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Harsh winter gives way to spring training’s high hopes

Sun., Feb. 13, 2011

The Super Bowl hit a deep freeze, NBA teams got stranded in blizzards, an NHL game was iced by a snowstorm.

Most everywhere, the winter weather is wicked.

Good thing the weekend forecast in Arizona and Florida calls for sunny skies and temperatures in the 70s: Felix Hernandez, Joe Mauer and friends are coming.

Spring training is starting up. Let’s trade ski masks for catcher’s masks. And pitchers, take off your mittens and put on those mitts.

Just in time, right?

“I would say there might be some of them from the Midwest or Northeast who might go to their respective spring training places and accelerate the real estate market,” Colorado Rockies manager Jim Tracy said. “Unless they really like being behind a snow blower.”

Even before the sunscreen mixes with pine tar, Bruce Bochy is eager.

World Series champions always want to get going. The San Francisco Giants manager and his players are among the many teams opening camp in the next few days.

“Especially some of them who have been in this harsh weather we’ve had this winter, they’re looking forward to getting to spring training,” Bochy said.

“I also think when you get two or three weeks off, you start getting a little bit itchy. Then when it gets to late January, you’re ready. You’re ready to get back and see your teammates, getting back on the field and getting ready for the season,” he said.

In many places, that means new pals.

Cliff Lee, back in Philadelphia after a one-year absence. Manny Ramirez and Johnny Damon, taking their hair-raising antics to Tampa Bay. Carl Crawford and Adrian Gonzalez, now swinging for Boston. Vladimir Guerrero, Jayson Werth, Vernon Wells, Dan Uggla and World Series MVP Edgar Renteria, all switching uniforms.

“It makes you feel good to come here and know they wanted me to play there. It’s awesome,” said strikeout-prone slugger Mark Reynolds, traded from Arizona to Baltimore. “This is kind of a fresh start.”

Shaun Marcum already is looking way ahead. Traded from Toronto to Milwaukee, he was part of the Brewers’ busy winter – they also acquired former Cy Young winner Zack Greinke from Kansas City.

“Nothing against Toronto as an organization, but this is the first time I’ve gone through the offseason working out and thinking that I’m going to be pitching in October and not ending my season Oct. 2. I’m working hard knowing that I’m going to be pitching Oct. 23, Oct. 24 – just throwing those dates out there,” Marcum said.

But there’s plenty of time until then. A lot to do, in fact, before the pitching-rich Phillies host Florida State on Feb. 24 in the first exhibition game of the year.

A host of new managers need to meet and greet their guys.

Don Mattingly with the Dodgers, Ron Roenicke of the Brewers and John Farrell of the Blue Jays will be managing for the first time. In all, 12 teams go into opening day on March 31 with a different skipper than they started with last season. Gone are four long-timers, each leaving with glittery rings – Joe Torre, Bobby Cox, Lou Piniella and Cito Gaston.

Also missing this spring, baseball’s newest retirees: postseason wins champ Andy Pettitte, career saves leader Trevor Hoffman and former World Series MVP Mike Lowell.

Still to be decided: Albert Pujols and his contract status. The three-time N.L. MVP set a deadline for the start of his spring training – either he gets a new deal with the St. Louis Cardinals or he’ll cut off talks until he becomes a free agent after the season.

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