CLEARWATER, Fla. -- The trip from Viera to the Phillies' Spring Training complex here isn't a quick one, Davey Johnson reconfirmed Wednesday morning. A full-time Florida resident, Johnson became traffic-trapped as he approached Tampa on Route 4 en route to the complex. And he assumed the Nationals' bus from Viera was similarly trapped. The Nationals' manager assumed he'd hear some griping when he arrived.
"Everyone wants to play at home," Johnson said. "But I don't think every team can."
He was quite aware his starting pitcher, Stephen Strasburg, would have preferred to pitch in Viera. "He wants to pitch at home, Gio [Gonzalez] wants to pitch at home ... hey, I want to manage at home," Johnson said. But the likely sequence of the Nationals' rotation demands certain pitchers throw on certain days. Strasburg is on track to start against the Marlins April 1, Opening Day.
It wasn't always that way for Johnson's teams and his team's No. 1 starters. Dwight Gooden lived in Tampa, and the Mets trained in nearby St. Petersburg in 1984, Gooden's first spring. Long trips were uncommon then. And Johnson occasionally allowed Gooden to drive from home to games in Tampa, Dunedin and Cleawater. As springs passed, Gooden avoided long trips and bus rides altogether, and not merely because he was who he was or because of convenience.
Gooden used bribery to stay at home.
He was well aware of the sweet tooth of pitching coach Mel Stottlemyre, and he fed it as a means of avoiding road exhibition starts. Stottlemyre loved Gummi Bears and any Gummi candy. Ice cream was his greatest vice, but it didn't travel well.
Risking his good standing with his coach, Gooden bought a large jar of Gummi worms and made his payment though, unbeknownst to Stottlemyre, he had slipped a brightly colored finishing lure that closely resembled the Gummi worms, into the jar.
Stottlemyre would load up the back pocket of his uniform pants with his in-game snacks.
On judgment day, Gooden waited and watched from the dugout bench. He saw his coach stuff a few worms -- and one lure -- into his mouth. The rubbery plastic lure didn't chew well. Gooden wound up on the dugout floor, holding his belly as he laughed. But he still didn't pitch on the road. "The deal was I had to supply Mel with Gummis," he said. "And I did."
When his workday was done Wednesday, Strasburg chuckled about the Gummi anecdote. Two of his three starts thus far have been in the road, and he recalled last spring when Gonzalez didn't make a home start. He acknowledged he might have to find the weakness of pitching coach Steve McCatty.
Marty Noble is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.