Hitting the road: How I’ll spend my spring training

Pitchers and catchers reported last week, but my spring training begins today. A seven-day stint in Phoenix followed by a long stretch in Florida. In addition to sunshine, easy deadlines and guzzling Publix sweet tea straight from the jug, there’s plenty I can’t wait to see:

Torii Hunter. I want to ask him if the Angels still should be favorites in the AL West. Yes, I already know his answer, too. I also know this: He will be smiling. Any time you talk to Hunter, you walk away feeling better about the game.

Stephen Strasburg pitch. His Grapefruit League debut is set for March 9 against the Tigers in Viera, Fla. A Tuesday game in early March typically does not draw a big crowd unless it involves the Yankees and/or Red Sox. Not much with Strasburg, however, is typical.

Aroldis Chapman has wowed the Reds so far.
Aroldis Chapman has wowed the Reds so far.

Aroldis Chapman pitch. He wowed the Reds during his first session of live batting practice. Too bad there is no chance that Strasburg and Chapman will pitch in the same exhibition now that the Reds have moved to Arizona. Also, too bad for the Nationals that the Reds swooped in and landed the young lefthander. Otherwise, word out of Nationals camp is that Chapman could have been in the same rotation with Strasburg.

A Tigers game at Joker Marchant Stadium in Lakeland. An area outside the clubhouses down the right-field line is ideal for hanging out and snagging interviews. On a good day, you can sit at a table with Al Kaline. Last year, Yogi Berra was there, too, when the Yankees visited. First impression: How could someone that small have become so big?

Ken Griffey Jr. hold court in the Mariners’ clubhouse. Last year, Junior brought Ichiro out of a thaw. This year, he will work with Milton Bradley. No wonder the Mariners don’t care if Griffey doesn’t hit .300 anymore.

Braves prospect Jason Heyward take batting practice. Dale Murphy told me that unlike most young players, Heyward doesn’t use batting practice to see how far he can hit the ball. Oh, well. Should be fun, anyway.

Charlie Manuel watch batting practice behind the batting cage. Watch for just a little while and it is obvious that this is what Manuel was meant to do. Vin Scully behind a microphone could not be any more comfortable.

C.J. Wilson try to make the Rangers’ rotation. Not satisfied with being the club’s steadiest reliever, the lefthander has convinced Nolan Ryan and Co. to give him a chance to start. All he has to do is be one of the two best starters in camp to have a chance. If you don’t follow Wilson, you should — as much for his Tweets (str8edgeracer) as his twirling.

Neftali Feliz try to make the Rangers’ rotation.. If the 21-year-old isn’t their best pitcher today, he will be this time next year. If Wilson and Feliz have big springs, the Texas brain trust will have some interesting discussions in Surprise, Ariz.

Bobby Cox kick back in the dugout at Disney. In his spikes, as always.

Mark McGwire talk hitting. He has been in Cardinals’ camp only a week and perception already is changing. Maybe he can coach, after all. We should have figured. Tony La Russa would not set up McGwire to fail.

Jose Reyes at 100 percent. Baseball needs his smile. The Mets need his game.

Joe Maddon always has something interesting to say.
Joe Maddon always has something interesting to say.

All the weight changes. Nowadays, more guys show up lighter than heavier. Russell Martin, however, has added 25 pounds, according to the Los Angeles Times. All muscle, of course. Among the reported losers: Andruw Jones (25 pounds), Aaron Cook (20), Anibal Sanchez (15), Aaron Rowand (10), Geovany Soto (a lot). Maybe the losers will inspire me.

A Joe Maddon session with reporters. You usually learn something, and not just about the Rays.

CC Sabathia shoot 3-pointers at an Orlando Magic game. Hey, it happened last year. Joba Chamberlain and Chien-Ming Wang took the court, too. I don’t remember if it was before or after the game, but I do remember they looked like big kids at the playground. I also remember thinking the backboard might need replacing after being hit by so many bricks.

The A’s work out at Papago Park. Talk about the way it should be. Nowhere can fans get closer to the action, plus an area between the fields and the clubhouses makes it easy for fans to walk right up to players. That doesn’t happen in Tampa.

The media lunch spread at a Braves game. You knew a baseball writer couldn’t do one of these columns without mentioning food.

Stan McNeal is a writer for Sporting News. E-mail him at smcneal@sportingnews.com.

Pitchers and catchers reported last week, but my spring training begins today. A seven-day stint in Phoenix followed by a long stretch in Florida. In addition to sunshine, easy deadlines and guzzling Publix sweet tea straight from the jug, there’s plenty I can’t wait to see:

Torii Hunter. I want to ask him if the Angels still should be favorites in the AL West. Yes, I already know his answer, too. I also know this: He will be smiling. Any time you talk to Hunter, you walk away feeling better about the game.

Stephen Strasburg pitch. His Grapefruit League debut is set for March 9 against the Tigers in Viera, Fla. A Tuesday game in early March typically does not draw a big crowd unless it involves the Yankees and/or Red Sox. Not much with Strasburg, however, is typical.

Aroldis Chapman has wowed the Reds so far.
Aroldis Chapman has wowed the Reds so far.

Aroldis Chapman pitch. He wowed the Reds during his first session of live batting practice. Too bad there is no chance that Strasburg and Chapman will pitch in the same exhibition now that the Reds have moved to Arizona. Also, too bad for the Nationals that the Reds swooped in and landed the young lefthander. Otherwise, word out of Nationals camp is that Chapman could have been in the same rotation with Strasburg.

A Tigers game at Joker Marchant Stadium in Lakeland. An area outside the clubhouses down the right-field line is ideal for hanging out and snagging interviews. On a good day, you can sit at a table with Al Kaline. Last year, Yogi Berra was there, too, when the Yankees visited. First impression: How could someone that small have become so big?

Ken Griffey Jr. hold court in the Mariners’ clubhouse. Last year, Junior brought Ichiro out of a thaw. This year, he will work with Milton Bradley. No wonder the Mariners don’t care if Griffey doesn’t hit .300 anymore.

Braves prospect Jason Heyward take batting practice. Dale Murphy told me that unlike most young players, Heyward doesn’t use batting practice to see how far he can hit the ball. Oh, well. Should be fun, anyway.

Charlie Manuel watch batting practice behind the batting cage. Watch for just a little while and it is obvious that this is what Manuel was meant to do. Vin Scully behind a microphone could not be any more comfortable.

C.J. Wilson try to make the Rangers’ rotation. Not satisfied with being the club’s steadiest reliever, the lefthander has convinced Nolan Ryan and Co. to give him a chance to start. All he has to do is be one of the two best starters in camp to have a chance. If you don’t follow Wilson, you should — as much for his Tweets (str8edgeracer) as his twirling.

Neftali Feliz try to make the Rangers’ rotation.. If the 21-year-old isn’t their best pitcher today, he will be this time next year. If Wilson and Feliz have big springs, the Texas brain trust will have some interesting discussions in Surprise, Ariz.

Bobby Cox kick back in the dugout at Disney. In his spikes, as always.

Mark McGwire talk hitting. He has been in Cardinals’ camp only a week and perception already is changing. Maybe he can coach, after all. We should have figured. Tony La Russa would not set up McGwire to fail.

Jose Reyes at 100 percent. Baseball needs his smile. The Mets need his game.

Joe Maddon always has something interesting to say.
Joe Maddon always has something interesting to say.

All the weight changes. Nowadays, more guys show up lighter than heavier. Russell Martin, however, has added 25 pounds, according to the Los Angeles Times. All muscle, of course. Among the reported losers: Andruw Jones (25 pounds), Aaron Cook (20), Anibal Sanchez (15), Aaron Rowand (10), Geovany Soto (a lot). Maybe the losers will inspire me.

A Joe Maddon session with reporters. You usually learn something, and not just about the Rays.

CC Sabathia shoot 3-pointers at an Orlando Magic game. Hey, it happened last year. Joba Chamberlain and Chien-Ming Wang took the court, too. I don’t remember if it was before or after the game, but I do remember they looked like big kids at the playground. I also remember thinking the backboard might need replacing after being hit by so many bricks.

The A’s work out at Papago Park. Talk about the way it should be. Nowhere can fans get closer to the action, plus an area between the fields and the clubhouses makes it easy for fans to walk right up to players. That doesn’t happen in Tampa.

The media lunch spread at a Braves game. You knew a baseball writer couldn’t do one of these columns without mentioning food.

Stan McNeal is a writer for Sporting News. E-mail him at smcneal@sportingnews.com.

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