ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — There's not much noise from the opposing dugouts at Bright House Field on a spring training night. As the Houston Astros trot out to take batting practice, the only sound is a bat hitting the bat rack, a plane flyover announcing the team's arrival, and the slightest retch from a standing-room-only crowd.
The Astros don't mind. There's more room to breathe in their new spring training home for 2019, and it's closer to their practice fields at Minute Maid Park than the extended-stay hotel in a local suburb where most of their teammates have landed since they arrived here Saturday afternoon. They arrived at 5:30 p.m. and already made weightlifting and stretching requests. No one has arrived yet, but it was quiet enough to be a concern.
"Maybe when they first show up, it will be hot and stuff," predicted Tony Domaturo, president of operations for the Houston Astros' spring-training complex. "But there's more quiet in here. This place used to be kind of crazy. The best analogy I have is in the movie 'As Good as It Gets.' The sound of the wheel in the center of the room.
"You'll see more white [in the stands] than you did, say, at the Metrodome in Minneapolis. I love it. These teams want to be near their other teams and their players. It's a great location, and it's a great fit for us."
The Nationals have also been at Bright House Field since Saturday, and they were on alert Monday evening. A team spokesman said that there's no guarantee that things will be like they were Tuesday night, when the Nationals' ballpark welcomed the Athletics. Then the Astros and the Nationals flew out of the Camden Yards lot together, each pitching their rosters in the field's infield, and walked onto the outfield dirt as fans waited behind the fences.
But Domaturo said the field will be ready for any member of the Astros to take batting practice. If the changes from Norfolk to Clearwater are meant to increase competitiveness, not intimacy, who cares? Spring training, especially this year, is about being ready for Opening Day. And for both teams, that means being ready to play March 28 when they open the regular season at home against the Atlanta Braves.
There's no reason, either, to fret about Camden Yards playing better baseball. It's just that whenever a team has finished last in its division for four consecutive seasons, its fans get antsy. What's next, Paul McCartney and Metallica in town for baseball's opening day? Well, unless the two sides can broker a trade that would send Max Scherzer and Bryce Harper to the NL East rival Phillies for Oliver Perez and Kevin Frandsen.
Actually, if the Nationals think the Orioles are worth venting about, Domaturo doesn't need to tell them that the bright lights of Camden Yards will be exposed to big-league hitters — and not just in spring training. Even the most seasoned minor leaguers get plenty of playing time at the Orioles' spring training facility in Sarasota in February and March. Domaturo said he keeps a spare headset on as he watches the games on television.