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What's that sweet sound I've been hearing all morning? Why yes, it's the sudden peppering of Twitter updates and blog postings from reporters scattered about Florida and Arizona, regaling us with the first images of spring. Brad Penny is throwing in Jupiter. Jon Lester and Clay Buchholz are playing catch in Fort Myers. Derek Jeter is taking BP in Tampa. Makes the heart flutter, doesn't it?
The Nationals are among the last teams to actually commence formal workouts (pitchers and catchers report Friday, take physicals Saturday and then begin organized workouts Sunday) so we've still got a few days to bridge the gap between anticipation and actual, live baseball.
To update you on my travel plans, I'll be hitting the road Wednesday morning and making the journey down I-95 all day. Planning to stay over in Savannah, Ga., then complete the final 4-5 hours of the drive on Thursday and hopefully make a cameo appearance at Space Coast Stadium sometime in the afternoon. Look for my award-winning photos to begin popping up around then.
Between now and then, I'll keep tabs on any news developments -- Chien-Ming Wang's much-anticipated decision, Brian Bruney and Sean Burnett's arbitration hearings, etc. -- but I've obviously got a few things I need to take care of before leaving the wife and dog among the snow drifts for the next six weeks.
Here, though, are five things I'm most interested in seeing at Nats camp this spring...
1. STEPHEN STRASBURG: Were you really expecting something else? Am I really supposed to say I'm more intrigued by the status of Roger Bernadina's ankle? Come on. There is no bigger story at Nats camp than the debut of the No. 1 draft pick, and there are few bigger stories around baseball this spring. In the past, we've usually seen a trickle of national baseball writers show up in Viera for a cursory preview of the club, but this will be different. I expect a full-on circus whenever Strasburg makes his first Grapefruit League appearance, and a steady stream of non-Washington-based media hanging around the Space Coast for the first time in a long time.
2. JESUS FLORES: Where is he in his recovery from shoulder surgery? It's remarkable to think back to that night in Phoenix last May when he took a foul tip off his shoulder. At the time, the Nats said he'd only be out a couple of days. That turned into weeks. That turned into months. Now, with the addition of Pudge Rodriguez, you've got to wonder whether Flores will be ready for Opening Day. I, for one, can't wait to see what kind of shape he's in, how he's swinging the bat, and most importantly how he's throwing the ball.
3. ELIJAH DUKES: We all know how important this season is to Dukes, who has had to endure an awful lot in his young life and now comes to spring training still mourning the death of his father only three weeks after the latter was released from prison following a 14-year stint for second-degree murder. With that weighing heavy on his shoulders, Dukes must now refocus on baseball and confirm once and for all that he is this club's long-term answer in right field. I want to see two things this spring: 1) How Dukes' approach at the plate has progressed, and 2) how he's able to keep his head in the game with so much else swirling around his life.
4. THE YOUNG PITCHERS: Strasburg will get all the attention, but equally deserving of close watch will be Drew Storen, Ross Detwiler, Scott Olsen, Craig Stammen, Garrett Mock, J.D. Martin, Shairon Martis and Collin Balester. Storen will have a shot at making the Opening Day bullpen. The rest of the guys will be battling it out for however many rotation spots are open. At the moment, there are three available spots behind John Lannan and Jason Marquis. At least two guys from that group need to show something this spring, and quick. The Nats can't afford to wait until March 25 for someone to separate himself from the pack.
5. THE GENERAL ATTITUDE AROUND CAMP: Every team comes to spring training in good spirits, saying the clubhouse has great chemistry and this year is going to be different. Well, it's obviously not always true. Last year, camp was derailed by the Smiley Gonzalez saga and Jim Bowden's resignation. Will there be any drama this spring, or will Nats camp actually be a happy place?