Last season was unique for every Major League Baseball player with the short 60-game season.
And the winter was also different for Lynchburg native Daniel Hudson, a right-handed reliever for the Washington Nationals.
The family man said Monday he spent part of the off-season providing "technical support" for his first-grade child with online learning at his home in Arizona. He and his wife had their third child during the 2019 playoffs.
"Trying to figure that out was pretty difficult," he told reporters Monday on a Zoom call about at-home learning.
Now the former Old Dominion University standout is hoping for a more normal season. "My throwing program was pretty similar to what I have done in the past," he said of his off-season. "I am looking forward to getting started."
Last year, he was 3-2 with an ERA of 6.10 in 21 games with 10 saves.
"There are positives and negatives to take out of every season," Hudson said. "You kind of take it with a grain of salt. Sixty games is 60 games. It was a little bit difficult to sit down and take value and an assessment of it. At the same time, we got through it healthy."
The Washington bullpen also includes Will Harris, a former player for the Staunton Braves in the Valley Baseball League, and newcomer Brad Hand, who led the American League with 16 saves last season with Cleveland.
Hudson is not worried about who has the closer role.
"The egos go by the wayside. I feel we will be ready to go. We are all going to be ready to go," said Hudon, 33, who went to Princess Anne High in Virginia Beach and was drafted out of ODU by the White Sox in 2008.
Hudson was glad the Nationals landed Hand, a former starter with Miami.
"It was great. I love the signing," Hudson said. "Brad is a great asset to have down there in the bullpen. I am looking forward to working alongside of him. He has dominated the ninth inning for a long time. Depth is great. Just to have different looks and different options, you have cutter guys, you have sinker guys, you have guys that throw very hard. It is going to be exciting."
Even with the departure of Sean Doolittle, the Natonals' bullpen will still have a strong Virginia connection this year with Hudson and Harris. And while Doolittle heads to the Reds, his former college teammate with the Cavaliers - first baseman Ryan Zimmerman - returns after sitting out 2020 due to pandemic and family concerns.
Doolittle formed a solid one-two punch with Hudson during the run to the 2019 World Series title.
Then on Monday, according to reports, the Nationals signed veteran reliever and South Boston native Jeremy Jeffress, 33. He was a first-round pick in 2003 by the Brewers out of Halifax County High.
What does Harris hope this year about the fans? "That we have them and as many as possible," he told reporters Sunday.
Harris is one of several Valley League products that have played for the Nationals in the past few years.
That includes former second baseman Daniel Murphy, who spent two summers in Luray, and Clint Robinson, a former player for the Harrisonburg Turks.
Murphy recently announced his retirement after playing for the Rockies last year. Ian Desmond, the former Washington shortstop, announced Sunday he was opting out of the season for the second straight year. He last played for the Rockies in 2019.
"This impacts a lot of people, some positively and some negatively, and I own that," Desmond wrote on social media Sunday.
Desmond grew up in Sarasota, Florida, now the spring training home of the Orioles.
Robinson ended his Major League career with the Nationals in 2016. Murphy played for Washington from 2016 through the middle of the 2018 season before he was traded to the Cubs.
Veteran outfielder Brett Gardner, who played in the Valley Baseball League with New Market, has signed a one-year deal with the New York Yankees.
Clint Frazier is still expected to start in left field for the Yankees.
"A guy like Gardy is a guy who would play a lot, certainly as a lot of our guys will quote unquote be bench players, or whatever, but Clint is going to be a regular player for us going into the season," Yankees Manager Aaron Boone told the Associated Press.
Gardner was drafted by the Yankees in 2005 in the third round after playing at the College of Charleston.
Tanner Scott, a pitcher for the Orioles, has embraced the analytics of baseball. "You have to soak it in," he told reporters Sunday on a Zoom call.
Scott broke into the majors in 2017 and the reliever appeared in 25 of 60 games last season. "I am ready to go," he said.
Among the several freshmen on the preseason roster for Bridgewater College is Nick Griffin, a right-handed pitcher from Turner Ashby. Also on the roster is freshman right-hander Elijah Dunlap, who is from Riverheads High and Will Craig, another right-hander and a homeschool student from Keezletown.
"Nick is a good arm," BC Coach Ben Spotts said Monday. "He has a good feel for what he is doing. And he is a really good student. Nick is a guy that can impact our staff. We are just trying to figure out roles" now among pitchers.
Craig was slated to play for Spotswood in 2020 but the season was called off. Craig played for Elkton in the Rockingham County Baseball League last year, Griffin was with Bridgewater and Dunlap was with Grottoes.
One of the top 10 prospects for the Chicago White Sox per MLB.com is Gavin Sheets, a standout first baseman at Wake Forest. He is the son of Staunton native Larry Sheets, a former basketball player at EMU and the 1987 MVP for the Orioles when he hit a career-high 31 homers.
Larry Sheets was not eligible to play baseball at EMU since he had signed a minor-league contract with the Orioles out of Staunton High. But he was an assistant coach for the Royals in baseball while in school.
Gavin Sheets hit 16 homers for Double-A Birmingham in the 2019 season. He was not part of the alternate site player pool for the White Sox last year. "It was tough mentally, tough physically to lose a year of development," he told MLB.com.
JMU Alum Rises
After playing in the minors from 2011-19, former James Madison catcher and Richmond native Jake Lowery, 30, will be the manager for the Nationals' affiliate in the Gulf Coast League this year.
He was slated to be a coach for Single-A Fredericksburg last year before the season was wiped out due to the pandemic. He was drafted out of JMU by Cleveland in 2011 in the fourth round and reached the Triple-A level as a player.
"He's worked extremely hard thoughout his career and is always focused on growing and learning," Mark Scialabba, assistant general manager, player development, wrote to the News-Record about Lowery. "He has a strong passion for teaching others and his bilingual abilities will certainly help him in his new position as well."