The best time of the year for baseball fans

Marlow Weldon

With the attention of most Canadians focused firmly on the ice these days, I thought I would draw attention to the four words I most look forward to every February.

“Pitchers and catchers report.”

That, to me and countless other fans around North America, signals the start of spring training, meaning the start of the Major League Baseball season isn’t far behind.

For the Toronto Blue Jays, the pitchers and catchers started reporting to Dunedin, Florida, on Monday with the full team expected to be on the field by Friday.

Perhaps what I love most about spring training is that every one, at this point, is equal.

No one has won anything, and no one has lost anything, save maybe the Baltimore Orioles, who haven’t really done anything since all-star shortstop Cal Ripken Junior retired from professional baseball.

As a fan of the Toronto Blue Jays, I haven’t really had much to cheer for over the last decade, but optimism is running high these days for the two time World Series champions.

After watching former GM J-P Riccardi make bad deal after bad deal, it’s been a breath of fresh air to watch the guy who replaced him, Alex Anthopoulos, guide this club through an off-season of change.

The biggest move of the six deals made was, of course, the Vernon Wells deal.

Wells, who signed a mammoth deal worth millions while Riccardi was GM, was sent to Anaheim earlier this winter, and the best part of that deal was that the $86 million dollars remaining on his deal also went west.

Traditionally, with that much money left on a contract, the old team has to pick up part of the salary to make the trade more palatable to the players new team, but Anthopoulos was some how able to convince the Angels to take Wells, and his contract, on at face value.

For that alone, he should be given the Executive of the Year award.

Other significant roster changes include the departures of pitcher Shaun Marcum (who went 13-8 last season) and reliever Scott Downs.

Wearing the Toronto jersey for the first time in their careers are highly regarded Canadian prospect Brett Lawrie (acquired in the Marcum to Milwaukee deal) as well as outfielders Juan Rivera and Rajai Davis.

There’s also a new man in charge, as former Boston Red Sox pitching coach John Farrell was hired in October to take over from Cito Gaston, who guided the club for almost three seasons.

But lost amongst all the changes are some of the guys who will be coming back.

The Blue Jays lead the Majors last season with 257 home runs, and Jose Bautista, who banged out 54 of them, will be back, penciled in as the starter at third base.

Aaron Hill, Adam Lind, and Travis Snider, who all had break out seasons last year, are also back, looking to improve on their 2009-2010 numbers.

Pitching might be a bit of an issue, as Ricky Romero, Brandon Morrow and Brett Cecil will take the first three spots in the five-man rotation, but the final two spots are still available.

Maybe prized prospect Zach Stewart will be given a chance to book end the rotation.

As for the bullpen, Jason Frasor is back, and he’ll be joined by free agent signings Jon Rausch and Octavio Dotel, with both those guys expected to challenge for the closers job.

Only one of those guys will get the job on Opening Day, but Rausch and Dotel should provide Farrell with some middle relief options if they aren’t closing, something that was sorely missing last season.

All in all, this time of year is the best time to be a baseball fan because after all, the Jays haven’t lost anything yet.

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