Here are the notable dates and games ahead as camps open this week
By Alyson Footer
Spring Training could be divided into sections -- pitchers and catchers report, full squads report, games begin, games continue, games seemingly never end as anticipation for Opening Day draws near. But, at the same time, it feels like it's never going to get here.
Spring Training serves practical purposes, of course -- it's a time for pitchers to get their arms ready and hitters to get their timing back. But for fans, Spring Training is much simpler: it's a fun time and a reminder that the weather is about to get warmer, summer vacations are nearing, and baseball is on its way back to our radios, televisions and stadiums.
Key dates and storylines are a common topic of conversation this time of year. Need help sifting through it all? Here is a cheat sheet of sorts, highlighting some things to look out for as reporting day inches closer:
Key report dates
Thursday: Pitchers and catchers report for most teams
Feb. 22: Indians are the first team to have full squad report
Feb. 27: Twins are the final team to have full squad report
March 1: University of Tampa vs. Philadelphia: First Spring Training game on the MLB schedule
March 3: Baltimore at Detroit: First Spring Training game among two MLB teams
March 6: Oakland at Arizona. Sure, it's only Spring Training, and there are no "real" standings. But for most people, any competition is good, and when Chip Hale's D-backs host Hale's former club, the A's, expect some good old-fashioned gamesmanship between benches.
March 11: Detroit at Washington: Max Scherzer's first chance to face the Tigers. Let's hope the rotation cooperates.
March 12: Los Angeles at San Diego: National League West rivals face off for the first time after their big trade and Matt Kemp gets his first chance to face the only team he's ever played for.
March 11, San Diego at Kansas City: Royals vs. Shields? Could happen, but like Scherzer, the timing would have to be right. If Shields isn't scheduled to throw that day, there's one more chance: March 20, when the Royals return the visit.
March 24, Chicago Cubs at Oakland: The Cubs vacated Hohokam Stadium in 2014. The A's moved into Hohokam Stadium in '15. So this game will be a homecoming of sorts for the Cubs, who played there from 1979-2013.
March 1: The week Josh Hamilton could resume baseball activities. He recently had surgery on his arthritic right shoulder, and the Angels are targeting an Opening Day-ish return. But he should be somewhat active during Spring Training, even if it's rehabbing while his teammates play in actual games.
March 4: The first game Matt Harvey could appear in, which also happens to be the first Grapefruit League contest on the Mets' schedule. When Harvey actually gets the ball remains to be seen, but considering he arrived for Spring Training two weeks early, hasn't been on a Major League mound since '13 and has been one of the most talked-about pitchers throughout his recovery from Tommy John elbow surgery, we'll throw him (and Mets fans) a bone and pick the very earliest he could pitch as the projected target.
March 5: The Marlins' first spring game against another MLB team, which is most likely the expected date for Giancarlo Stanton to take his first live-game swings. He's been cleared to go full speed when camp begins, but he's expected to test a protective mask in the early going. Armed with the largest contract in sports history and repeated convictions that he's over the trauma of last September's beaning, Stanton will be a draw this spring -- even more than usual.
March 6: The week we might see Garrett Richards appear in a game. The Angels right-hander hasn't been on a mound for a live game since his left knee injury last August, but he's expected to test things out during Cactus League play. When and where he slots into the rotation is still to be determined, but he's already throwing bullpen sessions, hinting that he'll be ready when games get underway.
April 3-4, Cincinnati "at" Toronto: For the second straight year, the Blue Jays will play exhibition games in Montreal. Will there ever be full-time Major League Baseball again in Montreal? Maybe not. But the Reds drew the enviable straw for this one, heading north to one of Canada's prettiest cities for a series that brings back plenty of nostalgia for local baseball fans.
March 13-14: Oakland "at" Chicago Cubs in Las Vegas: Where the Cubs go, so do their fans. That's probably why Big League Weekend at the Triple-A ballpark in Vegas typically involves the Cubs, who will be making their 11th straight appearance at this exhibition series. In the past 10 seasons, the Cubs have recorded 15 sellouts.
March 20-21: Los Angeles "at" Texas in San Antonio: Big League Weekend, Part Deux: The dimensions for this series are funky, with right-center registering at about 280 feet. It's part of the uniqueness of a series that takes place at the Alamodome, home to a handful of big sporting events over the years and the venue for the annual Big League Weekend, now in its fourth season. The Rangers have hosted all four.
March 6: Chicgao White Sox at San Diego, the Padres' first home game. This may be our first look at what their newly revamped lineup will look like, after a shock-and-awe type of offseason by the front office.
March 22-23: The Giants visit the Royals, and then the Royals visit the Giants. Sure, they're Spring Training games, but still. These are the reigning American and National League champions. Plus, it'll be good to see managers Bruce Bochy and Ned Yost chatting behind the cage again. Last we saw the two together, Yost had snuck over to the Giants' clubhouse after Game 7 to congratulate Bochy on winning the World Series. A nice reminder that sportsmanship still reigns.
Alyson Footer is a national correspondent for MLB.com. Follow her on Twitter @alysonfooter. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.