By David Driver
Used with permission
Special to The Washington Times
Feb. 23, 2018
WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. — Matt Adams, wearing his No. 15 white jersey with red letters, lay on the grass in short left field at a practice field here Thursday morning at the Washington Nationals spring training complex.
The strapping 6-foot-3, 245-pound slugger did a series of leg stretching exercises along with about 25 of his teammates as a nearby jukebox blasted “For What It’s Worth (Stop, Hey What’s That Sound)” from the 1960s.
The sound that is music to the ears these days for new Nationals manager Dave Martinez is that of the baseball coming off the bat of Adams, 29, who is also in his first season with Washington.
“He looks really, really good. Watching him take batting practice and the ball coming off his bat, it is impressive,” Martinez said of Adams. “Right now he is just at first base. We will get him in the outfield a little bit later on in camp.”
Before they joined the Nationals this offseason, Adams and Martinez were bitter rivals in the National League Central.
And both were able to accomplish with their previous clubs something that has eluded Washington — postseason success and ultimately a World Series appearance.
Adams made his big league debut with the St. Louis Cardinals in 2012 and was with the team until he was traded to the Atlanta Braves during last season. He was with the club in 2013 when the Cardinals lost to the Boston Red Sox in the World Series.
“He is definitely a competitor and wants to win and he will do whatever it takes to win,” Martinez said of Adams.
Martinez was a bench coach for manager Joe Maddon when the Chicago Cubs, the long-time St. Louis nemesis, won the Fall Classic in 2016.
Now Adams will try to get his first ring while playing for Martinez, who took over for Dusty Baker. The Nationals have never won a postseason series, losing in the first round four times under three managers since 2012.
But that didn’t stop Adams from signing with the Nationals in December. He had very few connections to the club outside of new pitching coach Derek Lilliquist, who held the same position with the Cardinals for nearly six years.
“I am thankful for this opportunity and being part of this team and being able to go deep into the playoffs, for sure,” said Adams, standing by his locker this week at the FITTEAM Ballpark of the Palm Beaches.
Having a chance to contend for a title played a big role in his decision.
“It is huge. Everyone’s goal is to make it to the World Series and bring that championship home,” said Adams, who fell just short of that in St. Louis. “The guys who are here on this team and the leaders we have is special. I am glad to be a part of it.”
Adams is one of the few products of a Division II college who is active in the majors.
He played three years at Slippery Rock, north of Pittsburgh, part of the Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference. He played for coach Jeffrey Messer, who has held the post for 33 years.
“He was a special, dominant hitter the first day he stepped on campus,” according to Messer. “He was primarily a catcher and DH his first year and a catcher/first baseman his sophomore and junior years. I definitely think Matt could be a backup catcher in the (majors) if needed. He was a solid catcher in college and numerous teams looked at him as a potential catching prospect.”
Adams had the same head coach in college but will now play for his third manager in a calendar year with Martinez.
Former St. Louis teammate Jon Jay, who played for the Cubs last season, told Adams he’ll enjoy playing for Martinez.
“I have talked to John Jay and other guys who have been around him and they have great things to say,” Adams said. “I feel like he is a lot like Joe. He is smart about how he puts the lineup together. It seems like it is going to be a fun year, for sure.”
“Everyone’s goal is to make it to the World Series and win it,” Adams added. “A group of 30 guys that have the same goal goes a long way.”
Last season Adams hit .291 with one homer in 31 games for the Cardinals. After he was traded to the Braves he hit .271 with 19 homers in 100 games for Atlanta.
Adams will be the backup first baseman to starter Ryan Zimmerman and could see some time in left field. He takes over Adam Lind’s role, who hit .303 with 14 homers last season for the Nationals but was not re-signed.
After the 2016 season, Adams met with a fitness expert he had met while playing with the Cardinals. He’s since lost about 30 pounds and about eight percent body fat. “A testament to how hard he worked,” Martinez said.