February 2006

Palm Trees and Sunshine

     For those of us lucky enough to travel south to Florida in March for spring training, there is nothing better after a long winter than seeing the palm trees swaying in warm southerly breezes.  Just hearing the ball slam into wooden bats and the chatter associated with batting practice is music to our ears this time of year.  Watching Travis Hafner launch balls over the fence, newly acquired Todd Hollandsworth stroke line drives into centerfield, Ronnie Belliard and Jhonny Peralta field ground balls with effortless ease and Eric Wedge taking it all in with arms folded like a general preparing his troops for a long arduous battle. 

   The pitchers always look strong in bullpen sessions this time of year.  The ball seems to explode from their hand and the ensuing loud "pop" as the catcher squeezes it behind home plate lets you know that they are throwing serious heat.  Carl Willis only has 26 pitchers in camp this year and with good reason.  He is confident that this staff can be as successful as last year’s group that led the American League in era.

   One of the biggest differences in this year’s spring training as opposed to the previous three years is the fact that there are very few roster spots available.  A battle for the utility infielder position and 1 spot in the bullpen is really the only decision for Eric Wedge and his staff this spring.

   After two weeks of nothing but batting practice, infield drills and bullpen sessions Wedge and his coaches are now anxious to start playing games.  The Grapefruit League begins Thursday for the Indians when they travel to Kissimmee to play the defending National League champion Houston Astros.  Personally I can’t wait either because that means its time to get back to work behind the microphone with my partners Tom Hamilton and Mike Hegan.

   I’m not trying to rub it in for those of you still battling the snow and ice in northeastern Ohio but, the temperature has been in the 80’s almost everyday.  For those of you who can’t make it down to Florida I have an alternative for you.  This Saturday at Jacobs Field the Indians are hosting an open house at the ballpark.  Single game tickets will be on sale beginning at 10am and you can come down to Jacobs Field and tour the ballpark, take swings in the batting cages and at least for a little while escape the winter doldrums.

   Meanwhile here in Winter Haven it feels like baseball season and with that I say, "Let the games begin!"