MLB.com Columnist

Richard Justice

10 things to love about the Cactus League

10 things to love about the Cactus League

Jim Palmer stood in front of a mirror, combing his hair and remembering the little man playing golf a few miles away.

"Don't believe everything you hear," Palmer told me. "We had our differences with Earl Weaver, but everyone in here had tremendous respect for him."

Palmer motioned around the Baltimore Orioles' spring clubhouse toward Eddie Murray, Cal Ripken, Scott McGregor, Mike Flanagan, Ken Singleton and Tippy Martinez.

Palmer's point was emphatic but unspoken: This is one heck of a baseball team regardless who is managing it.

"We didn't win just because of Earl," Palmer said. "There's a lot of pride in this room. We'll be fine."

Nine months later, the Orioles won the World Series.

And that little trip to South Florida was my first trip to Spring Training. I loved it then. I love it now.

I love how a season unfolds, a team's ability to be brought down by certain things and energized by others.

I love the strategy and the tension and the everyday rhythms of a baseball season. Yet any of us who've done this for awhile will tell you that most of all, we love the people.

We love the players, coaches and managers. We love the umpires and the scouts and executives and public-relations staffers.

As I head to Arizona, here are 10 reasons I'm excited about a trip to the Cactus League:

1. World Series managers Joe Maddon and Terry Francona
Once, when his Rays were in a slump, Maddon listened as his coaches wanted more batting practice, more infield work, more of everything. No, Maddon said, sometimes less is more. That's why players love him. That's why his touch is so perfect. Francona is cut from the same cloth, playing cards with players in his office even as he demands they play the game a certain way. When people wonder about the wisdom of this, he says, "If I can't have a real relationship with these guys, I wouldn't want to do this job." Maddon and Francona understand that playing the world's most difficult game is incredibly challenging, and that understanding gives them a feel for exactly what their teams need.

2. Indians shortstop Francisco Lindor
Lindor's teammates noticed pretty much the same thing. He was a happy kid who loved the game, every last thing about it. Stories circulated about how conscientious Lindor was in the Minors, and how he left no stone unturned. Sometimes a hot prospect turns out to be exactly as good as he was projected to be. Sometimes, too, that prospect plays the game with a flair and a joy that's infectious. The Indians took their fans on an incredible ride last season, and along the way, Lindor could have passed for the happiest man on the planet.

Lindor is Indians 2017 star

3. Royals catcher Salvador Perez
Perez won our hearts last spring when he showed up with a tattoo of a World Series trophy on his right bicep. The Royals showed how much he meant to the franchise when they tore up his contract and he signed a new one closer to market value. OK, this isn't just about Perez even if he is one of the most pleasant, popular and admired players on the planet. It's also about what he represents. That would be a franchise that attempts to do everything right, from well-respected general manager Dayton Moore, to manager Ned Yost, to a clubhouse led by homegrown talent like Alex Gordon, Eric Hosmer and Perez. It doesn't get any better than this.

Outlook: Perez, C, KC

4. Giants catcher Buster Posey
Stories abound about how seriously Posey takes his job, and how he demands his teammates take their jobs just as seriously. He has three World Series championships since 2010 and leads a franchise universally respected, from the top of its masthead to the lowest level of the Minor Leagues. Posey is the poster boy for everything the Giants have accomplished. He's a consummate pro and a tough no-nonsense competitor who represents everything the game is supposed to be.

Posey named star for Giants

5. D-backs first baseman Paul Goldschmidt
Goldschmidt was the 246th pick of the 2009 Draft, and he may be forever driven by that snub. That could be why he's among the first D-backs to arrive for work and the last to leave. Goldschmidt went that low in the Draft even though everyone who'd known him in college and high school told scouts that he was special, that he was one of those rare people whose heart and work ethic might overcome whatever he lacked in talent. Eight years later, he's as close to a perfect player as there is in baseball, making four straight National League All-Star teams and completely embedding himself in his franchise and in the city of Phoenix, giving both his time and money in order to make a difference in the community. Goldschmidt is still only 29, and when the D-backs get back to the postseason in the next year or two, the entire country will find out how special he is.

Goldy to star for D-backs

6. Dodgers left-hander Clayton Kershaw
When Kershaw accepted his third NL Cy Young Award at a banquet in New York in January 2016, he gave a speech that was a masterpiece. In it, he took fans through a typical day at Dodger Stadium. In doing so, Kershaw introduced everyone in the audience to his trainers and coaches and clubhouse men. In the sweetest gesture imaginable, he revealed more about himself than any NL Cy Young Award winner ever could.

Kershaw healthy, ready for 2017

7. Angels manager Mike Scioscia
Scioscia is a teacher. In the end, it's that simple. When the Angels won the World Series in 2002, he opened Spring Training with a simple fine system. Players would get small fines for not taking an extra base and for not throwing to the right bag. In this way, Scioscia was letting the Angels know what he expected of them. That's part of his brilliance. Scioscia begins Spring Training mornings with a team meeting that could pass for a stand-up comedy routine. The team meeting serves as a team-building exercise and sets a nice tone for the day.

Scioscia, Eppler's relationship

8. White Sox general manager Rick Hahn
Hahn wanted to do this for a couple of years. But he also wanted to go as far as he could with this group of players, and he did. Now the White Sox are off and running toward a rebuild. Hahn's trades of Chris Sale and Adam Eaton brought a bounty of young players, and he will be getting his first up-close look at them this spring. He intends to make similar deals in the coming months, and when he's done, the White Sox could have a future as bright and shiny as any.

Hahn excited to start season

9. Rangers infielders Adrian Beltre and Elvis Andrus
This is the part of the room where a lot of the laughter originates. If Beltre has ever had a bad day, he's never made it clear to anyone. He's also one of the first veterans to greet every new player, to make them feel welcome and to start the process of blending them into the team. Beltre has been like a big brother to Andrus, who hopefully will be there years from now when Beltre is inducted into the Hall of Fame.

Beltre compares kids to Andrus

10. Mariners second baseman Robinson Cano
When a young teammate didn't have a proper bag to take on road trips last year, the youngster showed up the next day to find an Yves Saint Laurent duffel bag in front of his locker. If the kid was going to be a big leaguer, he should look the part. That's a small slice of the kinds of things Cano did last season, as he produced on the field and was a leader off of it. So many good things are happening with this franchise right now, it would be a thrill to see them back in the postseason.

Cano should star for Mariners

Bonus: Rockies manager Bud Black
Black is the guy everyone likes. That includes his players. He's the guy everyone respects as well. That also includes his players. Black is also the prototype for what a Major League manager should be -- a terrific communicator, teacher and strategist. Rockies general manager Jeff Bridich couldn't have made a better choice for a franchise that appears close to turning a corner and needs a manager with credibility and just the right touch, as all those young pitchers have their hands full trying to figure out Coors Field.

Richard Justice is a columnist for MLB.com. You can follow him on Twitter @richardjustice. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.