WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. — Bryce Harper pantomimed a swing, flipped his imaginary bat, pointed to where the home dugout would be and trotted around the bases while the 100 or so Washington fans surrounding the practice field roared.
Spring training is a time for practicing the little things. On Saturday in Nationals camp, that meant rehearsing walk-off home runs.
“It’s going to happen,” first-year manager Dave Martinez told the players. “One of you guys are going to hit a walk-off home run.”
Washington position players began their day with baserunning drills on one of the Nationals back fields. Before heading to an adjacent field for batting practice, each position player had a chance to practice one game-winning trip around the bases.
The Nationals hit three walk-off home runs in 2017, winning a total of nine games in walk-off fashion.
“I tell them, just like everything else, we work really hard, I also want them to have fun,” Martinez said.
Some players took their swings, pretended to lay the bat on the plate, and casually made their way around the bases.
First base coach Tim Bogar extended his hand to its highest point, forcing 5-foot-9 minor league catcher Jhonatan Solano to sprint and leap to deliver a proper high-five.
And then their was veteran Howie Kendrick, who re-enacted the celebration from his Aug. 13 grand slam that defeated San Francisco in 11 innings last season.
Kendrick released a primal scream as he headed toward first base, gave a leaping high-five to third base coach Bob Henley, and raced to the plate where he celebrated in a scrum with teammates.
“Howie was all in,” Martinez said. “I loved it.”
Recounting the hypothetical at-bat, Kendrick said he blasted an imaginary hanging breaking ball into the seats.
“It’s something fun,” Kendrick said afterward. “Kind of mind games, I guess.”
Fun was the key word.
“I guess it can’t hurt,” said shortstop Trea Turner, who did a version of the Sammy Sosa double hop leaving the box. “Why not practice, right?”
Martinez didn’t mind a little showboating.
He didn’t intend to discipline batters who flipped fictional bats or pimped their shots – a policy that will carry over into the season.
“To me, everybody does it,” Martinez said of bat flips. “So I mean, you’ve got to pick your battles.”
Martinez never hit more that 12 homers in a season during his 16 major league seasons and didn’t elect to reprise his home run routine.
His instruction to players wasn’t specifically to envision, and pre-enact, a walk-off home run.
Martinez simply told them to practice a walk-off win.
“They all ran around the bases like it was a home run,” Martinez said. “If it was me, I would have walked to first base and got a base hit, and game over.”