Even as snow continues to fall here in Western Pennsylvania, Spring is in the air; Spring Training that is. Just yesterday we all got one step closer to seeing our Pittsburgh Pirates take the field in their home away from home at LECOM Park in Bradenton, Florida; well, actually it will be at Ed Smith Stadium in neighboring Sarasota, but you get the point. As the equipment trucks continue their journey from PNC Park, pitchers and catchers get ready to report and the rest of the squad make last minute preparations, the official Spring Training schedule for the Pirates was released.
In some ways things are going to be a little different as games will begin almost a full week later, a limit of 75 players are able to participate in activities both at the ball park and down the street at Pirate City, team travel is being restricted as much as possible, with only the Pirates and Orioles playing the full gamete of games against clubs to the north and south and of course the reduced number of fans in the stands. However, when it push comes to shove, and the players get back on the field, I doubt many will even notice the changes; even though there will clearly be a ripple effect that is being felt by some already, or will be experienced by those who venture out to experience what is normally a little slice of heaven in the baseball community.
For the Minor League players in the organization who would normally pack the practice fields at Pirate City, and weren’t lucky enough to receive a non-roster invitation to big league camp; they are still at home just like they have been for almost a year, not knowing what the immediate future might hold. Sure there are some rumors that these guys could report as soon as the Major Leaguers and AAA/Taxi Squad players move north after their final Grapefruit League game on March 30th, but as of right now I haven’t heard anything that is set in stone; aside from the finalized realignments.
As far as fans are concerned one of the best experiences is walking amongst these young hopefuls as they move between drills, talk with family members, gather to get instructions from coaches and cheer each other on during intra-squad games. It truly is a one of kind occurrence; where you get a behind the scene look into the inner workings of your favorite team, usually reserved for those in the media or for the coaches and players themselves.
After you look past all of this, which isn’t always easy, what it comes down to is a Major League ball club preparing for a 162 game season; with a new approach concerning prospects participating earlier than usual, position battles that could potentially signify who moves on to PNC Park and who doesn’t, a rotation of pitchers trying to define who they are and a new group of players, acquired through the draft, Rule 5 and free agency; some of whom have the ability to contribute immediately.
To me this is all exciting. Not in the, my team is ready to compete for the division, pennant or championship type of way, but in the sense that for the most part they are all young and have room to grow; and even the ones that aren’t still have something to prove.
This is the time where everyone starts on the same plane, if even for a moment, and as always hope springs eternal.