The Washington Times - March 24, 2012, 05:40PM

SARASOTA, Fla. — Ian Desmond is Sarasota, Fla., born and bred. The Washington Nationals’ shortstop grew up less than five miles from Ed Smith Stadium, the new spring home of the Baltimore Orioles. He went to high school down the street from the complex and his home now sits less than two miles from it.

As he came out for batting practice on the field Saturday, dozens of fans hollered for his autograph. That’s a common scene, during spring training as well as the regular season, but Saturday they held up their baseballs, pictures and pens and yelled something else at Desmond “Sarasota High School!” they called.

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Desmond smiled and made his way over immediately. With what he estimated was between 100-200 people here to see him play — including his wife Chelsey and son Grayson, as well as friends, family, high school coaches and even kids he’s worked with in camps in the offseason — Desmond was 1-for-3 with a single and played five innings in the field in the Nationals’ 12-3 loss to the Orioles.

But no matter what it said, his stat line did not matter on this day. 

“It was one of the better days of my career,” Desmond said. “This was really exciting for me to be able to get back here and see a bunch of people. This is really the first time I’ve been back here (to play) since I got drafted, so it was pretty cool.”

Ed Smith Stadium has changed a lot in recent years. The Orioles moved here in 2010 and immediately began immense renovations. Desmond watched the changes from afar, driving by every now and then, but hadn’t really seen everything until he walked in Saturday morning.

Desmond, like most of the rest of the Nationals, were impressed by the park and the facilities but even if the game had been held on a backfield there’s a good chance it would have still been a good day for Desmond.

“My mother-in-law told me the day the schedule came out (that the Nationals would be playing here),” Desmond said. “She’s been hyping it up for a while. It was fun.”