The Washington Nationals traveled 168 miles to beat the Tigers on Wednesday at Joker Marchant Stadium in Lakeland, Fla., the longest drive of their spring. Not all of them made the trip, of course, because sitting out such trips is a perk of baseball tenure. But this time of year, when games provide practice and practice can be had anywhere, such drives present a great inconvenience.
When stationed in Viera, the Nationals were among spring training’s best-traveled vagabonds. They will travel far fewer miles from their West Palm Beach home. After Wednesday, the Nationals will not travel more than 51 miles until the last day of spring training. Nine of their 11 remaining trips will require 13 or fewer miles of travel. Every trip the Nationals took from Viera, their old spring training home, lasted more than 60 miles.
“The travel was the biggest issue we had in Viera,” Nationals General Manager Mike Rizzo said. “The shortest trip we had was like an hour-plus. Now we’re going to have 20 games where we go seven miles or less.”
Travel days such as Wednesday’s require planning and maneuvering. Nationals Manager Dusty Baker must determine which stars and regulars need work when, as well as work out who should and should not be making trips across the state. Jayson Werth and Ryan Zimmerman, for example, are the most veteran members of the team and therefore the unlikeliest to sit through a bus ride such as Wednesday’s. The fewer such bus rides, the more often they play, and the more flexibility Baker has in choosing when to play them.
Less travel is better “because you’re not in a car. People with back issues and knee issues, you’re not in a bus or a car for three, four hours a day,” said Rizzo, who has seen teams ravaged by spring training injuries before. “Secondly, you get more work in. When you’re driving four hours a day, that’s four hours you’re not working out.”
All told, the Nationals will travel 1,380 miles to and from spring training games this season. Last year, they traveled 2,096. The end result is an approximately 27-hour reduction in time on the bus, if one assumes that bus is going the speed limit. According to players who have been on team buses to spring training games, they adhere to those speed limits with dogged dedication.
That drop in travel also applies to the Nationals’ rookie league Gulf Coast team, which is stationed at their spring training facility as well. Its travel, and the associated costs, will also decrease because of the move to West Palm Beach.
“They’ll get a lot more work in. A lot more reps, a lot more work, a lot less travel,” Rizzo said. “It’s probably the biggest advantage we gain [by moving to West Palm Beach] is the proximity to other teams.”
Rizzo said that while the teams will pay less to travel from West Palm Beach, their overall costs for spring training might end up being similar to those they incurred in Viera. The cost of living in West Palm Beach — hotel rooms, food, etc. — is much higher. Rooms for staff, for example, could be as much as double what they cost around the old facility.
But from a baseball perspective, that long drives such as Wednesday’s will no longer be the norm represents one of the more noticeable differences between life at the new facility and life at the old. Instead of a few two-hour trips per week, the Nationals now have three such trips all spring, with many more 15-minute drives and more playing-time flexibility than ever before.
Nationals are enjoying less travel, fewer headaches in new West Palm Beach home – Washington Post