Baseball is back, Spring Training is here and the buzz can be heard from the Valley of the Sun to the Atlantic Ocean.
Can you feel it?
The first big report from Spring Training is this: Sunday is the reporting date for pitchers and catchers for Philadelphia, St. Louis, Pittsburgh, Detroit, San Diego, Arizona, Boston, Toronto, Seattle, Baltimore, the Los Angeles Angels and the Chicago Cubs. It's going to be a big week. The first full-squad workouts for 15 clubs start on Saturday. By Feb. 23, all players are expected in camp in Arizona and Florida.
Can you say "Road to the 2011 World Series?"
It's hard to believe that the pitchers and catchers that show up Sunday will not think about a World Series title, even if they don't want to mention it. Here's what they will be talking about: physicals, medical exams and uniform sizes. The transition from an "offseason" to an "in-season" mentality kicks into high gear, as does the annual ribbing in the clubhouse that comes when a player loses or gains weight during the winter months.
There will be plenty of handshakes, plenty of hugs and hunting stories swapped when pitchers and catchers report. Offseason births, offseason weddings and "off" seasons in 2010 will be tossed around, if only briefly.
The focus, as it always is this time of year, will be on the upcoming season. The future is now, and if you're a Phillies fan, it's hard not to feel good about your team with pitchers Roy Halladay, Cole Hamels, Roy Oswalt and Cliff Lee set to begin their workouts. And don't forget about catcher Carlos "Chooch" Ruiz.
The Giants are the reigning World Series champions, but are the Phillies the favorite to win the National League pennant this year?
Will the Cardinals sign Albert Pujols by Wednesday and begin their march toward a potential NL Central title, moving past last year's division champion Reds? They'll begin trying when their pitchers and catchers report to Jupiter.
The Cubs will do the same in Mesa, Ariz., with new starter Matt Garza and reliever Kerry Wood showing up for their first -- or second -- action in the North Siders' uniform, and the new-look Tigers report to Lakeland, Fla., with three big free-agent signings in catcher Victor Martinez, reliever Joaquin Benoit and starter Brad Penny.
The Pirates are looking for a rebound, and they'll hit their Spring Training locale in Bradenton, Fla., with new pitching blood in the form of starters Scott Olsen and Kevin Correia. The Orioles are excited to show off new arms Justin Duchscherer (starter) and Kevin Gregg (closer) in Sarasota.
In nearby Fort Myers, the Red Sox begin their much-anticipated 2011 campaign with a workout that will feature new relievers Bobby Jenks and Dan Wheeler, and Jarrod Saltalamacchia enters his first Boston Spring Training as the team's likely starter behind the plate. Meanwhile, the Blue Jays hit Dunedin, Fla., with high expectations from new closer Frank Francisco and bullpen mates Octavio Dotel and Jon Rauch, plus the catching tandem of J.P. Arencibia and Jose Molina.
Out West, the dry heat of the desert provides welcome warmth for the Padres, who fell a game short of the postseason last year and will try to make more waves in 2011 with the help of newcomers Aaron Harang, Dustin Moseley and Rob Johnson.
Across the way at the Peoria Sports Complex, the Mariners will begin their attempt to vault the standings in the American League West on the strength of some of their new acquisitions in the pitching and catching department, including backstop Miguel Olivo and a host of talented non-roster invitees that will have a chance to make the Opening Day roster.
The D-backs are no strangers to Arizona, but they start a new era Sunday when they grace the brand new Salt River Fields complex that they now share with the Rockies. The D-backs report with exciting new arms in closer J.J. Putz, setup man David Hernandez and starters Zach Duke and Armando Galarraga.
And in Tempe, Ariz., the Angels begin their quest to take back the AL West from the Rangers with two new arms -- lefty relievers Scott Downs and Hisanori Takahashi -- and a welcome power bat in outfielder Vernon Wells.