WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. -- As many of the players walked into the clubhouse for the first time, their eyes lit up in awe. This room could rival their clubhouse back at Nationals Park, with 70-inch TVs, a Nats logo on the ceiling, comfy chairs and more than 60 lockers in a spacious circular clubhouse.
Pitchers and catchers reported to The Ballpark of the Palm Beaches on Tuesday, the first chance for many of the Nationals to see their new facility. There is still construction to maneuver around in various parts of the complex, which is shared with the Astros, but the Nationals say they have everything they need to get their work done.
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"Looks great. Obviously it's not done yet. From what I've seen, it looks really nice," right-hander Joe Ross said. "This is pretty significant upgrade from last year. It's basically like our [Nationals Park] locker room, if not slightly better. It's great. I'm glad we got to come down here. I haven't seen the actual fields, but the cages and bullpens look pretty ridiculous."
Ross marveled at how large the batting cages were and the number of bullpen mounds lined up next to them, although no one seemed to know the exact number of mounds -- some said 12, Ross thought 14, others say 20. There's a multipurpose turf agility field that players were using to run sprints on Tuesday morning and a pool being installed next to it.
Pitchers and catchers will hold their first workout on Thursday, and the first full-squad workout is on Sunday. The actual ballpark is still under construction, with the suite and concession areas still in need of finishing touches, although all 6,500 seats are in place. Still, both the Nationals and Astros expect everything to be finished by the time they play each other on Feb. 28 in the park's first Grapefruit League game.
"I'll tell you, this is state of the art," manager Dusty Baker said. "It's going to be easier to do our work. The fields are in great condition. Sure, they've got some things they still have to zero in on, but it's outstanding."
Baker recalled coming to West Palm Beach for Spring Training when he played with the Braves in the late 1960s and early '70s, even if he does not recognize much of the town anymore. There's a Home Depot where the old Municipal Stadium used to be. Baker wanted to stay close to where he used to fish everyday alongside Hank Aaron and Ralph Garr, but he could not find a place there anymore. So he settled for a place on the beach, he said, with a laugh.
"It's sort of walking back through time and in your life," Baker said.
The Nationals are hoping to form some new memories in this town. The ballpark may be nearly complete, but their work here is just beginning.
Jamal Collier covers the Nationals for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter at @jamalcollier. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.