Archive for Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Ugly offseason about to end

Camps begin to open today in Florida, Arizona

February 13, 2008


After all the talk about the Mitchell Report, it's time for Mitchell to report.

Mitch Talbot is all set to get in his car next week and make the 36-hour drive from Cedar City, Utah, to St. Petersburg, Fla., for spring training with the Tampa Bay Rays.

Just like everyone else, the 24-year-old pitching prospect followed all the steroid news during the offseason. But starting today, when camps begin to open in Florida and Arizona, attention will turn back to the field following months of sour headlines.

"I don't think it's going to hurt. I think they're still excited for baseball," said Talbot, who started last season with six no-hit innings for Triple-A Durham.

Johan Santana, Dontrelle Willis, Dan Haren and Erik Bedard will be with new teams following big trades. When position players show up, Miguel Cabrera, Miguel Tejada, Torii Hunter and Andruw Jones will put on different uniforms.

All those fans in cold-weather cities await those magical words, "pitchers and catchers," and the sounds of fastballs popping into mitts and balls cracking off bats.

New York Mets manager Willie Randolph gushed when he thought about Santana, who'll brighten a camp in Port St. Lucie, Fla., still smarting from last September's epic collapse.

"When they announced that we got him, everybody kind of congratulated me like I just had a baby or something," Randolph said.

Acquired by Detroit at the winter meetings along with Cabrera, the excitable Willis beamed when the Tigers gave him a $29 million, three-year contract.

"I'm so amped up about being here and knowing I'm going to stay here," he said. "It's mind-blowing to know I'm going to play for years to come for a team that had guys like Ty Cobb and Al Kaline."

Hunter will be with the Los Angeles Angels after agreeing to a $90 million, five-year contract, and Jones will be the Los Angeles Dodgers, starting their final spring training at Vero Beach, Fla., where they've trained since 1948.

The Dodgers and San Diego Padres will leave spring training for a pair of exhibition games in Beijing on March 15 and 16. The World Series champion Boston Red Sox and Oakland Athletics also head to Asia, becoming the third set of clubs to open the regular season in the Tokyo Dome.

Back at home, teams will start unloading their trucks at all those cities that fill papers each spring: Clearwater, Dunedin, Bradenton, Winter Haven and Lakeland in Florida; Surprise and Peoria in Arizona. Years ago, players used spring training to work off winter weight gains. Now they put on sun block, grab some chew and are ready to go.

There will be some absences. Barry Bonds, the San Francisco Giants' stud since 1993, won't be in Scottsdale.

Roger Clemens will be missing from spring training mounds for the third straight year.

Perhaps he'll pitch for the United States during the Beijing Olympics. Perhaps his career is over at age 45.

Sammy Sosa, fifth on the home-run list at 609, will be watching spring training from afar, having failed thus far to find a deal to his liking. Mike Piazza also is among the dozens of unsigned free agents along with Kenny Lofton along with Kyle Lohse, Bartolo Colon and Shannon Stewart.

Craig Biggio is missing voluntarily. He retired after 3,060 hits over 20 seasons, all with the Houston Astros.

So much for those not at spring training. The big stars who are there will be under the usual scrutiny.

Alex Rodriguez, known as much for being trailed by paparazzi as he is for postseason popups and regular-season home runs, figures to be the center of attention at Yankees' camp.

The Yankees will head north to their final season at Yankee Stadium, and the Mets will spend their final year at Shea, both due to be razed when replacements open in 2009. In Washington, the Nationals move into their new home this April.


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