in turmoil all year. General Manager Jim Bowden resigned in March in the wake of a Dominican signing bonus skimming scandal, and Manager Manny Acta was fired last month. But the Nationals have won eight in a row under new manager Jim Riggleman and interim GM Mike Rizzo, who began his professional career decades ago under legendary Angels minor league manager Tom Kotchman.

There are other Angels-Nationals crossovers. Former catcher Bob Boone is in the front office as an assistant general manager and vice-president of player development. Long-time Angels minor league manager and scout Moose Stubing is a special assistant to the general manager. Former outfielder Devon White is a minor league outfielder instructor.

Jose Cardenal, an Angels outfielder in the 1960s, is another special advisor and was here yesterday observing the game. Cardenal was acquired by the Angels from the Giants on November 21, 1964 for catcher Jack Hiatt. Jack has been a good friend to An original “future Angel” who played on the 1961 Statesville Owls, Jack recently retired as the Giants’ farm director and still travels for them on special assignments.

I shot photos and flimed video during yesterday’s game, which was fraught with errors both physical and mental. The Nats won 6-4, but manager Bob Henley kept them late working on baserunning drills with coach Cesar Cedeno. You may remember Cesar as a star outfielder with the Houston Astros in the 1970s.

I filmed Bob and Cesar working the players through the drills. Click Here to watch the baserunning drill video. The clip runs about 16 minutes.

If and when he signs, first-round draft pick and super-prospect Stephen Strasburg should report here to Viera to begin his professional career, so I should be here to cover that.

In the meantime, there’s still this eerie sensation that I’ve stepped into a Twilight Zone episode.

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