Trea Turner, all of 27, and heading into his sixth season in D.C, coming off an impressive run in 2019 which saw him put up a .298/.353/.497 line, 37 doubles, five triples, 19 home runs, and 35 stolen bases in 122 games and 569 plate appearances, over which he was worth 3.5 fWAR, will be the longest-tenured* position player on the roster when Washington’s Nationals kick off 2020 this coming Thursday in their season opener with New York’s Yankees. Hard to believe, yes, even for the shortstop.
[ed. note - “ * = As mentioned in the comments, technically, Michael A. Taylor, who debuted in the majors in 2014 (vs Turner, who debuted in 2015), is currently the longest-tenured Nats’ position player on the roster (with Ryan Zimmerman opting out of the season), but the ? that Turner was responding to seemed to assume that Victor Robles would start in center over MAT, thus Turner would be the longest-tenured position player “on the field on Opening Day” in that scenario. MAT has been up and down between the minors and majors too, though he does actually have more official service time according to Cot’s Baseball Contract’s Service Time calculations (4.129 for MAT vs 3.135 for Turner), but anyway, ‘mistakes’ were made, and we should’ve thought of that distinction here beforehand. So there goes our premise. But whatever, just read the rest.”]
“Yeah, definitely odd I guess when you look at it that way,” Turner acknowledged when he spoke to reporters following Saturday night’s exhibition game with the Philadelphia Phillies in the nation’s capital, “but I don’t necessarily feel like that in the sense that I look around, everyone is older than me for the most part. Obviously we’ve got some young guys, but Asdrúbal [Cabrera], and [Starlin] Castro, and [Kurt] Suzuki and [Yan] Gomes, and we still have a lot of veteran leadership and veteran guys that have played this game for a long time, so I guess I’ve been here the longest, that is very weird to say from a position player standpoint, but it feels much the same as last year.”
How does he see his role as one of the veterans on the team now?
“Kind of do my job,” Turner said, defining his role in the clubhouse and on the field, “speak when I need to, keep my mouth shut when I need to, and just work hard and try to compete and help those guys around me. And I think we’re doing a good job of just getting better and dealing with what we’re dealing with and try to just prepare for the season and bring the young guys, keep the old guys healthy, and hopefully I’m somewhere in the middle of those.”
What they’re dealing with, of course, is trying to play baseball amidst an ongoing pandemic, which threatened to (and still might) wipe out the season entirely, but heading into the third week of Spring Training 2.0, Turner and the his teammates are doing the best they can to do what it takes to pull this off safely.
Everyone finally got a feel for what it will be like to have opposing teams in Nationals Park on Saturday night, when the Phillies came to town for an exhibition game. Turner’s take?
“I like it,” Turner said, noting the lack of a crowd in the stands and the piped-in cheering and music teams are experimenting with, instead of having a television audience listen solely to the sounds of the game and the players chirping.
“I think not having the fans is a little weird, but the crowd noise definitely helps. It was fun facing somebody other than our own guys, and you get to see a little bit of the opponent.
“They may be holding back, different things they’re saving for the regular season, but just to get a chance to play another team and other guys, is definitely a benefit.”
With the season opener four days away, and a 60-game sprint of a season coming, barring any issues with COVID-19, travel amidst a pandemic, etc., was the quick ramp-up of Spring Training 2.0 enough for the shortstop to prepare for the 2020 campaign?
“I actually feel really good,” Turner said.
“For me personally I think everything feels like where it needs to be, the only thing I haven’t really done is kind of steal full speed. For me I think that might be the last box to check, but I think — all of us are getting ready. It’s been a weird situation, but I think we’re close. And Max [Scherzer] looked good tonight, when he wanted to do what he does he did it, and it was pretty impressive to see him out there and I only saw Austin [Voth] for one inning, but he looked good, and I think our hitting is going to come along and the more at bats we get the better we’ll do there, so it’s going to be a little bit of a battle but I think it’s coming along well.”
There’s been plenty of talk about the emotions of Opening Day, and how different it’s going to be with teams playing in empty ballparks, but Turner (and others) have said the emotion they’ve come to expect from the season opener will still be there in spite of the conditions under which the 2020 MLB campaign is being conducted.
“I think it will be similar to what they normally are,” he explained. “There’s a difference when games count and they don’t count. We know tonight [in the exhibition with the Phillies], even facing another team that it doesn’t count per se, so we might have done something different here or there, but when it counts and you’re trying to truly win games, and runs matter and situational hitting matters, and doing the right thing on the basepaths matters, I think you’re going to get that adrenaline, you’re going to get that focus, and I think it will be similar to a normal game.
“Because you saw last year,” Turner said, “... we don’t like losing. We like competing. We’ve got a lot of the guys from last year, and a lot of guys that will fight each and every inning, so I think we’ll be able to make up some of that I guess lack of I guess energy in the stadium with our own mental capability.”