For the first time this spring, every team to play
All 30 teams have games scheduled today in Florida, Arizona
The last time all 30 Major League Baseball teams played on the same day, it was a night no one ever will forget. Dan Johnson homered for the Rays, Chris Carpenter threw a two-hit shutout for the Cardinals, and the Red Sox and Braves fell victim to historic collapses as the final night of the 2011 regular season became baseball lore.
This is as far as you can possibly get from the magnitude of that storybook night, but hey, we are just glad to finally have all 30 teams in uniform again for a full MLB slate of games. Exhibition games got under way over the weekend, and on Monday they ramp up with 16 games scheduled across the Cactus and Grapefruit Leagues, including split-squad games for the A's and Orioles.
Perhaps the highlight of Monday's full load will be at Oakland's spring home in Phoenix, where Albert Pujols is expected to start at first base for the Angels and C.J. Wilson takes the mound. Witness the top position player and pitcher acquisitions of this past free-agent market, respectively, on display for the first time in a game as Angels.
"I can't wait," Angels center fielder Peter Bourjos said on Sunday. "It's been a long winter."
Justin Verlander breezed through his 2011 Spring Training outings, setting himself up nicely for a season of greatness and winning the American League MVP and Cy Young Awards. Along the way, he no-hit Toronto, and now once again it is Jose Bautista and the Blue Jays opposite him as Verlander makes his spring debut at 1:05 p.m. ET at Joker Marchant Stadium in Lakeland, Fla. It will be his first game as a teammate of Prince Fielder, who already has hit his first Tigers home run off a light tower.
The defending World Series-champion Cardinals and the rebuilt and renamed Miami Marlins will open the regular season against each other April 4 at new Marlins Ballpark, but for now they will square off in their Grapefruit League opener at St. Louis' spring home in Jupiter. Josh Johnson will start for Miami; Kyle Lohse throws first for St. Louis.
Ready to see what Jose Reyes looks like at the top of Ozzie Guillen's lineup? After Reyes homered in a scrimmage on Sunday, he said: "This game doesn't count. Tomorrow we'll play a real game. I feel good. I can't wait to get on the field and to play a real game. I've worked hard the last two weeks. I'm ready to go.
"It will be very exciting to get on the field with my new team. We've been working together for almost two weeks," Reyes added. "It will be fun to get on the field, and get to know how we work together on the field. I'm very excited right now, I can't wait."
Meanwhile, it will be the first game as a Redbird for Carlos Beltran. Manager Mike Matheny, also making his spring debut, confirmed that Beltran will serve as the designated hitter in the opener. It is customary for National League teams to utilize a designated hitter during these early games so that there are more opportunities for position players to get at-bats.
"He claims that [his shoulder] feels pretty good," Matheny said. "Let's err on the side of caution. I know he's happy with where he is, so let's make him happier and let his body respond by just going slow."
In Clearwater, Fla., the Yankees and Phillies will face each other for the third consecutive day. Will Hunter Pence make it three home runs in three days?
Monday will mean pitchers throwing one to three innings tops, position players coming and going, veterans often handled with great care. It will mean sunny and 70s in Florida, and sunny and 80s in Arizona. It will mean the first action for many offseason acquisitions, and the welcome sight of returning prodigal sons.
Competition for roster spots begins in earnest. Consider Philip Humber, who will throw the first pitch of Monday's White Sox game against the visiting Dodgers in Glendale, Ariz. Humber is expected to be among five pitchers -- the others are John Danks, Jake Peavy, Gavin Floyd and Chris Sale -- vying for what would seem to be three openings on the pitching staff. New White Sox manager Robin Ventura and pitching coach Don Cooper will start looking them over now.
"For guys we know are going to be on the team -- and we know nine of them -- it's about getting them ready," Cooper said Sunday. "For some, it started [on Saturday in the intrasquad game]. For everybody else, the next few days.
"Then, for the others, it's an audition for the openings we have. Nobody is ahead of anybody, nobody is behind anybody else. The evaluation now is going to start. We're not evaluating them during batting practice or sidelines. But now that the [games start], certainly everybody is going to be watching, and we're looking to evaluate to put them on the team."
This also is a good time to wonder just how much stock one should put into spring won-loss records. Last year, the Cardinals were 14-16 and the Rangers, whom they beat in the World Series, were 13-16. The Giants dominated the Cactus League last spring but failed to return to the postseason. A year earlier, they also topped the Cactus League and won it all.
The Royals beat the Rangers, 6-1, in their first game on Sunday in Surprise, Ariz., and the co-tenants of that complex will meet there again on Monday. Certainly the Royals would like to see it go exactly how the first meeting went.
"It was just a solid game all the way around," Royals manager Ned Yost said. "Maintain that consistency, that's our focus this year. Play solid baseball on a consistent basis."
For Ron Washington, the manager on the other side of the field at Surprise, this is the start of what he hopes is the road to a third consecutive World Series.
"Repetition, that's what it's about," he said. "Getting the competitive juices out there flowing, each day they'll get better. This is what spring is all about, starting to play games. Starting to get your game together and get prepared for the season."
The advent of full MLB schedules also brings with it an unfortunate reality: injuries. They are a fact of spring life as players get banged up, and Milwaukee is already stinging from the loss of right fielder Corey Hart for three to four weeks. Hart, who opened last season on the disabled list with a rib-cage strain, will undergo surgery this week for a torn meniscus in his right knee.
The Cubs renew a longstanding tradition with Monday's first game at HoHoKam Park in Mesa, Ariz., where they will open against the A's at 3:05 ET.
"It's something you look forward to ever since you got the job, let alone get out on the field and now we're playing the first real game," said new Cubs manager Dale Sveum. "It's one of the times of the year where you know the next step is coming, too. In 30 days from now we'll be teeing it up in Wrigley. We've got a whole month here to get things ironed out and get these guys in shape. It's that time of spring where, as players, you're finally done with all the drills and all the stuff we hate in Spring Training but have to do.
"Same as a manager, you've got to start managing and doing things to get in the swing of things there, too."