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The Nats clubhouse atmosphere? Electric. The reason? Baseball cards.


WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. — After practice late Friday morning, as players returned to the Washington Nationals clubhouse to await their spring training game, a circle formed around Riley Adams. The backup catcher wore purple latex gloves and held a box of baseball cards. Closer, Kyle Finnegan held a hat containing small pieces of paper. And for some reason – which was initially a mystery to the players who got halfway through the process – everyone was screaming.

“A Joey Votto!” Adams shouted as confused infielders Nasim Nuñez and Darren Baker, bags on their shoulders from practice, entered the commotion.

“Are they playing?” Nuñez wondered aloud. Baker walked straight to an opening in the circle, bat still in hand, and tried to figure out what was going on. Surprisingly, for a baseball club, where fantasy sports and golf betting are part of life, the answer to Nunez’s question was no. They weren’t playing. They collected.

A group including Adams, Finnegan, right-hander Cade Cavalli, outfielder Lane Thomas and catcher Drew Millas had donated money to buy a box of rare baseball cards. Players drew names from a hat to see who would keep which card.

Adams was the master of ceremonies, carefully removing each card from the box, showing it carefully with his gloved fingers, then announcing how rare the card claimed to be. A certain Edgar Martínez was one of the five. A Ken Griffey Jr. was one of the four. A David Ortiz autograph was highly coveted. Everyone was very polite when a rookie card of Dansby Swanson ended up with Cavalli. But the biggest prize was undisputed.

“Shohei!” Adams said, holding up a shiny Shohei Ohtani card as the circle tightened slightly. It was Thomas’ turn to choose a name from the hat. He looked at the newspaper. The name written on it was his. The room exploded.

Around this time, new National Joey Gallo walked to the circle. Few people in the crowd had as much experience as he did, and few of the clubs he lived in were as young as this one.

“It’s been really fun. Even things like that happen,” Gallo said, pointing to the circle. “It’s a great clubhouse. It’s a lot of fun coming in every day, interacting with our guys. It’s a young group, but that’s also a good thing. Everyone is energetic. It’s been a lot of fun. Honestly, I’m very happy to be here.

Gallo experienced quadriceps soreness earlier this week that limited him to hitting only over the past few days, although he insisted that if it were the regular season he would play. He played first base earlier this week, and he seems likely to play many innings in the outfield as well, once the leg heals.

But because of his caution, Gallo did not participate in the drills that Bob Henley orchestrated for his outfielders Friday — throwing drills that included homemade targets that Henley had prepared. These targets were photos of the faces of Thomas and Victor Robles. Henley reported that his outfielders, not coincidentally, demonstrated pinpoint accuracy.

Among the Nationals’ other outfield options is veteran Jesse Winker, who started in left field against the Houston Astros on Friday afternoon. Winker, 30, was an All-Star in 2021 with the Cincinnati Reds, who weakened significantly this winter after struggling with consistency and injuries in 2022 and 2023. When healthy, he has a 20-homer power, something the Nationals lacked last season and could use while they wait their corps of young acrobats to break into the big leagues.

“(Winker) lost so much weight, he moves a lot better. He can also play first base and DH. We took a couple ground balls there, and he looked as natural as possible,” said Nationals manager Dave Martinez, who added that he hopes to rotate Gallo, Winker and Joey Meneses between the outfield. outfield, first base and designated hitter positions.

“This way we keep them all healthy. We need these guys to hit,” Martinez said. “I want to keep them on the field as much as possible, and if I can move them here and there and let them DH, I will.”

The only other injury the Nationals are monitoring is to reliever Dylan Floro, whose pitching shoulder tightened last week. Martinez said Floro held a bullpen session Thursday and should soon be able to start holding live batting practice. Otherwise, the young nationals seem almost carefree, as energetic as the people around them remember this time of year, hoping for progress.


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