"Pitchers and catchers report."

Together, they are possibly the four happiest words of the year, with the possible exception of "Happy birthday to you."

"Those four words are akin to springtime, the thaw of tundra, and brings the scent of hope and normalcy to the air," said Yankees fan Kevin Fuller of Albuquerque, N.M. "Those words are new life."

"It means that feeling is coming back," said Astros fan Lauri Aguilar of Sugar Land, Texas. "Any baseball fan knows what I mean. It's just that feeling."

That feeling is naturally surfacing again, deep in your baseball soul, because on Tuesday, Major League Baseball announced the official first workout dates for pitchers and catchers and also for full-squad workouts. The first reporting date is Feb. 18, and that also is the date of the first pitchers and catchers workouts, for the Cubs, Reds, Rockies, Royals, Angels, Mariners and Giants in the Cactus League and for the Orioles, Phillies, Pirates, Cardinals and defending World Series champion Yankees in the Grapefruit League.

Every year, as sure as the robins and the tree buds, it all begins with the act of people showing up at the Spring Training venues in Florida and Arizona. Although these days a variety of eager players tend to be around the camps and rearing to go, technically it is the battery mates who are required to show up first, a longstanding baseball tradition.

One little-known fact is that the popular phrase itself should actually be even longer, if held to the spirit of the actual statement MLB releases each year. It goes like this: Feb. 18 will be the "first date injured players, pitchers and catchers may report to Spring Training." It does not quite have the same ring to it to throw "injured players" in there as you bide the wintertime, but you probably also are not looking forward to many "injured players" showing up.

"Those four words mean summer is almost here, and means good times at the ballpark -- and garlic fries from Safeco Field," said Mariners fan Greg Walden of Vancouver, B.C.

AL Workout Dates
Team Pitchers & Catchers Full Squad
BAL Feb. 18 Feb. 23
BOS Feb. 20 Feb. 24
CWS Feb. 21 Feb. 26
CLE Feb. 23 Feb. 26
DET Feb. 19 Feb. 23
KC Feb. 18 Feb. 23
LAA Feb. 18 Feb. 23
MIN Feb. 22 Feb. 27
NYY Feb. 18 Feb. 24
OAK Feb. 21 Feb. 26
SEA Feb. 18 Feb. 23
TB Feb. 19 Feb. 24
TEX Feb. 19 Feb. 24
TOR Feb. 22 Feb. 26

When you hear those four words, said Nationals fan Reggie Yinger of Frederick, Md., "It's a message that a long-lost friend is returning, and it gives me pure happiness."

"Here in Syracuse, snow lingers far beyond mid-February," said Yankees fan Andy Collins. "It warms the soul just to know that somewhere, there's green grass, blue sky and baseball."

When you hear those four words, said Joe Casabona of Middletown, N.Y., "It means the end of a cold, hard, baseball-less winter."

"Pitchers and catchers report."

It will be time next month for Roy Halladay to report to his new Phillies camp, for Cliff Lee to report to his new Mariners camp, for reigning American League MVP Joe Mauer to report back to his usual Twins camp, for Pudge Rodriguez to report to his new Nationals camp.

Those greatly anticipated first workouts for pitchers and catchers will be scattered over five days, with the last openings on Feb. 22 for the Brewers in the Cactus League and for the Twins and Blue Jays in the Grapefruit League.

The first day that all players may report to Spring Training is Feb. 23. That is the same day that full-squad workouts will begin for the Cubs, Reds, Royals, Angels, Mariners and Giants in the Cactus League, and the Braves, Orioles, Tigers, Phillies, Pirates and Cardinals in the Grapefruit League.

NL Workout Dates
Team Pitchers & Catchers Full Squad
ARI Feb. 20 Feb. 24
ATL Feb. 20 Feb. 23
CHC Feb. 18 Feb. 23
CIN Feb. 18 Feb. 23
COL Feb. 18 Feb. 26
FLA Feb. 20 Feb. 24
HOU Feb. 20 Feb. 24
LAD Feb. 21 Feb. 26
MIL Feb. 22 Feb. 27
NYM Feb. 20 Feb. 25
PHI Feb. 18 Feb. 23
PIT Feb. 18 Feb. 23
STL Feb. 18 Feb. 23
SD Feb. 19 Feb. 25
SF Feb. 18 Feb. 23
WAS Feb. 21 Feb. 26

Milwaukee and Minnesota conduct the final first full-squad workouts on Feb. 27, and then the exhibitions roll out, with the Braves and Mets playing the first Spring Training game between Major League clubs on March 2 in Port St. Lucie, Fla. That will start a little over a month of exhibitions, and the 2010 regular season will begin April 4 when the Yankees visit the Red Sox in the Sunday night opener.

And however the season ends in the fall, it will have all begun for the average baseball fan with the ceremonial uttering of those four famous words:

"Pitchers and catchers report."

"Those four words," said Steve James of Jenks, Ohio, "are a much more reliable indication that spring is coming than the shadow seen by any mammal, groundhog or otherwise."

"It means the great game of baseball is right around the corner," said Yankees fan Rosemari Famiglietti of Washington. "It's not the same without my Yankees seven days a week. Play ball!"

"Hearing those four words," said Red Sox fan Lisa Boudreau of Phoenix, "will help me complete my recovery from last Oct. 11, when the Sox were only one strike away from winning the American League Division Series game against the Angels."

Ah, yes, that last postseason. We remember it well, and anyone who has a subscription to the MLB.TV Offseason Package can relive every single pitch of the 2009 regular season and postseason -- and get 100 selected 2010 Spring Training games to watch live.

Last fall, you might recall, the Angels swept the Red Sox and the Yankees swept the Twins after that thrilling tiebreaker game between Minnesota and Detroit. Then the Yankees won the pennant. The Dodgers stunned the Cardinals in a first-round sweep and then lost the National League pennant to the Phillies, who had beaten the Rockies in four. Chase Utley tied a World Series record with five homers, but the Yankees were too much, and they won the series in six for their 27th world championship.

We have been in waiting mode ever since, watching the Hot Stove heat up and then simmer. Now the impatience is beginning to show. The college football season is over, the Tide having rolled. One more Super Bowl, and then the true rites of passage will occur -- fantasy owners will get together to talk about their coming leagues, and soon enough, pitchers and catchers report.

"Baseball is not only the U.S.A.'s pastime, it is also becoming the world's pastime," said Phill Ferguson of Edinboro, Pa. "What is more fun than sitting at a ballpark relaxing and eating a hot dog?"

"'Pitchers and catchers report.' No explanation necessary," said Mets fan Danny Guevara of Orlando, Fla. "It's baseball! What more can we want for?"