Batting Practice with the Z-Man
There are so few players who can lift the average fan from his seat during batting practice. It most commonly takes one of those leviathan sluggers like a Frank Howard or Mark McGwire to send ball after ball rocketing into the stands. So I was taken aback when in Kissimmee, Florida for a game between the Astros and the Nationals, Ryan Zimmerman stepped into the cage and began hammering every pitch thrown his way into the nether confines of Osceola County Stadium.
I have seen Albert Pujols and Prince Fielder take batting practice, but I do not remember them being as proficient as Zimmerman was last Friday. While a few balls landed short of the wall or were merely line shots through the infield, it was uncanny the large percentage of balls struck that left the yard. People began to take notice and we watched each ball to gage its carry. “That one’s gone,” said the fan next to me as Zimmerman launched one well past the outfield wall.
The batting practice pitcher was tossing 55 mph marshmallows. Zimmerman’s front leg would lift off the ground as he timed the pitch, and then the bat flashed through the zone and out the ball went as it began it’s long vacation from Central Florida. It was a thing of beauty to behold. Other players jumped into the cage for their turns and the contrast was striking. A few nice shots from other players, but they could manage nothing even close to the barrage from Zimmerman.
Does Zimmerman’s batting practice form mean he is on the verge of a break out season as a top slugger in 2012? The bottom line is that it is just spring training, but if Michael Morse can maintain his 2011 form and provide cover to Zimmerman like Adam Dunn did in 2009, look for a big season from the Z-Man.
And maybe next spring there will be more opportunities to watch batting practice with the Nationals. The Washington front office seems determined to move their complex to Ft. Myers for 2013. The biggest obstacle standing in the way is the existing contract with the Brevard County Stadium on which $1.6 million remains committed for two more seasons.
Breaking that contract will be painful, but if the Lerners can manage it, the Nationals will be training in Ft. Myers with the Minnesota Twins and Boston Red Sox. The Sox train at Jet Blue Park; the Twins at Hammond Stadium. The Nationals would move into City of Palms Park that was the Spring Training home for Boston until they moved into a new complex modeled on Fenway Park.
With three teams playing in the same city, watching the Nationals take batting practice as the away team in the other two complexes would be far easier than it is now. Currently the closest complex to Washington’s Viera, FL spring home is Kissimmee, FL where the Astros train. That is a 90-minute drive and other than the Rodeo Diner there ain’t much “there” there.
One of the reasons for the move is exactly the distances that the players must travel for spring training games. But fans would be accommodated as well. Currently one of the biggest difficulties in planning a trip to Florida is finding a time when one can see as many games as possible. With the team making so many long trips, it is difficult to find a time when there are consecutive games in Viera that allow fans to see multiple games over a short span of days. That problem would be obviated with two other teams in Ft. Myers and the Tampa Bay Rays training just a 30-minute drive up I-75 in Port Charlotte.
All three of those teams are American League teams, so it would provide an opportunity to see teams with whom Washington fans have little familiarity. So from this fan’s perspective, bring it on.
Next spring it could be quite a show between Zimmerman and Harper to see whose batting practice is more impressive. Me, I am a Zimmerman fan now and for the future. But I am open to being proved wrong.