VIERA, Fla. -- It is good to be back in Viera, Fla., for Nationals spring training, though the small town takes some hits for its lack of nightlife. But I am here for baseball -- and to cover the Nationals -- and all is fine with the world, especially because snow fell at my home in Maryland the morning of Feb. 26.
I drove past an empty Nationals Park early Feb. 25, hit some light snow flurries about 30 minutes later in Virginia and arrived at Space Coast Stadium Feb. 26 after driving nearly 16 hours, with an overnight stay at a modest hotel in Manning, S.C., Feb. 25.
My first trip to Viera was in 2009, and if memory serves me, it was an overcast Sunday morning, March 1. And the weather was fitting for the mood of the team on the day Jim Bowden resigned as Nationals general manager.
That helped pave the way for the era of new general manager Mike Rizzo, who was at the press conference that day nearly five years ago when Bowden stepped down.
Even after some bumpy moments for the Nationals, including 103 losses that 2009 season, the mood is much brighter these days at Space Coast Stadium -- even if the Nats have been looking for a new spring training home, according to published reports.
Washington won the National League East title in 2012, then lost during the playoffs to the St. Louis Cardinals. That led to the famous "World Series or bust" line from then-manager Davey Johnson before the 2013 season. We all know how that turned out, but again, the Nats turned the page with the hiring of rookie big league skipper Matt Williams.
Williams, a former San Francisco and Arizona third baseman, is used to spring training in Arizona, where he has a home. He will have to get used to the East Coast of Florida, where the Nationals have to drive nearly one hour or more each way to play on the road against the Marlins, Cardinals and Mets.
If you are making the trek down Interstate 95 for spring training and want to see the Nats, I would suggest staying in nearby Melbourne, Fla. Located south and east of Viera, Melbourne has several fancy hotels along the beach. A few miles west, there are several less expensive hotels on New Haven Avenue near exit 180 off I-95. I like the beach at Indialantic, which is also home to a boardwalk and several restaurants, including Max and Porky's Carolina BBQ on Fifth Avenue, which is located a foul ball west from the beach.
If you have school-age children, they may enjoy the Brevard Zoo off Wickham Road, east of I-95 in Viera and about a 10-minute drive from Space Coast Stadium. On the other side of I-95 is a hotel used by some of the minor league players and a Starbucks, where I saw Washington infielder Danny Espinosa last spring training.
Cape Canaveral is about one hour north of Viera and worth the trip -- my wife and I paid a visit there a few spring trainings ago -- the day after a launch. But the main reason to come to Viera is for baseball and the Nationals. Washington begins games Feb. 28 on the road against the Mets, and then plays at home March 2 against the Braves at Space Coast Stadium.