Spring forecast: Bats, balls, sun and eternal hope

The Associated Press
Posted Feb. 11, 2011, at 7:08 p.m.

The Super Bowl hit a deep freeze, NBA teams got stranded in blizzards, an NHL game was iced by a snowstorm.

Most everywhere, the winter weather is wicked. Good thing the weekend forecast in Arizona and Florida calls for sunny skies and temperatures in the 70s: King Felix, Joe Mauer and friends are coming.

Spring training is starting up. Let’s trade ski masks for catcher’s masks. And pitchers, take off your mittens and put on those mitts.

Just in time, right?

“I would say there might be some of them from the Midwest or Northeast who might go to their respective spring training places and accelerate the real estate market,” Colorado Rockies manager Jim Tracy said. “Unless they really like being behind a snow blower.”

Even before the sunscreen mixes with pine tar, Bruce Bochy is eager.

World Series champions always want to get going. The San Francisco Giants manager and his players are among the many teams opening camp in the next few days.

“Especially some of them who have been in this harsh weather we’ve had this winter, they’re looking forward to getting to spring training,” Bochy said.

“I also think when you get two or three weeks off, you start getting a little bit itchy. Then when it gets to late January, you’re ready. You’re ready to get back and see your teammates, getting back on the field and getting ready for the season,” he said.

In many places, that means new pals.

Cliff Lee, back in Philadelphia after a one-year absence. Manny Ramirez and Johnny Damon, taking their hair-raising antics to Tampa Bay. Carl Crawford and Adrian Gonzalez, now swinging for Boston. Vladimir Guerrero, Jayson Werth, Vernon Wells, Dan Uggla and World Series MVP Edgar Renteria, all switching uniforms.

“It makes you feel good to come here and know they wanted me to play there. It’s awesome,” said strikeout-prone slugger Mark Reynolds, traded from Arizona to Baltimore. “This is kind of a fresh start.”

Shaun Marcum already is looking way ahead. Traded from Toronto to Milwaukee, he was part of the Brewers’ busy winter — they also acquired former Cy Young winner Zack Greinke from Kansas City.

“Nothing against Toronto as an organization, but this is the first time I’ve gone through the offseason working out and thinking that I’m going to be pitching in October and not ending my season Oct. 2. I’m working hard knowing that I’m going to be pitching Oct. 23, Oct. 24 — just throwing those dates out there,” Marcum said.

But there’s plenty of time until then. A lot to do, in fact, before the pitching-rich Phillies host Florida State on Feb. 24 in the first exhibition game of the year.

A host of new managers need to meet and greet their guys.

Don Mattingly with the Dodgers, Ron Roenicke of the Brewers and John Farrell of the Blue Jays will be managing for the very first time. In all, 12 teams go into opening day on March 31 with a different skipper than they started with last season. Gone are four long-timers, each leaving with glittery rings — Joe Torre, Bobby Cox, Lou Piniella and Cito Gaston.

Also missing this spring, baseball’s newest retirees: Postseason wins champ Andy Pettitte, career saves leader Trevor Hoffman and former World Series MVP Mike Lowell.

Still to be decided: Albert Pujols and his contract status. The three-time NL MVP set a deadline for the start of his spring training — either he gets a new deal with the St. Louis Cardinals or he’ll cut off talks until he becomes a free agent after the season.

In the meantime, Cardinals newcomer Lance Berkman is looking forward to joining a lineup with the star slugger.

“I feel like this is a legitimate World Series contender, I really in my heart believe that. I’m not trying to do like Rex Ryan and put something out there and make everybody mad, I feel like we’ve got a great team.”

Easy, Lance.

For now, we’ll find out whether top rookies such as Tampa Bay outfielder Desmond Jennings, Atlanta first baseman Freddie Freeman, Toronto pitcher Kyle Drabek and Yankees catcher Jesus Montero are ready for the majors.

Or whether Jim Edmonds, Eric Chavez and Bartolo Colon, big names past their prime, can give it one more go.

We’ll see, too, how well stars Chipper Jones, Johan Santana, Jake Peavy and Grady Sizemore are progressing from season-ending surgeries.

Mauer, Minnesota’s outstanding catcher, had minor surgery this winter to clean up his knee.

“You really don’t even know what your team is going to look like until you get to July, or June,” he said.

Fans certainly are geared up now. Trips to spring training have become extremely popular in recent years, with tickets harder and harder to find, be it for games at HoHoKam Park in Mesa, Ariz., Joker Marchant Stadium in Lakeland, Fla., or George M. Steinbrenner Field in Tampa.

Easier to enjoy are the sights that make spring training so special. Sandy Koufax, Yogi Berra and Mike Schmidt are among the many Hall of Famers who often swing by camps to help out. And it always makes for a good laugh when a long drive to the gap scatters a bunch of pitchers doing their running on the warning track.

The Arizona Diamondbacks and Rockies move to a new site this year, sharing a complex built on an Indian reservation near Scottsdale. They had been in Tucson, and their shift means no more games in a city that had hosted spring ball since the 1940s. Chances are, the 15 teams training in the Phoenix area won’t miss that 2½-hour drive through the desert.

Hardly anyone is likely to miss the bruising cold.

At a Cardinals event last month, appropriately called the Winter Warmup, second baseman Skip Schumaker barbed teammate Matt Holliday about the weather. Schumaker could boast — he lives in California, Holliday in St. Louis.

“Inside my house it’s 70 degrees,” Holliday answered.

Just as it should be this weekend, when teams break out the bats, balls and eternal hope.

http://bangordailynews.com/2011/02/11/sports/spring-forecast-bats-balls-sun-and-eternal-hope/ printed on October 1, 2014