The long, cold winter and off-season is over. Today, Phillies pitchers and catchers will officially report for spring training, a symbol that spring has arrived despite the calendar only being in the middle of February.
Here are nine reasons Phillies fans should be excited about the start of spring training this year. Feel free to add your own in the comments section below.
1. Pictures of Roy Halladay (and others) running
Enough said. But we continue on anyway...
2. Jimmy Rollins asked to make a prediction
This is a story that has become somewhat stale, but we will all be looking for it at some point. Someone in the media will be sure to ask Jimmy Rollins for a prediction on the upcoming season. They will not be able to help themselves after Rollins backed up his statements in 2007 and 2008. We already know Rollins thinks the Phillies are still ahead of the Nationals, despite how the standings proved otherwise in 2012. Will the Nationals be his new target? What will Rollins predict this season?
3. Darin Ruf getting a real shot
Last season saw outfielder Darin Ruf make a splash in his September call-up to the big leagues, and he now has fans salivating about the future. Heading in to the spring Ruf is expected to get out of the spring with a roster spot when the team comes north. But the challenge will be to follow-up his impressive September with a solid spring. For some, this is easier said than done, but we will be keeping a close eye on Ruf in hopes he manages to take the next step forward.
4. Daily afternoon baseball
Baseball, at its heart, was intended to be played during the day. Fortunately, that is almost all we get for a solid month.
The Grapefruit League schedule features afternoon baseball just about every day this spring, which means those stuck at work will be listening (or watching when available) Phillies baseball on the radio or via online stream. For many this will offer a calming distraction as Scott Franzke and Larry Andersen and other members of the Phillies broadcast team remind you just how great it can be to listen to a game on the radio.
5. Getting acquainted with the new additions
Every baseball team will welcome new faces to their spring training facilities this spring, be they players, coaches or managers. In Clearwater the Phillies will welcome pitchers Mike Adams and John Lannan, third baseman Michael Young and outfielders Ben Revere and Delmon Young, among others. How well these players mix with what is left of the nucleus of the 2008 championship team will determine just how far this year's Phillies will go.
6. We all fall in love with one unexpected prospect
It happens everywhere. Spring training leads to the inevitable getting carried away with one particular prospect. Casual fans will see strikeouts and good stuff on the mound or a bat that makes contact consistently and believe this may be the hidden gem that could save the season. As much as we try to fight it we will get soaked in to the success of one prospect and call for them to be called up the instant we see something not working once the regular season gets underway.
Who will be our spring fling this season?
7. The World Baseball Classic is back
Baseball's international tournament is back for more this spring, and once again it will take major leaguers away from spring training. The concept of players jumping right in to the mix of heightened competition so early in the spring can be a concern, but it also offers some real competition for fans to look forward to, with games that supposedly matter. I know I will be watching. How about you?
8. Team photo day
One of the more notable days during the spring in which absolutely nothing happens is photo day. A day when players pose for a photographer wearing their uniforms, either smiling or in intimidating fashion, with their glove or bat. For some reason seeing these photos gets fans excited for the upcoming season. Perhaps because it is one step closer to seeing the season coming together as the players get their media shots taken.
9. It's a breath of fresh air
Perhaps needless to say, it has been a rough stretch for the Philadelphia sports fan. The Phillies failed to reach the postseason last year and that led in to a dismal football season across the street. Meanwhile the basketball team made a big off-season acquisition that has yet to take the court and the hockey season was nearly lost.
Maybe the Phillies are the third best team in the National League East, but this is a time when each team in Major League Baseball feels they have a chance to do something special in the looming season. The Phillies hope to bounce back in 2013 after being passed by not one but two division rivals last season. Time will tell whether they have what it takes or not.
But when you are working out in Clearwater, tossing baseballs in the warm Florida sun, doesn't everybody feel like a champion?