It was just a matter of days ago that four little words warmed chilly hearts across North America, words that arrive each February and remind everyone that summer isn't so far away: Pitchers and catchers report.
Now, two more words that bring those warmer days a little closer: Play ball.
Starting today and not stopping until there's a trophy being hoisted in the fall, Major League teams will be facing each other on a daily basis, first in exhibitions through March, then into the 162-game marathon and beyond.
From the first pitch forward, those games will be available to millions of baseball fans beyond the ballparks in Arizona and Florida, online and on mobile devices. All spring long, games will be streamed daily on MLB.TV and on the MLB.com At Bat mobile app, which also will bring the live updates and on-the-spot news coverage that have become staples of MLB.com's coverage of every team and every game.
The MLB.TV spring slate begins with three games today, starting at 1:05 p.m. ET with the Blue Jays at the Phillies in Grapefruit League action at Clearwater, Fla., then following with Reds-Indians from Goodyear, Ariz., in Cactus League action, and the Dodgers meeting the D-backs in Scottsdale, Ariz. -- a bookend matchup to those two teams meeting in the 2014 Opening Series in Sydney, Australia, on March 22.
Clayton Kershaw, the 2013 Cy Young Award winner who earned a record payday this winter, speaks for a lot of baseball fans with his feelings about moving from stretching and drills to balls and strikes.
"It's about time," said the lefty, who will make the start for the Dodgers in their spring opener.
Once the hardballs start flying on the first day of exhibitions, it won't take long to recognize that this 2014 season truly represents a new beginning, thanks to changes dotted all over the map.
That conversation begins with a Yankees club that underwent an extravagant makeover this winter. A pinstriped crew that will include newcomers in outfielders Jacoby Ellsbury and Carlos Beltran, and catcher Brian McCann will travel to Bradenton, Fla., to meet one of the postseason darlings of 2013 in the Pirates in the Grapefruit League opener for both clubs.
"[We'll] get to see them in our uniform, guys that have had success other places," said Yankees manager Joe Girardi. "I'm excited to see it."
Elsewhere in today's six-pack of openers between Major League foes, the Tigers will hit the field at the Braves' Lake Buena Vista, Fla., home, with new Detroit manager Brad Ausmus' first lineup to include a new arrival at the top in second baseman Ian Kinsler, acquired in a trade with Texas for Prince Fielder. Also, Bay Area rivals meet in the Cactus League opener for both the A's and the host Giants in Scottsdale, Ariz.
Come Thursday, more teams will be hitting the fields in Arizona and Florida, some showing off new arrivals. The Rangers will have Fielder and Shin-Soo Choo at their disposal against their neighbors the Royals in Surprise, Ariz., and the Mariners will have Robinson Cano available for duty while meeting their neighbors the Padres in Peoria, Ariz. That's just part of a schedule that will boast five games on MLB.TV, including another Pirates-Yankees matchup, this one in Tampa with Derek Jeter slated to make his spring debut as he begins his final campaign.
By Friday, the defending World Series champion Red Sox will make their Grapefruit League debut as part of the first full slate of exhibition games of the spring. Following a winter of celebration and a couple of Thursday games with UConn and Boston College, they'll be meeting the Twins, who are shifting All-Star catcher Joe Mauer to first base this spring. The defending National League champion Cardinals will be on the field for the first time that day as well, hosting the Marlins in Jupiter, Fla.
From there, it's on into March, starting with Masahiro Tanaka's debut for the Yankees on Saturday and heading through an exhibition schedule that will include more than 200 games available on MLB.TV and a wealth of information on the MLB.com At Bat app and online at MLB.com -- live radio broadcasts of available Spring Training games, batter-by-batter action for every exhibition, breaking news and everything else fans need to stay on top of the action.
It all begins on Wednesday, with baseballs pitched, hit and caught with something on the line for the first time in 2014, the beginning of a long journey of games headed for the ones that every team wants to play in the fall.
And, to get that journey started, two magic words will spread warmth around the baseball world: Play ball.
John Schlegel is a national reporter for MLB.com. You can follow him on Twitter at @JohnSchlegelMLB. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.