Fresh faces out to make a strong first impression
Players, managers look to start spring on right foot with their new teams
Anyone of the mind that you never get a second chance to make a first impression obviously hasn't watched a player go from one Major League team to another, or a manager make his debut on the top step of the dugout.
In baseball, the process for making a first impression can include a photo op and news conference in the winter, handshakes and a new clubhouse cubicle as Spring Training begins, and a week or two of workouts in a new uniform or a new position.
But all of that pales in comparison to game action, where the changes become that much more real, and their potential success becomes more evident -- even in Spring Training.
This weekend, the first impressions that really begin to matter are taking place all over Arizona and Florida, with full slates of games providing the first opportunities to show what change will bring for a player or a manager and his new team.
Of course, really getting out of the gate for 2014 will happen on Opening Day and beyond, but early March is a good time to get rolling in the right direction, too.
Already, the Yankees' Jacoby Ellsbury displayed a bit of his penchant for making things happen, Prince Fielder provided a powerful reminder of why the Rangers wanted him in the heart of their lineup and Robinson Cano ripped a single in his first at-bat with the Mariners -- all just tiny previews of what those players and teams hope is to come.
Cano knows there's no time like the present to start delivering the goods in a new uniform, so he got his first hit out of the way on the first pitch he saw in Mariners colors.
"It's the first Spring Training game," Cano said. "I didn't want to just go up there and take a pitch. You want to see how you feel."
The Yankees, Cano's former team, probably have the market cornered on firsts as February turns into March, and the one that will draw the most attention hasn't even taken place yet. Masahiro Tanaka will be on the mound for the first time Saturday, and there can be no doubt what he does with his first pitches on U.S. soil will be well documented.
In their Grapefruit League opener, the Yankees not only saw Ellsbury go for an infield single, two walks and two runs scored in his first two plate appearances Wednesday, but they got Brian McCann behind the plate and Carlos Beltran in the outfield as well.
"These are proven players," New York manager Joe Girardi said. "You learn a little bit about their personalities when you see them, but I have a pretty good idea of what they can do."
Among the newest members of the managerial fraternity, there are six new skippers running camps this year, including Ryne Sandberg in Philadelphia, the only one who got a head start, with 42 games last year. Now there's Brad Ausmus making his initial calls for the Tigers, just like Lloyd McClendon with the Mariners, Bryan Price with the Reds, Rick Renteria with the Cubs and Matt Williams with the Nationals.
They all have to emboss a certain stamp on their teams, and whatever impressions are made in Spring Training certainly will have ramifications in the regular season.
Only McClendon has managerial chops already to know the feeling. The Mariners have Cano's arrival as part of a winter of significant changes, and McClendon is well aware the steps taken in these next few weeks will be important for a club hoping to take an upturn in a stacked American League West race.
"It's real important, particularly where we are and where we're trying to get to," McClendon said. "Guys need to understand they need to show a lot of energy, show off their talent."
Of course, a few exhibition games won't offer a full perspective on how well a transition will go over the long haul for a player or a manager. They're merely the first few warmup steps before the marathon begins.
But these impressions will continue to be made throughout Spring Training, some determining whether players will be with the team on Opening Day, others giving a glimpse at how veterans are bouncing back to form. Well-known stars like Derek Jeter, Ryan Howard and others want this to be a healthy entry into another big season, for example.
And consider the young players thrust into the starting lineup for a Red Sox team defending the World Series title. How Jackie Bradley Jr. (a Spring Training phenom a year ago) and Xander Bogaerts perform this spring will carry a lot of weight as Boston heads into 2014 hoping to repeat.
Ditto, the Tigers' Nick Castellanos, stepping into the position held by a two-time AL MVP Award winner, taking over at third base for Detroit, with Miguel Cabrera sliding over to first.
Or, how about Billy Hamilton? The Reds speedster is in Arizona hoping to prove that he can take care of the first 90 feet well enough to give him the most opportunity to use his amazing speed the rest of the way home.
"Coming up gave me a bunch of confidence, showed me what it's like to be up here every day and motivated me to get to this level and stay here," said Hamilton, who stole 13 bases and hit .368 in 19 at-bats last September. "I got some really good work done in the offseason, so I'm looking forward to the spring."
Aren't we all? It's from these initial snapshots, these first impressions that the 2014 season will evolve. They're a sneak preview, an orientation session, a first course for the regular season.
When it comes right down to it, it's all just a five-week first impression for what's in store in 2014.
John Schlegel is a national reporter for MLB.com. You can follow him on Twitter at @JohnSchlegelMLB. Reporters Bryan Hoch, Greg Johns and Tyler Emerick contributed to this article.