MLB releases Spring Training schedule
Highlights include stadium debuts, World Baseball Classic
"It's the fans that need Spring Training. You gotta get 'em interested. Wake 'em up and let 'em know that their season is coming, the good times are gonna roll."
-- Harry Caray
"People who write about Spring Training not being necessary have never tried to throw a baseball."
-- Sandy Koufax
"I don't care how long you've been around, you've never seen it all."
-- Bob Lemon
New camp venues, a quick rematch of the 2008 World Series, exhibitions at both of New York's new ballparks, new players on new teams and World Baseball Classic intervention are among the many highlights on the 2009 Spring Training schedule that was officially announced Thursday by Major League Baseball.
There are many reasons to get your tickets now and head for Florida or Arizona in late February and March, and the obvious one is simply to see first-hand the return of the national pastime after a long offseason since Brad Lidge threw a third strike past Eric Hinske. Good times are gonna roll again, and you've never seen what's going to happen in 2009.
Spring Training play will officially begin with a full slate of Grapefruit and Cactus League games on Wednesday, Feb. 25. The opening of the schedule will include games at the new spring homes of the Rays (Port Charlotte, Fla.) and the Indians (Goodyear, Ariz.). On Sunday, March 1, the Dodgers and White Sox will play the inaugural game at "Camelback Ranch -- Glendale," the new joint complex shared by the two clubs.
That will be an historic shift for the Dodgers, who had played for many generations at Dodgertown in Vero Beach, Fla. For many, it will be hard to imagine the Dodgers actually playing exhibitions anywhere else but in the Sunshine State, but as with baseball itself, time keeps marching on and things change through the years.
During the first week of Spring Training games, the defending American League champion Rays will have dates against the Red Sox (Feb. 27 at Port Charlotte) in a rematch of the 2008 AL Championship Series and against the World Series champion Phillies (Feb. 28 at Clearwater). Although players typically each have short stints on the field in games that early, it will be a thrill to see players like Evan Longoria and Cole Hamels together in the same setting again -- a harbinger of the annual rite of renewal.
For the second time overall and the first since 2006, Spring Training will be punctuated by the fabulous World Baseball Classic tournament featuring teams representing 16 nations. Many top players -- such as Minnesota first baseman Justin Morneau, who was just announced as the first player on Team Canada -- will leave their MLB clubs temporarily to train and participate in that event. But the 2009 spring schedule also will feature exhibition games between Major League clubs and the national teams preparing for the World Baseball Classic. Thirty-two such games are scheduled between March 3-6. Four additional Cactus League exhibition games that will feature the winner or runner-up of the Round One Tokyo Pool are scheduled for March 11-12.
Going to George M. Steinbrenner Field next spring? You'll see CC Sabathia and A.J. Burnett pitching for the Yankees. Kerry Wood will get his first work in as the new closer for the Indians. Where will Manny Ramirez be playing? You'll want to see it, wherever it is.
On Friday, April 3, and Saturday, April 4, both New York clubs will unveil their new ballparks in two-game exhibition series. The Mets will host the Red Sox at Citi Field, while the Yankees will play the Cubs at the new Yankee Stadium. All Spring Training games and exhibition games will conclude on April 4, and then it will be time for a later-than-usual start to the 2009 regular season, featuring Braves at Phillies in the annual Opening Night game on Sunday, April 5. The late start to the regular season will result in a high probability of the World Series extending into November -- as late as Nov. 5.
This is when it all begins, and many people have waited for these official schedules to be released so they can start planning their trips.
Of course, it all begins with pitchers and catchers reporting to camp as usual. Dates of each club's first workouts for pitchers and catchers and for full squads will be announced when they are available in January. A complete Spring Training schedule, subject to change, is available here.
Cold weather is sweeping over most of North America. It will feel like another long offseason, and it will just make you more hungry for the satisfaction of seeing the game return again. Now, there is that hint of baseball in the warm distance, and, just when you thought you saw it all in 2008 with the Rays making it to the World Series and the Phillies finally winning it all, the good times are gonna roll again.
Mark Newman is enterprise editor of MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.