The start of Cleveland Guardians spring training breathes optimism into every fan
There are just a few times in the baseball calendar where optimism and hope ring loudest: the start of the playoffs, the announcement of a big signing, the beginning of spring training.
There’s a reason everyone gets so excited when the Cleveland Guardians launch their equipment trucks and plaster it across every social media platform. There’s a reason the end of February is filled with puff pieces, what-ifs and lofty projections for each player. Everybody has a clean slate. No one has lazily jogged out a groundout or dropped a fly ball or looked at strike three right down the middle with bases loaded. We can look at the past seasons and cherrypick statistics and trends that make us feel better about our favorite teams and players.
Hope springs anew, and it’s time for baseball once again.
The Guardians, still one of baseball’s youngest teams, are coming off of an electric season that saw them win the AL Central, wild-card round and take the New York Yankees to the fifth game of the ALDS. Damn that rain out. They have a young core, led by third baseman José Ramírez, who is guaranteed to be a long-term player in Cleveland on an affordable extension, and more top prospects knocking on the door than they know what to do with.
This team, just like this time of year, exudes potential, and euphoric questions of what could be. And honestly, with all of the excitement surrounding the start of this season, it’s hard not to really let your mind enjoy true visions of grandeur. Today is the day to do it without backlash. It’s the start of baseball, albeit not official games. The Guardians were so close last year to moving on to the championship series; what’s in store for 2023?
Is this finally the year Ramírez breaks through and wins the American League MVP? Which one of the young guys - Oscar Gonzalez, Bo Naylor, George Valera, Will Brennan - will take that massive step forward and become a key piece of Cleveland’s lineup? Can Emmanuel Clase win reliever of the year? Could James Karinchak and another reliever step up to form a lock down 7th-8th-9th-inning combination? Could they repeat winning the division?
Could this be the year the 75-year championship drought finally ends?
Anything is possible when the Guardians take the field for the first day of spring training. A 3:05 p.m. first pitch against the Cincinnati Reds begins the 122nd season of baseball in Cleveland. It’s like the first day of a new relationship, the feeling you get when you step into a new job for the first day of work. Opportunity, unbothered by the warts of reality and what might come, reigns supreme. You can do anything, and your favorite baseball team can too.
For the last decade, I’ve made it a tradition to watch the first game of spring training, settle into an official baseball game for the first time in months. It lets me forget about the weather in the Northeast, the snow - and, this year, loads of it - melt away as I watch Cleveland play once again on a beautiful, sun-soaked field in Goodyear, Arizona. I turn the volume all the way up to hear the crack of the bat that I missed during the long winter days, feel the smack of the glove on a 100 mph fastball, and bask in the voice of Tom Hamilton, Matt Underwood and Rick Manning.
I learn the names of players I never knew occupied the lower levels of the Guardians’ farm system, and get my first taste of watching highly-touted prospects face off against major-league pitchers. It’s new, exciting and gets me amped up for the season to come. What’s good about this year, more than most over the last ten years, is that there is real hope for plenty of wins, exciting plays and even a playoff run. There’s the perfect combination of stars, veterans and fun prospects.
For a moment, we can forget about money, attendance numbers, if someone might be traded soon, and focus on the game for what it is: an escape, America’s pastime, synonymous with summer.
Cleveland Guardians baseball is back, and it’s time to celebrate.