Nationals building relationships

Nationals build relationships on Caravan

HAGERSTOWN, Md.-- Jim Eells took the day off Thursday.

A longtime baseball fan, the Martinsburg, W.Va., resident has become an avid follower of the Nationals. That's why he took a sabbatical from his job with the government to come to the team's Winter Caravan.

"I love baseball," Eells said. "Anytime something's baseball, I like to be there. I just thought I'd come out and be a part of it. I told [the boss], 'Hey, I want to go to the baseball thing.' I loved it. Anytime you can rub elbows with the players and find out what's going on with the team, it's good. They're friendly, and they'll talk to you."

Eells did what most people in the Crystal Ballroom at the Clarion Hotel in Hagerstown did -- he got a chance to talk to pitcher Mike O'Connor, outfielder Nook Logan and manager Manny Acta, along with other team officials. The Nationals will be hooking up with the Class A Hagerstown Suns starting this season, and used this Western Maryland town as a stop on their week-long caravan.

Adults and kids loved getting a chance to sit and talk with the Nationals. Acta and the players had their home jerseys on and ate lunch with the fans. Boys and girls, men and women all queried the Nationals about a variety of baseball subjects.

Sam Weaver, a 12-year old from Fairfax, Va., came to the event with a friend and got to eat lunch with Logan. The Fairfax kids asked Logan a number of questions about how he became a Major League player -- specifically the things he went through.

"It was cool, being able to talk to players that play in the [Majors]," Weaver said. "We talked to Nook Logan about how he was a shortstop until he was 14, and they moved him to center field. It was nice."

In an interesting twist, O'Connor was actually making a return trip to Hagerstown. He played for Savannah in the Class A South Atlantic League in 2003, and that team came to Hagerstown to play the Suns and stayed in the same hotel this event took place in.

O'Connor spent a long time talking to different people, often answering questions about how his surgically-repaired elbow was faring.

"This is where you're going to find the true baseball fans, a lot of times," O'Connor said. "You can tell the fans are into it here. It should be great for them here. It's a good ride for people to get to D.C., but I think people will come to Nationals games from here."

Dave Jageler is one of the team's broadcasters and has been at the various Winter Caravan events. He continues to be impressed with how much the fans know about this team and the good questions that Acta and the players have fielded so far.

Jageler said the first questions always seem to involve the team's pitching rotation and eventually get to how Nick Johnson's leg is doing or what the Nationals will do to replace Alfonso Soriano on offense.

"The events have been very well attended wherever we've gone," Jageler said. "The fans are very passionate. It's fans who are knowledgeable about baseball. They are up on the team."

The fans' love of the game and interest in the Nationals could make life easier for the Hagerstown Suns this season.

Hagerstown was once an Orioles affiliate, but most recently had been with the Mets. General manager Will Smith was delighted at seeing the ballroom nearly filled with fans in the middle of the day.

"We don't really push the Major League affiliate all that much because there wasn't a local tie, until now," Smith said. "It's a new wrinkle. Now we can market a Major League club. It was a good event. It went great."

It went so well that Eells' boss likely won't question his asking for the day off.

Jeff Seidel is a contributor to This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.