Grapefruit, Cactus action to begin Feb. 23

Defending World Series champion Astros open with tilt vs. Nats

November 20th, 2017

The countdown to Spring Training started as soon as the Astros prevailed in Game 7 of the World Series in Dodger Stadium, giving them their first title in franchise history.

• Complete Spring Training schedule

Naturally, it didn't take long for baseball fans to put a great 2017 season to bed and start thinking about those glorious, sunny days next February, when our game comes back into focus with the clarity of a crack of the bat, and we hear those four magical words -- pitchers and catchers report -- once again.

It officially became time to look forward to 2018 when MLB announced its exhibition schedule on Monday.

The first exhibition game is on Wednesday, Feb. 21, when the D-backs host Arizona State University at Salt River Fields in Scottsdale, Ariz. Grapefruit and Cactus League play officially begins on Feb. 23, with the next day featuring the first full slate including all 30 MLB teams. The World Series champs will start their home schedule at The Ballpark of the Palm Beaches vs. the club with which they share the one-year-old facility, the Nationals.

While it's a bit early to see how the 30 rosters in the American and National Leagues might be rearranged over the coming Hot Stove months, with the Winter Meetings set for early next month and more than 100 free agents on the board and waiting to negotiate, the teams we just saw in October will be gearing up and ready to go.

The NL champion Dodgers get right back into action that same Friday with a game at their spring home of Camelback Ranch by hosting their facility neighbors, the White Sox.

The team that took the Astros to seven games in the AL Championship Series, the Yankees, are sure to attract crowds at their ballpark, George M. Steinbrenner Field in Tampa, Fla., for their opener on Feb. 23 against the Tigers. The Yankees are hoping for big things once again from their big No. 99, outfielder , who was the unanimous choice for the AL Rookie of the Year Award and finished second in AL MVP Award voting to Houston's .

Also on that day, fans will get to watch the D-backs, who will take the field vs. the Rockies, whom they defeated in the NL Wild Card Game, and with whom they happen to share the spectacular Salt River Fields in Scottsdale, Ariz.

Other postseason teams from 2017 making their spring debuts on Feb. 23 include the Twins and Red Sox, who play each other in Fort Myers, Fla., the Cubs, who start things off in Maryvale Baseball Park in Phoenix against the Milwaukee Brewers, and the Indians, who play the Reds in their shared home park in Goodyear, Ariz.

The rest of the day's full big-league slate includes the following matchups: Cardinals vs. Marlins, Rays split squad vs. Orioles, Pittsburgh vs. Rays split squad, Phillies vs. Blue Jays, Braves vs. Mets, Angels vs. A's, Brewers vs. Giants, and Mariners vs. Padres.

That huge day will carry over into the next month of nonstop action in the warmth of the new season.

And in addition to the regular Spring Training games we're accustomed to seeing, there will be games scheduled for venues outside the realms of traditional Cactus and Grapefruit League play.

Split squads of the Indians and Cubs will play two games on March 17-18 in Las Vegas, while select exhibition games at Major League and Minor League ballparks will be played from March 24-27, including two games between the Blue Jays and Cardinals in Montreal.

As always, select games will be available on MLB.TV as the spring schedule closes in on the regular season, which begins for all 30 teams on Opening Day on Thursday, March 29. That start date is the earliest in Major League history, and it will be the first time since 1968 that every team will play its first regular-season game on the same day.