When Denard Span joined his Washington Nationals team for spring training, he looked around the clubhouse at the team headquarters in Viera, Fla., and got THAT feeling again.
There was third baseman Ryan Zimmerman, whose teams lost at least 89 games in each of his first five seasons with the Nationals but who now is enjoying life as a contender.
There was busy-haired right fielder Jayson Werth, the on-base machine. There were Bryce Harper and Stephen Strasburg, two youngsters just tapping their once-in-a-generation talent.
It’s the first time Span has been the new kid on the block, having been traded from the Twins, his original organization, to the Nationals in November. When he felt for his new team’s pulse and met his teammates, it reminded him of the Twins teams he went to the playoffs with in 2009 and 2010.
“The feeling I got when I walked into the clubhouse for the first time was that the team knows they are good,” Span said. “Everybody is young, everybody is in their prime. And coming off the season they had last year, the way they ended the season wasn’t a good feeling.
“Everyone is young. Everyone is athletic. Everyone is just hungry, man.”
The Nationals led the majors with 98 wins last season and looked headed to the National League Championship Series when they blew a late lead to the Cardinals in Game 5. That’s the bad taste in their mouths.
All the cool kids are back for another run at the title. Strasburg, with the 100-miles-per-hour fastball, was limited to 159⅓ innings last season in his comeback year from Tommy John surgery. The leash is off this season.
The Nats have lacked a true leadoff hitter for a few seasons and nearly dealt for Span during the 2011 season. Now they have him, although it cost them prized pitching prospect Alex Meyer.
Washington checked out Span thoroughly to make sure he was fine after a concussion and resulting symptoms limited him to 70 games in 2011.
Washington can’t wait to see how Span’s career .357 on-base percentage ignites the offense. The Nats won 98 games with Werth taking over leadoff duties. What will happen with Span at the top and Werth lower in the order?
“We’ve got our leadoff hitter that you guys have been talking about for two years,” first baseman Adam LaRoche told Florida Today early in camp. “Nice to have someone to fill that hole and let Jayson go back to a spot where he can start driving in some runs. I like [Span].”
Now with their missing piece, Span and his .357 postseason average, the Nationals can focus on making a long playoff run.