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Red Sox kick off 2007 camp

Pitchers, catchers scratch Spring Training itch

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FORT MYERS, Fla. -- Whether you're a rookie or a 40-year-old veteran, the excitement of a new season never diminishes. Only in baseball can a three-word phrase -- pitchers and catchers -- say so much.

For the 2007 Red Sox -- a team that has much to be optimistic about -- pitchers and catchers officially reported to Fort Myers, Fla., for Spring Training on Friday, and the enthusiasm was palpable.

"This is always a fun time of year, coming in and seeing some new faces and seeing your family members for the next eight months," said Red Sox right-hander Josh Beckett. "It's always fun."

Despite the fact there is no formal workout until Sunday, the Red Sox had a crowded clubhouse on reporting day. Among those who worked out in the morning were Jonathan Papelbon, Beckett, Tim Wakefield, Jon Lester, Daisuke Matsuzaka, Kevin Youkilis, Doug Mirabelli and Mike Timlin. Captain Jason Varitek arrived by early afternoon. Ace Curt Schilling is expected to make his first appearance in camp on Saturday.

Coming off a disappointing 86-win season, the Red Sox had a productively dramatic offseason. Japanese star Matsuzaka has been added to a pitching rotation that should be among the best in the league.

The rotation should be just one of the clear strengths for the 2007 Sox.

"We're very excited, all of us are," said general manager Theo Epstein. "I think when you look at our club, you have to recognize there's tremendous upside there. I think we do. If we can put the right work in and answer questions the right way, this has a chance to be a pretty special club."

Beckett and Papelbon give the rotation two youthful hard throwers and the venerable Wakefield will be serving up knuckleballs for his 13th season in Boston. Schilling, 40, now says that 2007 won't be his last season.

The offense, which dipped sharply over the last two months of the 2006 season, features two big upgrades. J.D. Drew will bat fifth and play right field, giving the Sox a dynamic bat and a solid defender. Sparkplug Julio Lugo will lead off and play shortstop, and he just might be the type of energy player the team has lacked since the departure of 2004 hero Orlando Cabrera.

"I think we have reason to be optimistic," said manager Terry Francona.

"Everybody is optimistic this time of year. If you're not, [something's wrong]. We have a legitimate reason to be optimistic. We have some things that should go right. And if they do, it should be exciting."

Pitchers and catchers will have physicals and begin conditioning on Saturday. The first workout will be on Sunday. Position players will report to camp on Tuesday, and the first full-squad workout will take place two days after that.

Until the games begin on Feb. 28, the Red Sox will hold their workouts at the Minor League complex, which is a couple of miles down the road from City of Palms Park.

Workouts are open to the general public and, as usual, they're likely to be packed.

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

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