Baseball is back, folks.
After a winter of trade talk, free-agent blockbusters and Alex Rodriguez drama, it's finally time to actually watch the game again. Sure, the games won't matter until late March. But that doesn't mean fans can't get excited for the crack of the bat and pop of the mitt in baseball facilities around Florida and Arizona.
For most fans, spring training is a slow crawl to the season. Outside of an injury or major roster battle, the day-to-day minutiae of spring reports and news is just an appetizer for the regular season.
Yet, for others, the month of February signals a full-throttle effort to immerse attention back into America's pastime.
Regardless of how you consume baseball over the next few months—in person, from the couch or behind a computer screen—there's an art to following the sport as teams prepare for the grind of a 162-game season.
Luckily, Bleacher Report has you covered with a comprehensive guide to spring training.
Bookmark this page, check back often and enjoy the path to the 2014 Major League Baseball season!
Baseball is back, folks.
The three most magical words for any baseball fan caught in the long abyss of winter: "Pitchers and catchers."
If you love the sport of baseball, that phrase is all you need to hear. When spoken, visions of baseball and the coming spring and summer months dance through the minds of fans.
Due to a myriad of factors, including a season-opening series in Australia between the Dodgers and Diamondbacks, some teams will trickle into camp before others.
Here are the reporting dates (first full workout) for each team, per Spring Training Online.
Arizona Diamondbacks: Feb. 12
Atlanta Braves: Feb. 19
Baltimore Orioles: Feb. 19
Boston Red Sox: Feb. 20
Chicago Cubs: Feb. 19
Chicago White Sox: Feb. 21
Cincinnati Reds: Feb. 20
Cleveland Indians: Feb. 17
Colorado Rockies: Feb. 22
Detroit Tigers: Feb. 18
Houston Astros: Feb. 20
Kansas City Royals: Feb. 20
Los Angeles Angeles: Feb. 19
Los Angeles Dodgers: Feb. 14
Miami Marlins: Feb. 21
Milwaukee Brewers: Feb. 22
Minnesota Twins: Feb. 22
New York Mets: Feb. 21
New York Yankees: Feb. 20
Oakland Athletics: Feb. 20
Philadelphia Phillies: Feb. 18
Pittsburgh Pirates: Feb. 18
St. Louis Cardinals: Feb. 18
San Diego Padres: Feb. 19
San Francisco Giants: Feb. 19
Seattle Mariners: Feb. 18
Tampa Bay Rays: Feb. 20
Texas Rangers: Feb. 20
Toronto Blue Jays: Feb. 21
Washington Nationals: Feb. 19
For sports fans, Twitter is an invaluable resource. From beat reporters to columnists to insiders, information on your favorite teams and players is available on a minute-by-minute basis. If you want instant analysis on how on a long-reliever battle is shaping up, Twitter is the place to be.
Of course, following everyone immersed in the game of baseball is a tall task. So let's simplify things.
The following list is a compilation of must-follow Twitter accounts for the next six weeks. If you want the best information from each spring training facility, we have you covered.
Arizona Diamondbacks: Nick Piecoro, AZ Central Sports (@nickpiecoro)
Baltimore Orioles: Eduardo A. Encina, The Baltimore Sun (@EddieInTheYard)
Boston Red Sox: Pete Abraham, The Boston Globe (@PeteAbe)
Chicago Cubs: Jesse Rogers, ESPN Chicago (@ESPNChiCubs)
Chicago White Sox: Dan Hayes, CSN Chicago (@DanHayesCSN)
Cincinnati Reds: C. Trent Rosecrans, The Cincinnati Enquirer (@ctrent)
Cleveland Indians: Paul Hoynes, Northeast Ohio Media Group (@hoynsie)
Colorado Rockies: Troy Renck, Denver Post (@TroyRenck)
Detroit Tigers: Jason Beck, MLB.com (@beckjason)
Houston Astros: Jose de Jesus Ortiz, Houston Chronicle (@OrtizKicks)
Kansas City Royals: Andy McCullough, The Kansas City Star (@McCulloughStar)
Los Angeles Angeles: Mike DiGiovanna, Los Angeles Times (@MikeDiGiovanna)
Los Angeles Dodgers: Dylan Hernandez, Los Angeles Times (@dylanohernandez)
Miami Marlins: Juan C. Rodriguez, Sun Sentinel (@JCRMarlinsbeat)
Milwaukee Brewers: Tom Haudricourt, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel (@Hadricourt)
Minnesota Twins: Mike Berardino, Pioneer Press (@MikeBerardino)
New York Mets: Marc Carig, Newsday (@MarcCarig)
New York Yankees: Sweeny Murti, WFAN (@YankeesWFAN)
Oakland Athletics: Jane Lee, MLB.com (@JaneMLB)
Philadelphia Phillies: Ryan Lawrence, Philadelphia Daily News (@ryanlawrence21)
Pittsburgh Pirates: Travis Sawchik, Pittsburgh Tribune-Review (@Sawchik_Trib)
St. Louis Cardinals: Derrick Goold, St Louis Post-Dispatch (@dgoold)
San Diego Padres: Corey Brock, MLB.com (@FollowThePadres)
San Francisco Giants: Andrew Baggarly, CSN Bay Area (@CSNBaggs)
Seattle Mariners: Greg Johns, MLB.com (@GregJohnsMLB)
Tampa Bay Rays: Marc Topkin, Tampa Bay Times (@TBTimes_Rays)
Texas Rangers: Richard Durrett, ESPN Dallas (@espn_durrett)
Toronto Blue Jays: Shi Davidi, SportsNet.ca (@ShiDavidi)
Washington Nationals: James Wagner, The Washington Post (@JamesWagnerWP)
At 1:05 EST on Feb. 26, baseball will officially be played between two major league teams for the first time in 2014.
MLB.com has you covered for the entire slate of action from the end of February through Opening Day.
As usual, MLB.tv is an amazing resource for baseball fans to watch out-of-market games.
For national broadcasts, baseball fans can start gearing up for prime-time baseball on Mon., March 17 when the Red Sox and Cardinals do battle in a rematch of the 2013 World Series.
Clearly, the same intensity won't be on the line, but it's a start.
For fans of major league teams on the East Coast, the Cactus League is the "other" spring training destination. For those of you who support teams on the West Coast, Arizona represents a yearly winter vacation spot.
The official website of the Cactus League is tremendous way to follow your favorite teams and spring training sites.
Play will begin on Feb. 26 when three games take place: Oakland at San Francisco, Los Angeles Dodgers at Arizona Diamondbacks and Cincinnati Reds at Cleveland Indians.
What began as the spring training home of just two teams in 1947—the Cleveland Indians and the New York Giants—has become home to 15 teams and millions of fans.
When I think of spring training, I think of the Grapefruit League.
Rain, bus trips and cities like Lakeland, Port St. Lucie and Bradenton make up the core of baseball-rich tradition in Florida during the months of February and March.
Info on all of the destinations, stadiums and trips can be found at the official Grapefruit League website.
If you're planning a Florida trip, the key is deciding which side of the state you want to spend the majority of your time. With most of the teams residing on either coast of Florida, mapping out a plan on either side will save you time driving across the state.
Unless you're an autograph seeker, spring training isn't about stars or starters that you can see on an everyday basis during the regular season.
Instead, the next six weeks become about intriguing players, under-the-radar contributors and names about to burst on the scene when April begins.
This spring, two players—one in each of the respective leagues—should merit your attention: Billy Hamilton and Japhet Amador.
Hamilton isn't new to baseball lexicon. Due to immeasurable speed, the Cincinnati Reds outfielder popped on the radar screen last year. After a September call-up, Hamilton stole 13 bases in just 13 games. For most of that time, the then 22-year-old speedster wasn't starting or garnering four plate appearances per game.
Instead, Hamilton was swiping bags during pinch-running appearances. His success (13-of-14 in stolen-base attempts) was remarkable considering that the opposing team knew why he entered the game.
If you're looking for the antithesis of Hamilton, focus your eyes on Astros spring training over the next few weeks. When you do, it won't be hard to miss Japhet Amador, a 6'4", 315-pound right-handed slugger signed out of the Mexican League.
There are no assurances that Amador will be good enough to make the big league squad, so catch a glimpse of this gigantic slugger while you can.
For fans unable to attend the games or keep vigil during the work hours, following along with statistics for players trying to crack the roster can be quite difficult.
Luckily, MLB.com has you covered. Baseball's official site tracks everything as if it counts, detailing how players are performing in meaningless games.
Often, stats are glossed over when looking at spring training results. While that's logical, big spring performances can sometimes present a look at what will transpire when the regular season commences.
For example, last year a prospect named Yasiel Puig hit .517 in the Cactus League for the Los Angeles Dodgers. While it wasn't enough to earn a spot on the Opening Day roster, the numbers became a springboard for success in Double-A, eventual promotion and Puigmania.
Over the next six weeks, three important dates must be circled on your calender.
February 21: By the end of this business day, all salary-arbitration hearings will be heard. When the rulings come in, teams can finally set their payroll for 2014. Expect a flurry of late free-agent signings and minor trade to commence soon after.
March 22-23: Season-opening series in Sydney, Australia between the Los Angeles Dodgers and Arizona Diamondbacks. While most of you are asleep in America, the baseball season will begin between two NL West rivals. The best part: Clayton Kershaw, baseball's best pitcher, will toe the rubber.
March 30: Opening Day. The countdown to this date officially begins now, folks!
Are you planning a trip to Arizona or Florida? What's your favorite part of the spring training experience?
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