WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. — Hump day had a more tangible meaning for the Washington Nationals.
New manager Dave Martinez had a trio of camels brought to spring training camp Wednesday, four-legged visual aids to help players launch a journey aimed at getting over the franchise’s playoff hump.
“I don’t know if it’s so much as embrace it, but just not worry about it because so much has been made about it,” first baseman Ryan Zimmerman said. “It’s fair for people to write about it, but making the playoffs every year, winning divisions every year to me is already over the hump. We used to lose 90 games every year. People forget that.”
The Nationals have reached the playoffs in four of the past six seasons but have not won a postseason series since relocating to Washington before the 2005 season.
Martinez joined players for the team’s daily “Circle of Trust” meeting on the turf infield outside the clubhouse at 9:30 a.m. Not long into the meeting, first-base coach Tim Bogar and third-base coach Bob Henley rode camels onto the field.
“I thought it was a great idea,” said Bogar, whose first foray into camel riding came on a cow named Blondie. “I thought it was something just to make sure they cleared their minds and they had fun with it. We embraced it. I thought the guys reacted to it real well. From what I could see, everybody was having a good time with it.”
Wearing a Nationals floppy hat with a red-and-white checkered towel flowing underneath, Henley repeatedly yelled “Hump Day!” while atop a camel named Lawrence. Bogar and Henley parked their camels on each side of the walkway that leads from the meeting area to the practice fields, and players walked between.
“It was fun,” reliever Ryan Madson said. “It’s fun. It’s nice to have a camp loose. It’s nice to have the courtesy to have a loose camp when you have a good team.”
Unlike many of his teammates, Madson has some familiarity with camels. A camel named Hoover lives near his Arizona home, and Madson frequently takes his daughters on bike rides to visit the camel.
“He got a little overweight, so he just lays down a lot now,” Madson said. “They’ve got him on a diet.”
There was some concern that the Florida camels might have smelled Hoover on Madson.
“The one was looking at me funny,” Madson said, sticking out his lower jaw for emphasis. “It was showing its tooth at me, and he had that kind of crazy look in his eye, so maybe it was his long lost cousin.”
After the players walked the camel gauntlet, Bogar and Henley rode Blondie and Lawrence to the practice field. No one rode the third camel, named Brown. He made the trip, according to Bogar, because Blondie refuses to go anywhere without Brown.
When not motivating a professional baseball team, the camels reside at a petting zoo in nearby Jupiter.
In his first season as Nationals manager, Martinez spent 10 years as Joe Maddon’s bench coach with the Chicago Cubs and Tampa Bay Rays. Maddon is well known for his spring training stunts designed to keep players loose.
The camels exited the Ballpark of the Palm Beaches well before the Nationals returned to the clubhouse following the workout. Washington played Miami in Jupiter later Wednesday.
“All I’ve got to ask you guys is, Can you still smell me?” said Bogar before boarding the bus.