Nationals’ first victory this season comes against the clock

Before one of the Washington Nationals’ first spring training workouts this month, reliever Shawn Kelley ambled through the new 51,000-square-foot home clubhouse, under a 24-foot-wide curly W flashing overhead, and toward the door that leads to six shiny new practice fields behind the stadium.

He pulled out a rectangular digital clock, the basic kind with the big red numbers, and set it to the time, 8:55 a.m. Then he placed it on top of a nearby refrigerator where nearly all of his teammates could see it. Now the Nationals clubhouse, with its 10 televisions and dozen red leather chairs and speakers in the ceiling, felt complete.

That clock might as well be an LED sign reading “irony,” because time – or lack thereof – has defined the evolution of The Ballpark of the Palm Beaches, from its groundbreaking fewer than 16 months ago to its final stages. The Nationals and Houston Astros needed a new home for spring 2017, and somewhat remarkably, they have it – a few kinks aside.

When the Nationals and Astros play each other today in the first game at the new facility, the stadium will be ready. Concession carts with names such as Lone Star Cantina and Snow Birds will be in place. Pepsi and other advertising signs will hang on the concourse walls, and streamlined speakers will blast music from behind support beams.

Exactly nine months ago Sunday, those concourses were mounds of dirt with concrete slabs around them. A flagpole stood in the middle of undulating dirt, covered in tire treads, to mark the place where home plate would be.

“There were times when we were worried about it getting done on time,” Nationals General Manager Mike Rizzo said. “The biggest nightmare I had was the players not being able to prepare fully.”

The Nationals have not confirmed the final cost of the project, though an Astros representative told the Palm Beach Post the total cost is likely to climb past $150 million, $15 million more than the figure originally…

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