Four F/A-18E Super Hornets flown by the U.S. Navy VA-143 Pukin’ Dogs roared by at the end of the national anthem on Monday. The flyover has become a sonic tradition at home openers, including those in Nationals Park, and sometimes startles those not expecting it.
Trea Turner was tipped off about what was coming during pregame on Opening Day. His uncle works in air operations at Naval Air Station Oceana in Virginia Beach. He helped coordinate the flyover.
The rest of Turner’s first Opening Day was mixed with new and old. He made his home debut as the permanent starting shortstop. After wonder in the offseason about who would leadoff, Turner was atop the lineup and Adam Eaton hit second.
Leadoff hitter and shortstop are now his dual roles, ones that put him on the cusp of full-time stardom a season after finishing second in Rookie of the Year voting despite only 307 at-bats.
“He’s already on the map,” manager Dusty Baker said.
Turner wanted both spots, in the batting order and in the field, but he can do without the recognition aspect. He often hangs out with Bryce Harper, receiving a full dose of what that kind of life is like. It also helps Turner be less recognized by the general public. Harper is a walking klieg light. That makes his shadow larger and one Turner is happy to step into when out and about.
“He’s pretty well grounded,” Baker said. “He has a pretty good example in Bryce. [Bryce] signs every day for the kids, has a designated period of time. Him and Bryce are hanging out together. The main thing is you have to be polite and cordial but you also have to be a little selfish with your time and energy because he’s going to be pulled on in all directions, which is indicative that he is getting more and more notoriety and more fame.
“I think he and Bryce were the most sought after guys on the team for autographs. Like, you sign so many autographs to start the season, I think he and Bryce had the most. That’s a pretty high — people are always looking for a new star. He is definitely a new star. My suggestion is just play.”
That part began Monday after the flyover. Turner hit a line-drive double off the left-field wall in his first at-bat. He was part of a double steal two batters later. What he can do at the plate and on the bases have become the sure parts of his game early in his career. Fifty stolen bases this season is possible. They could go along with a .300 batting average and 20 home runs. Baker has argued that Turner is among the best leadoff hitters in baseball, if not at the top. There is merit to that argument now that Anaheim appears to have become more wise and moved Mike Trout from leadoff.
Turner’s first at-bat Monday was populated by fastballs. Edinson Volquez threw him six fastballs — four four-seamers and two sinkers. Volquez flipped his attack in Turner’s second at-bat. Two knuckle-curveballs and two changeups made up four of the five pitches. Turner flew out to right field in that at-bat, lofting a knuckle-curve for an easy out.
As he moves through the league for an entire season, Turner will receive the full experience of the push-and-pull with opposing pitchers, particularly in the division. No pitcher in the National League East has faced Turner more than six times.
At shortstop, Turner had a solid spring and busy opener. He thought the few errors he made in Florida were easy fixes.
“Physical errors are always going to happen,” Turner said. “The mental ones are the ones you want to stay away from. I think every error is a combination of both. But, like I said, three or four of them, I feel like the slightest change and I complete all the plays and we’re not even talking about making errors. That’s the fine line between make a mistake, make an error or being perfect. What everyone strives for is to be as perfect as you can.”
Monday, Turner made eight putouts from shortstop. One came on a dive to his right in the hole. His long throw was on point. Even if it was late, Turner would have taken solace in the play. His defensive focus is to “complete the play.” He knows a wayward throw or botched handling of the ball gives him no chances to do so. That means he is leaning on basics first as he grows into a major-league shortstop.
“He demonstrated plenty of arm,” Baker said. “And, he demonstrated an accurate arm. Most young shortstops’ errors come on throwing errors. But, he’s going to keep working on it. He’s going to get better and better. The better he gets, the more comfortable he’ll feel.”
• Todd Dybas can be reached at email@example.com.
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