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Wahington Nationals News and Notes

Wahington Nationals open first Spring Training

VIERA, Fla. -- It was 10 p.m. on March 24, 2003, and the Expos had just lost an exhibition game to the Mets at Space Coast Stadium.

After the game, manager Frank Robinson held a 30-minute meeting with then-general manager Omar Minaya and assistant general manager Tony Siegle. Robinson was informed that the Expos had acquired pitcher Livan Hernandez and infielder Edwards Guzman from the Giants for reliever Jim Brower and a player to be named later.

After the meeting ended, Robinson addressed the media, where a reporter asked Robinson about his take on the trade. Robinson took a few bites of his salad and said, "Ask me better than that."

The reporter then rephrased the question, "You have watched Hernandez on TV. What's your take on him?"

Robinson still did not like the question, but said, "We have to wait and see what [Hernandez] will do for us. Simple as that.

"The Giants must have thought that they had at least somebody that was better."

It dawned on the Montreal press that Robinson didn't like the trade. In fact, the manager later admitted that he was not happy with the deal based on Hernandez's poor winning percentage the previous two years and his not-so-stellar performance in the 2002 World Series against the Angels.

But as it turned out, Hernandez, 30, gave Robinson and the Expos a lot of stellar performances in the last two years. In fact, Hernandez was a workhorse on the mound, pitching a Major League-leading 488 1/3 innings and going 26-25 with a 3.41 ERA over that span.

"Livan is from the old school," Robinson said. "To him, his job is finished when the game is over. He doesn't want to give you the ball anywhere in between. That's fine with me, as long as I feel like he's doing the job. You know that when Livan goes on the mound, he will give you seven or eight innings and give the bullpen a rest. That's the key to a guy like that."

Hernandez said on Thursday that the reason Hernandez has been successful the last two years is because he is relaxed and has good friends on the club such as Jose Vidro and Wil Cordero. Hernandez said that when he was playing with the Giants, teammates and the media often criticized him.

"When I pitch, I want to feel comfortable. I pitch better when I'm relaxed," Hernandez said by telephone. "Some people want to play for the Yankees, but I want to play for this team."

Hernandez had a chance to become a free agent after the 2004 season, but on April 13 he re-signed with the team, inking a three-year, $23 million extension.

Now that the Expos have moved to Washington, Hernandez will be playing for the Nationals in a bigger media market. The team ace, Hernandez will also be the Opening Day starter against the Phillies on April 4.

"I feel good about being the Opening Day starter. I have done it a few times," Hernandez said. "I'm looking forward to playing in Washington. We picked up some good players."

But millions of dollars and sustained success on the mound don't tell the whole story about Hernandez, a player his manager often says is wise beyond his years. For example, during meetings, the veteran righty is likely to tell his teammates how to pitch to a certain hitter. Hernandez is known to take young pitchers under his wing, passing along knowledge he has accrued over the years.

"Hernandez really taught me a lot," reliever T.J. Tucker said. "I sit right next to him [at meetings]. I watch him go about his business. He's a fun guy to watch. He goes after guys and he's a competitor."

Hernandez said he loves being a big brother to the young pitchers. When he was a rookie and helping the Marlins win the 1997 World Series, there were veterans on the team who gave him sound advice.

There were a lot of players [on the Marlins] who helped me out," Hernandez said. "I always give advice to the young players. Even if they don't want it, I'm going to give it to them." Nationals Take the Field Thu Mar 3, 7:45 AM ET Top Stories - By Dave Sheinin, Washington Post Staff Writer VIERA, Fla., March 2 -- The cars poured into the parking lots, the stands were packed with fans and the game was on national television. The Washington Nationals, wearing their home white uniforms, talked about how big a day it was, then celebrated the resulting win so thoroughly one expected the champagne bottles to be broken out. CIA's Detention Practices Largely Secret Stem Cell Debate Hits Md. Assemblys Rebuilding Weligama: Michael Dobbs Reports From Sri Lanka The Day in Photos Search news on Canadian Press Slideshow: Nationals Set for MLB Debut Wednesday's game may have been an exhibition, but the emotions were real. At 1:02 p.m. on a chilly, sun-splashed Central Florida day, the Washington nine bounded out of their dugout and onto the Space Coast Stadium field, and a season of firsts had its first first: The Nationals' first exhibition game, the first time any major league outfit had stepped onto a baseball field under the Washington name in 34 years. "This is a big day for us," said left fielder Brad Wilkerson. "It's the start of everything." Everything includes working out a compensation package with the Baltimore Orioles -- still seething about the arrival of a Major League Baseball team on their doorstep -- finalizing a television contract, finding an owner for the franchise and completing renovations at Robert F. Kennedy Memorial Stadium by next month, when the Nationals play their first game in Washington. But first, there were Wednesday's firsts: The first pitch, at 1:06 p.m., delivered by Tony Armas Jr. to New York Mets shortstop Jose Reyes. The ball smacked into the glove of catcher Brian Schneider -- ball one -- who quickly tossed it to a coach near the dugout, to be preserved in the name of history. A day that is normally as mundane as they come -- the first game of spring training, where the statistics don't count, and the starting players put in only a couple of innings' work, run a few sprints in the outfield, then hit the golf courses -- was transformed into something bigger. ESPN televised the game, giving baseball-starved fans in Washington their first glimpses of their new beloveds in full regalia. The tiny press box was overstuffed, with more than 100 media credentials handed out -- a playoff-sized contingent. When the game was over, the television announcers analyzed its finer points. "I liked the [Nationals'] uniforms," said ESPN's Jeff Brantley. "They had a nice, crisp look." And still more firsts. The Nationals' first hit, by shortstop Cristian Guzman, a slap single up the middle in the bottom of the first inning. Their first home run, by right fielder Jose Guillen, a towering two-run blast over the wall in right-center field in the fourth. "Everybody wanted to win this first game, for the organization," said Keith Osik, a 36-year-old, third-string catcher who hit the Nationals' second homer. "That was the feeling: 'Let's do it for D.C. Let's do it for Washington.' " It was not even fair to call this a dress rehearsal, because dress rehearsals occur right before Opening Night. No, this was more like a script read-through, with the actors having barely begun to memorize their lines. The Nationals will not open their real season until April 4 in Philadelphia. "We're getting closer," said Manager Frank Robinson, "to the real thing." Former Washingtonian Mike Flaherty, who saw the Senators' final game in 1971 and now lives in Melbourne Beach, Fla., had praise for the uniforms and realistic expectations for the team, the former Montreal Expos whose payroll will be among the lowest in baseball: "If they win 65 games, that'd be good." His wife, Kathleen, said her father was a batboy with the team in the 1930s. "It's been the whole history of my life," she said as she waited to see the first pitch of the first game. "It's really fun to have them back!" Before the Nationals truly become Washington's boys of summer, they first are Viera's boys of spring -- Viera being the planned community outside of Melbourne on the central part of Florida's east coast, the place the Nationals call home for the spring. From a vista near the top of the stadium, one could survey all Viera has to offer -- mostly pastureland being swallowed by new houses -- and marvel at the stream of cars, stretching as far as the eye could see, that continued to inch into the parking lots until well into the game. A sellout crowd of 7,558 fans -- many of them adorned with Nationals caps, bright red with a script "W," just like the old Senators' caps -- filled the stands and cheered the home team. "This was sweet," said veteran third baseman Vinny Castilla, who is the first to wear uniform No. 9 in Washington since the immortal Ted Williams, manager of the final Senators team in 1971. "You always look forward to the first game of the spring, but that's especially true this year." Most teams wear special practice uniforms for spring training games, saving the good stuff for the regular season. But when Nationals players began arriving at their clubhouse around 8 a.m., they found their home whites hanging in their lockers -- placed there by Mike Wallace, the equipment manager. At the end of the day, there were more firsts for the record book. The team's first spring training win was secured at 3:39 p.m., by a 5-3 score over the Mets. The first winning pitcher was T.J. Tucker. The first save was by Chad Cordero. Check the standings: One game into the spring, and the Nationals are undefeated. Staff writer Joel Achenbach contributed to this report.

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