Spring has sprung for Tribe

Spring has sprung for the Indians

WINTER HAVEN, Fla. -- Back in Cleveland, where the snow is coming down in near-Biblical proportions, this little news item might come as a bit of a shock:

Spring is here.

It arrived about the time Victor Martinez strode into the Indians clubhouse at Chain of Lakes Park on Thursday morning and gave big bear hugs to Kelly Shoppach and C.C. Sabathia.

Soon, Martinez and Shoppach will be catching Sabathia's 97-mph fastball. For now, the three men caught up on family matters.

"It's always good to see the guys," Sabathia said. "We'll start to get reacquainted, because we're going to be together for the next eight months."

And Day 1 of those eight months is in the books.

Indians pitchers and catchers reported to Spring Training camp on a chilly (by the standards of Florida, not Cleveland) day in which the only official business that took place was a morning meeting of the Major and Minor League coaches and the entire front office.

On Friday, the pitchers and catchers will take their physicals. Their first workout will be Saturday.

Position players must report to camp by Tuesday, though several of them -- Shin-Soo Choo, Ryan Garko, Joe Inglett and Trot Nixon -- are already here.

Some new bodies are inhabiting Chain of Lakes this year, but the same big dreams of winning an American League Central title remain.

On the field, the Indians have only a few decisions to make, as the bulk of the roster is written in ink.

The additions of Keith Foulke, Joe Borowski, Roberto Hernandez and Aaron Fultz have completely reformed the Tribe's bullpen, adding a needed injection of experience to what was a less-than-reliable relief corps last year.

In the outfield, the Indians have created platoons on the corners with the signings of David Dellucci in left and Nixon in right. Both players add playoff experience to an otherwise youthful lineup.

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Speaking of youth, the acquisition of second baseman Josh Barfield brings to the Indians one of the National League's more impressive rookies from a season ago.

Though the Indians have a fairly firm grasp on the composition of their Opening Day roster, manager Eric Wedge and his staff still have a couple of decisions to make.

They'll be keeping a particularly close eye on the battle for the utility infield job. Hector Luna is the early front-runner, and he'll be pushed by in-house candidates Inglett and Mike Rouse and non-roster invitees Luis Rivas, Keith Ginter and Asdrubal Cabrera.

In the bullpen, Jason Davis, Fernando Cabrera and Matt Miller will be battling for the two open spots.

Off the field, there is business to be done, as well.

Sabathia, who is eligible for free agency after 2008, is one of three Indians who will be approached about a contract extension this spring. Designated hitter Travis Hafner, who is also eligible in two years, and Jake Westbrook, eligible after this season, are the others.

"It will be interesting," Sabathia said.

One contract extension expected to get wrapped up in the near future is that of general manager Mark Shapiro, whose current deal runs out after this year. He and team president Paul Dolan have been in talks the past couple of weeks, and it's the hope of both sides to have something done before the Indians' exhibition schedule begins March 1.

The Indians have, of course, completed a deal to move their Spring Training operations to Goodyear, Ariz., in 2009. So this was the penultimate pitchers and catchers report date for the club in central Florida.

But no matter the setting, this day always has been and always will be special for those involved in the game.

"You always wait for this day," reliever Rafael Betancourt said. "By the time it comes, you're excited to see your friends and your teammates and the coaches. Now, it's time to get ready."

And time to play ball.

Anthony Castrovince is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.