Until now, though, it's all been a bonus.
For the Cardinals, the countdown to the official opening of Spring Training has now reached zero. Thursday had been designated as the required report date for the team's pitchers and catchers, with the group's first full workout on Friday. The position players are to be in Jupiter no later than next Tuesday.
"I know this team is about winning and about going about their business the right away," said Mark Reynolds, one of nine players added to the 40-man roster since the end of the 2014 season. "It's good to see, especially a lot of the young guys down here getting ready and just getting back on the baseball field."
As of Thursday afternoon, almost all of the pitchers and catchers had already checked in at the team's complex. The exceptions were Carlos Villanueva as well as Sam Tuivailala, who tweeted early in the morning that he was catching a flight bound for Florida. Manager Mike Matheny said he was unaware of any pitchers or catchers who would be delayed in their arrivals due to weather/travel issues or visa problems.
"It really bumps it to another level when you get here, you see everybody and you get to be around the guys," Marco Gonzales said. "We're just like the fans. We count down the days to when we get to be down here and then open the season."
The Cardinals have 26 pitchers -- including nine non-roster invitees -- and nine catchers -- including four non-roster invitees -- on their Spring Training roster. Once the position players arrive in camp, the total will be 58, with 18 of those being non-roster players.
Of the nine new 40-man roster players, four (Jason Heyward, Jordan Walden, Mike Ohlman and Ty Kelly) have been acquired via trades; three (Matt Belisle, Reynolds and Dean Anna) came as free agents; and two (Ed Easley and Cody Stanley) were added to be protected from the Rule 5 Draft.
The club will have eight days of full-squad workouts before beginning Grapefruit League play as the road team at Roger Dean Stadium on March 5 against the Marlins. That will be the first of 28 spring games covering 27 dates, with an exhibition game at the organization's Triple-A park in Memphis scheduled for April 3.
Two days later, the Cardinals will be opening the regular season under the lights at Wrigley Field. They will be defending their consecutive division titles, and preparation is now underway.
"I definitely think the Central is going to be a fun race this year," said slugger Matt Adams, another early arrival at camp. "Everybody in there is going to be tough, and it's going to be a battle day in and day out. That's what good baseball is all about. It's going to be a fun year."