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Porter's head, heart still with Nationals

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Porter's head, heart still with Nationals

PHILADELPHIA -- On the day he was officially named manager of the Houston Astros, Bo Porter found himself in an unusual, yet familiar place: The third base coaching box, wearing a Nationals uniform.

That will remain the case as long as the Nationals are still playing ballgames in 2012. Once their season ends, Porter will head home to Houston and turn his full-time attention to his new job. Until then, he insists his head and his heart will be entirely in Washington.

"Right now," Porter said, "all I really want for Christmas is one thing: a World Series ring."

"My focus is on the Washington Nationals and our quest to win the World Series title," Porter added. "I don't want this to be anything that distracts from what we're doing here. We have a chance to really do something special. The guys in the clubhouse, they know that I'm committed. Davey Johnson, the rest of the coaching staff, Mike Rizzo, the Lerner family, they know that I'm committed to what we have going on here."

In a perfect world, the Astros would have waited until season's end to offer Porter their managerial job. But they had already identified him as their top choice, and perhaps worried other clubs with openings might make a run at the 40-year-old, they decided to make their formal offer on Wednesday.

Owner Jim Crane and general manager Jeff Luhnow flew from Houston to Philadelphia and told Porter in person. His initial reaction was one of joy. It wasn't until he called his wife Stacie, a Houston native, that things turned emotional.

"When I heard her break down on the phone, it really hit me like: 'Wow,'" Porter said. "It was good. It's a good feeling. There's only 30 of these jobs. Whenever you get an opportunity to be named the manager, it's always exciting. With the cherry on top, it's in my hometown. And I'm excited about it."

Because Porter remains under contract with the Nationals through October, the Astros had to get permission from GM Mike Rizzo to make the job offer now. Rizzo didn't hesitate to give his blessing, and he had no problem agreeing to a scenario that will allow Porter to finish out the season here before he leaves the organization after two seasons as third base coach under Jim Riggleman and Davey Johnson.

"It's the fair thing to do," Rizzo said. "I would never stand in anybody's way to get the dream job of their life, in your hometown. It wouldn't be fair for me to say: 'Wait till after the season,' and then them go on their interview process and hire somebody else. That would be selfish of me, and I wouldn't do it."

Nationals execs, coaches and players expressed both excitement for Porter and disappointment they'll lose a popular member of the staff. In addition to his duties at third base, Porter was responsible for coaching the team's outfielders and played a key role in Bryce Harper's development as a rookie.

Porter also was seen as a potential successor to Johnson once the 69-year-old skipper decides to retire. This move obviously takes him out of the mix for that position, and perhaps elevates bench coach Randy Knorr to the role of leading candidate.

"Yeah, we thought of Porter, the plan was that we brought him in here and he was a manager prospect," Rizzo said. "We tried to surround Davey with as many manager prospects as possible, so he could mentor them and so hopefully we have good internal candidates if and when we need to make a decision on that."

The Nationals also will need to hire a new third base coach for 2013. The search won't begin in earnest until the offseason, but both Rizzo and Johnson hinted they would like to promote someone from within the organization.

Tony Beasley, who managed at Class AAA Syracuse this season and served as Frank Robinson's third base coach in 2006, is a likely candidate for that job.

"Whenever I took a new job, I always wanted people in the organization, because they already knew the talent, knew a lot about the makeup because they were in the organization," Johnson said. "This is a fine organization, got a lot of quality coaches and we have a lot of people that I think highly of in our system. I don't think that will be a problem."

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Nationals' Bryce Harper mashes monster homer on second pitch of spring training

Nationals' Bryce Harper mashes monster homer on second pitch of spring training

The Nationals played their first game of spring training today against the Mets. They won, but that's not nearly the biggest story of the day. It was Bryce Harper's first at-bat that stole the show. 

On just the second pitch he saw of spring training, from lefty Sean Gilmartin, Harper mashed a ginormous home run to right center field. MLB.com shared video of the bomb. 

According to Jorge Castillo of the Washington Post, Harper smacked the ball at least 400 feet. In his second at-bat, he hit a line-drive single on the first pitch. 

Let's just say it was an exciting start to the year for Harper, who won the 2015 NL MVP only to endure a let-down last season. As Castillo points out, the slugger hit .226 against left-handed pitchers in 2016. 

Harper enters spring training at 230 pounds, up 15 pounds of muscle from last year. 

“I just felt going into the offseason you want to get as strong as you can, try to maintain your weight the best you can and just do everything the right way,” he told the Post. 

MORE NATIONALS: Baker thinks DC sports teams can win a championship this year

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Nationals' Dusty Baker thinks Washington teams are positioned to win a championship this year

Nationals' Dusty Baker thinks Washington teams are positioned to win a championship this year

Nationals manager Dusty Baker is back for a second year and feeling optimistic for his Washington team. Spring training has begun in Florida and it has Baker thinking about how the Nats can create some excitement for local sports fans.

In an interview with American University’s WAMU radio station, Baker said D.C. wants to be a "city of champions.” Furthermore, he thinks it can be pulled off before the year ends.

"I came here to win a championship and you know I would love nothing more than to bring one to Washington. Washington, I didn’t know it before I got there, but it’s had a tough time getting out of the first round in a number of sports."

He projected the Nationals to bring home the next championship for the District, but he knows they have competition of late. 

"Washington Wizards are looking pretty good. I’m pulling for them first because their season ends before ours, so I’ve been really following them. The Capitals have a good thing going. I started watching the Redskins more this year.

"You know once it gets contagious in a city and you get a positive attitude throughout the city, then it transfers to the sports teams. So we want to be known as a city of champions, before the end of the year hopefully."

Baker has a reputation for bringing out the best in his teams, especially managing star players. He managed the San Francisco Giants for ten seasons before moving on to the Chicago Cubs, a team he managed for four seasons.

He's never won a World Series, but has taken a team to Game 7. He also finished third for the 2016 National League Manager of the Year award.

So, what are Baker’s steps for the Nationals to get that ultimate prize? A simple formula, really.

"I think that we’ve got to stay healthy, number one. We’re trying to fill the holes that we need to fill, and we’ve got to play," he said. "You know last year we were very close, we were one hit away or one play away or one pitch away from going to the next round against the Cubs."

While he says he came to win Washington a championship, he's also enjoying his time in the city. 

"I love D.C. Before that, San Francisco was my favorite town; that’s my home. But I tell you, D.C. is definitely in the running," he said. "I thought San Francisco had the best seafood, but man, you guys have the best seafood I think in the world."

Thanks, Dusty!

The Nationals play their first spring training game against the New York mets on Saturday.

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