Good weather. The crack of the bat and the pop of the glove. Fresh-cut grass and fresh conversations about what your team might do in 2017. All sorts of deep-fried goodies at the concession stands.
Those are just some of the things we expect from Spring Training, which has once again sprung in the bright desert of Arizona and balmy climes of Florida. But there's a lot more, especially in a year that features the historic World Series title defense of the Chicago Cubs, plenty of superstar players in new uniforms and the fourth installment of the World Baseball Classic.
Aside from increased area sunscreen sales, feverish roster battles, hot prospects making big names for themselves and the laid-back, autograph-friendly vibe permeating the ballparks of the Cactus and Grapefruit Leagues, here's a primer on what to look for in the coming weeks.
Let the hype begin
The Grapefruit League had its media day on Thursday, Feb. 16, and the Cactus League will follow suit on Tuesday, Feb. 21. With the full squads of the 15 Major League clubs that play in Arizona having just reported to their spring camps in the Phoenix metropolitan area, it's just about go time.
Cactus League Media Day, which will be held at the stately Arizona Biltmore hotel, will bring together Commissioner Rob Manfred as well as the managers and general managers for the teams that will slug it out during the exhibition season that begins early this year to give teams and players ample time to get in World Baseball Classic shape.
The defending World Series champion Cubs will be represented, and it's very likely that Chicago manager Joe Maddon will be espousing the new mantra that he's already delivered to his young team upon arrival at the Cubs' Spring Training complex in Mesa, Ariz.
"It's really important to become uncomfortable," Maddon said. "If you become comfortable, that subtracts growth from the equation. I think if you remain uncomfortable, you continue to grow, you don't become stagnant or complacent. On every level, I want us to be uncomfortable, and I think that's a really positive word."
Fourteen other Cactus League teams will be chasing the Cubs, including the team that took them to the 10th inning of the seventh game of the 2016 Fall Classic, the Cleveland Indians, and the 2015 World Series winners, the Kansas City Royals.
Other teams fresh off October appearances who ply their spring trade in the Cactus League are the National League West champion Los Angeles Dodgers, the perennial playoff-contending San Francisco Giants, and the reigning kings of the AL West, the Texas Rangers.
The Kansas City Royals train in Arizona as well, along with the Seattle Mariners, Cincinnati Reds, Milwaukee Brewers, San Diego Padres and Oakland A's. The local team, the Arizona Diamondbacks, has a completely new tandem in skipper Torey Lovullo and GM Mike Hazen, and the Chicago White Sox (Rick Renteria) and Colorado Rockies (Bud Black) have familiar faces in the game embarking on manager roles with new teams in 2017.
Let the games begin
Thanks to the ramp-up for the World Baseball Classic in March (more on that in a bit), fans don't have to wait very long at all to watch real baseball games again, and right off the bat we'll see a host of the sport's elite.
Games are slated for Friday, Feb. 24, with Orioles-Tigers starting things at 1:05 p.m. ET at Joker Marchant Stadium in Lakeland, Fla. Also on that first day, the Phillies will visit the Yankees, the Reds will begin play in Arizona against the Giants, the Rays will play the Twins, and in what's sure to be one of the most intriguing matchups, the Mets will visit the Red Sox at JetBlue Park in Fort Myers, Fla.
The Red Sox are among the favorites to win the AL pennant in 2017 given their acquisition of ace Chris Sale in a mega-trade with the White Sox to join AL Cy Young Award winner Rick Porcello and David Price in what looks like an imposing rotation.
"That's the whole reason we're here, to win," Sale said recently. "They wouldn't keep score if winning wasn't important. I'm here to win. I know I've said that 157 times, but that's why I'm here."
Other sterling matchups in the first week of exhibition play include Nationals-Mets in Port St. Lucie, Fla., and Cubs-Giants in Scottsdale, Ariz., on Saturday and the World Series rematch everyone will be waiting for: Indians at Cubs, in Mesa on Sunday.
We are the World
A throng of some of the best players in baseball will depart from their camps soon to form the 16 teams that will compete for World Baseball Classic glory in a tournament that will span two and a half weeks until the championship game on March 22 in Dodger Stadium.
Official workouts begin March 1 in Seoul, South Korea, where the four teams of Pool A (Korea, Netherlands, Israel and Chinese Taipei) will start preparing for first-round play in Gocheok Dome, with games beginning March 6. Players to watch in this section of the tournament include big leaguers Xander Bogaerts, Andrelton Simmons, Jonathan Schoop, Jurickson Profar, Didi Gregorius and Kenley Jansen (Netherlands), Cardinals closer Seung-Hwan Oh (Korea) and former big league starter Chien-Ming Wang (Chinese Taipei).
Pool B, in Tokyo, will feature host Japan, Cuba, Australia and China, and workouts will start March 1 in Kyocera Dome in Osaka before shifting to Tokyo Dome for workouts later in the week before first-round play begins on March 7. Team Japan, which won this event in its inaugural year in 2006 and then in the second installment in 2009, has only one Major Leaguer, outfielder Norichiki Aoki, on the roster but also will field a host of Nippon Professional Baseball stars. Cuba's powerful national team will contend, as will an Australia club with current big leaguers Liam Hendriks and Warwick Saupold and others.
Team USA headlines a stacked Pool C that also boasts the 2013 World Baseball Classic champion Dominican Republic, which went 8-0 four years ago en route to its title. Also present in this foursome: Colombia and Canada, both of whom feature active Major Leaguers. Each club will train at select camps in Florida, with workouts beginning March 6 before first-round games start in Marlins Park in Miami three days later.
The American club features Paul Goldschmidt, Nolan Arenado, Giancarlo Stanton, Adam Jones, Buster Posey, Christian Yelich and Andrew McCutchen plus pitchers Chris Archer, Sonny Gray, Michael Fulmer, Andrew Miller and many more.
The Dominicans are loaded, with Adrian Beltre, Robinson Cano, Nelson Cruz, Carlos Santana, Jose Bautista, Manny Machado and Hanley Ramirez plus Starling Marte, Jose Reyes, Gregory Polanco, Jonathan Villar, Johnny Cueto, Carlos Martinez, Dellin Betances, Jeurys Familia and more. Colombia's squad includes Jose Quintana and Julio Teheran, while Team Canada has Freddie Freeman, Justin Morneau and John Axford.
"A lot of good teams, a lot of good players," Yelich said. "But I like our chances as well. I feel like if we go in there prepared, ready to play the way we're supposed to, I think we're going to be all right and we should do well."
Pool D teams Mexico, Venezeula, Puerto Rico and Italy will begin workouts March 6 at various camps in Arizona before heading down to Jalisco, Mexico, for first-round games at Estadio Telmex de Atletismo starting March 9. Host Mexico will have Adrian Gonzalez, Khris Davis, Julio Urias, Marco Estrada and Roberto Osuna, among other big-leaguers, and Puerto Rico will have MLB stalwarts Yadier Molina and Carlos Beltran plus electric youngsters Francisco Lindor, Javier Baez and Edwin Diaz.
Italy has big leaguers including Chris Colabello, Francisco Cervelli and Tommy Layne, and a very talented Venezuela club features Miguel Cabrera, Victor Martinez, Jose Altuve, Felix Hernandez, Carlos Gonzalez and Salvador Perez.
These talented players and teams are ready to come together in what should be an unforgettable finale to Spring Training in 2017.
"They tell me the intensity is really unbelievable once this thing gets into action," Team USA manager Jim Leyland said. "We're looking forward to it."