VIERA, Fla. -- After center fielder Denard Span put on his Nationals uniform for the first time on Friday at Space Coast Stadium, he said it felt comfortable, even more comfortable than any Twins uniform he ever put on.
"I put on my uniform and it even felt good," Span said. "It fits a little bit better than it did in Minnesota. I don't know if it's the pants, the material or something. It just seems like it hugged my waist a little bit better. It's a refreshing feeling. It's like a new beginning. I'm just a little energized."
There is a good reason Span is energized. He is now on a team that could go as far as the World Series this year. In Span, the Nationals finally a have a prototypical leadoff hitter, a guy who can get on base and score a lot of runs.
Span's arrival also means that Jayson Werth will stay in right field and Bryce Harper will move from center field to left. Both players saw action in center last year, but they are best suited for the corner spots.
Werth was the Nats' leadoff hitter last year, but he will now move down in the order, likely to the No. 2 spot.
"[Span] was really the missing piece," Werth said. "I know Bryce wanted to play center field and felt capable and wanted to build on last year. But Bryce is not your prototypical center fielder. He did a real good job for us and I'm not your prototypical leadoff guy. Bringing in Denard gave us a prototypical center fielder and a prototypical leadoff guy, which is what this team needed. It was one of the missing pieces of the club. We filled a huge hole."
Span, 28, is looking forward to playing with Werth and Harper. Spring Training will help Span get to know their strengths and weaknesses when it comes to playing the corner outfield spots.
"Spring Training is the time to iron out all the communication stuff, to see each other's range," Span said. "This time of the year is real big, not just for me, but all three of us. We want to be on the same page -- just know where to play and how much room we have and all that type of stuff."
Dating back to 2011, the Nationals have been interested in acquiring Span. It was right before the non-waiver Trade Deadline and Span was on the disabled list because of a concussion. Span wondered why the Twins would want to trade him while he was injured. There was talk that the Nationals were willing to trade reliever Drew Storen for him.
"It took me by surprise. It was the first time I ever heard my name in trade rumors. I wasn't ready for it," Span said. "When the rumors started, I was hurt at the time. I was going through a concussion. I was like, 'How in the heck can I get traded and I'm hurt?' I never heard of guys getting traded while being on the DL. I just wasn't ready for it."
The Twins didn't trade Span in '11, but he would make a comeback last year with Minnesota, hitting .283 with a .342 on-base percentage in 128 games. After the season, the Twins dealt Span to Washington for right-hander Alex Meyer.
"Fast forward to this offseason, I was more prepared for it," Span said. "Everything that I'm experiencing now, I'm comparing it to my time in Minnesota because that's all I do know. But I'm happy to be here. I'm happy for change. It's refreshing to be in a new place. It's a new place in my life and new opportunities."
Span would like to improve his basestealing. While he is a fast runner, Span admits there is more work to be done. He feels he has to do a better job at studying pitchers.
"I have to study film," Span said. "Basestealing is an art. It's not all about speed. As fast as I am, people think I should have 50 stolen bases every year. Basestealing is all about reading pitchers, their reactions. All basestealers are not the fastest either. There is a lot that goes into basestealing. I'm striving to be better and do more."
Span is already fitting in as far as being in the Nationals' clubhouse is concerned. It turns out that he loves to talk about the NBA. In fact, Michael Jordan is his all-time favorite player, and he proves it by owning a lot of Air Jordan sneakers.
"We talked basketball a little while on Saturday," teammate Ryan Zimmerman said. "He has a different pair of Air Jordans every day. He has quite a shoe collection."
Asked how many pairs of Air Jordans he owns, Span said, "Oh, man. I don't know. There might not be enough fingers in this clubhouse to count how many I have."
Bill Ladson is a reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog, All Nats All the time. He also could be found on Twitter @WashingNats. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.Less