Baseball's renewal comes with spring in its step
Players, coaches, fans can feel excitement of another new season
We associate the beginning of Spring Training with distinctive sounds. Batting practice and bullpen sessions. Baseballs cracking off bats and popping into gloves. Coaches shouting instructions during infield practices, players hustling from one drill to the next.
Whether it's your first Spring Training or your 50th, these are magical sounds. Beneath the familiar chatter is the best thing about the beginning of a new baseball season.
That's the attitude that accompanies it. There's joy and optimism and expectations. Every manager, coach and player feels it. THIS is what we've been waiting for. THIS is the good stuff.
These first days of Spring Training are hearing Clint Hurdle's booming voice again. It's watching Joe Maddon gather his players and tell them he has just one rule: run hard to first base. It's watching Dustin Pedroia show up with as much enthusiasm as in his very first spring. They're surely among the happiest men on the planet.
There was a photo of Pirates teammates Andrew McCutchen and A.J. Burnett embracing the other day. That single moment captures everything about this process of starting anew. This week begins an eight-month journey that will have moments of inspiration and moments of disappointment.
Along the way, we may meet a new generation of stars: Kris Bryant of the Cubs, Joc Pederson of the Dodgers, Archie Bradley of the D-backs and many others.
We'll again appreciate the greatness of baseball's best: McCutchen, Mike Trout, Clayton Kershaw, Madison Bumgarner, David Ortiz, etc.
And we'll root for comebacks: Prince Fielder and Michael Wacha and Jose Fernandez and Josh Hamilton.
Yes, the Red Sox and Padres have gotten way better these past few weeks. But there's a sense of possibility in every camp.
That's especially true in an era when at least 25 of baseball's 30 teams seem positioned for the postseason.
For instance, the Seattle Mariners.
They haven't played a postseason game since 2001, but during this first week of Spring Training, they appear to be as good as any team in the game.
Over the past two seasons, general manager Jack Zduriencik has acquired a boatload of talent: Robinson Cano, Nelson Cruz, Austin Jackson, Seth Smith, Fernando Rodney, J.A. Happ.
Combine those guys with homegrown talents like Felix Hernandez, Kyle Seager, Dustin Ackley and others, and the Mariners might just be beginning of those special seasons.
Do you think the Mariners might be fired up about reporting to work this week?
OK, back to Hurdle and that voice that can carry across three diamonds, that voice that can inspire or intimidate, that voice that has played a huge role in the resurrection of the Pirates.
To Hurdle's players, the sound of their manager teaching or encouraging or kidding is one of the signs that a new season is beginning.
For the Angels, it's the sound of manager Mike Scioscia's morning team meetings, the ones that have players roaring with laughter.
Scioscia uses those meetings to set a tone for the day, and amid the laughter, there's a serious reminder about what's important.
This has been as interesting an offseason as we have ever had with a flurry of moves leading to expectations.
This is the week that 30 general managers get their first real look at the teams they've assembled.
Spring Training is about allowing veterans time to polish their games. It's also about giving young players a chance to prove themselves.
For the fans, it's an intimate atmosphere, a chance to see players through a different prism.
Players are joyful and relaxed, happy to get back to the grind. There's a focus on getting that day's work done with an eye toward Opening Day.
It's also about sunshine and laughter and routine. It's the feeling that something spectacular might just happen.