- The Washington Times - Saturday, February 18, 2006

So, no Sammy Sosa in Viera, Fla., this spring for the Washington Nationals. What a shame. I was so looking forward to those daily post-workout question and answer sessions:

“Sammy, we saw you limping out there today. Anything wrong?”

“Sammy, how did you pull the groin?”

“Sammy, is the shoulder getting any better, and when do you think you’ll be able to swing the bat again?”

“Sammy, is it true you wear the same size uniform now as the batboy?”

No, as pitchers and catchers report to Viera today to start the second spring training of the Nationals, we will be denied the Sosa drama, as he turned down the Nationals’ nonguaranteed $500,000 contract offer, with incentives. Too bad. It would have been a good one, a go-to notebook filler during the lean times.

Not that there will be a shortage of Nationals drama this spring. This isn’t going to be a repeat of the “baseball-is-back-in-Washington-and-everybody’s-happy” theme. There will be some clubhouse intrigue this time around.

There is the arrival of the $10 million man who won’t be told where to play, Alfonso Soriano, which should be quite the soap opera on several levels.

And, there is the Jose Vidro watch. If Vidro appears to be healthy enough to play, will he be the second baseman? Will that create tension with Soriano, who has pretty much declared if he is not at second base, he’s nowhere.

Then there is the Jose Guillen watch, which is always interesting, even when he is on his best behavior, as he was last year. There may be some resentment over who is top dog on the team. Vidro had been, but his injuries last year took him out of the picture and opened the door for Guillen, who tried to make his presence felt in the clubhouse. It can be a strange dynamic, though, when the top dog — or the player who perceives himself as such — is making 40 percent of what the newly arrived highest paid player on the team is making (Guillen will make $4 million this season, compared to Soriano’s $10 million).

And what will Livan Hernandez make of all this? Though a pitcher (which often limits how much influence a player can have in a clubhouse), he is a powerful presence on this team. We never did find out what the heck he was talking about when he went on a tirade after the middle of last season. Hopefully, this time when he starts screaming about ESPN, the ombudsman will be close by to address his concerns.

But, the most dramatic show could take place in the offices of manager Frank Robinson, general manager Jim Bowden and team president Tony Tavares. It is no secret there is big-time tension between Robinson and Tavares, and it played out this winter when Robinson was forced to let most of his coaches go and accept a new group not of his direct choosing. It’s never a good thing when the coaches don’t owe their jobs to the manager. It creates an atmosphere of distrust. And now there are at least two new members of the coaching staff who conceivably could step in and take over as manager should Robinson either step down or get fired — former Brewers manager Davey Lopes, the first base coach, and third base coach Tony Beasley, who spent five years managing in the Pittsburgh Pirates minor league system and is considered to be a rising star as a managerial candidate.

Then again, any team that has Lopes involved is the better for it. I knew Lopes from his days coaching in Baltimore, and he may have been the most respected coach I have ever seen.

All of these tensions certainly could be heightened quickly if the Nationals get off to a poor start and fall out of competition in the tough National League East.

No, this won’t likely be a repeat of the Nationals’ inaugural storybook season.

But it should make for some pretty interesting stories — even without Sammy the batboy.

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