How fitting that most Major League Baseball teams have opened or will open spring training on Valentine's Day, when we celebrate all that we love.
Of course, there is no greater gift than the game of baseball, which is what makes this year's holiday better than ever.
As of Friday, 20 teams have reported to camp. The Arizona Diamondbacks started first, with pitchers and catchers reporting on February 6, since their regular season will begin on March 22 against the Los Angeles Dodgers in Australia.
The only teams yet to report are the Boston Red Sox, Chicago White Sox, Colorado Rockies, Houston Astros, Miami Marlins, Milwaukee Brewers, Minnesota Twins, New York Mets, Texas Rangers and Toronto Blue Jays.
Those clubs will all be in camp no later than Sunday, February 16.
In the subsequent eight days, players have converged on Arizona and Florida to get a jump-start on the 2014 season. Yes, after more than three months away, baseball is finally back.
Because we love baseball so much, and there's no shortage of storylines to watch, we wanted to provide you with a look at the best photos and quotes from around the sport as teams begin preparing for the regular season.
Note: All stats courtesy of Baseball Reference unless otherwise noted.
Take a bow, Mr. Jeter. It's been a great run.
As soon as Derek Jeter announced his retirement following the 2014 season, on Facebook of all places, everyone had a reaction. Whether it was positive or negative, understanding or disbelief, you had a thought.
Jeter himself has not addressed the situation, telling MLB.com that he would wait until New York Yankees position players report to camp on February 19. Leave it to the Captain to make the world wait for more answers and insight into his mindset.
Even with no words from Jeter on the topic, there are a few things that have come out in the days since worth mentioning.
First, a sight for sore New York eyes, even though it's hard to tell that it's him, courtesy of New York Newsday's Erik Boland on Twitter, is Jeter taking swings in batting practice at the Yankees' facility in Tampa, Fla.:
From about 420 feet away, it's Jeter taking BP. No, not an especially helpful picture. Let your mind wander pic.twitter.com/cXdHwsfxOe— Erik Boland (@eboland11) February 10, 2014
Jeter only played in 17 games last season due to injuries, so any sign that he's able to get in the cage and swing the bat is a positive step.
Finally, former teammate Bernie Williams provided a heartfelt goodbye to Jeter on Twitter:
I'm so happy that Derek will get to go out on his terms - and his way. He was as special a teammate as any player could ever have.— Bernie Williams (@bw51official) February 12, 2014
All of the outpouring of admiration and respect for Jeter speaks to the ability he had on the field and how revered his game was by everyone around him. Love him or hate him, this truly is the end of an era in baseball.
Lost in the shuffle of Derek Jeter's retirement announcement was the official debut of Masahiro Tanaka in Yankees camp. The $155 million man, who was officially introduced at a press conference Tuesday, had his first bullpen session Thursday.
According to Bryan Hoch of MLB.com, Tanaka threw about 25 pitches to catcher Francisco Cervelli, mostly variations of his fastball (four-seamer and two-seamer), but "with a few splitters and sliders sprinkled in."
Yankees pitching coach Larry Rothschild, who spoke to Hoch, was careful with his words after Tanaka's session, trying to keep expectations in check:
It was good. He's still trying to catch up, I think, with the time change and everything. We're just trying to ease him into things right now, but everything is good. You can see the arm strength and everything else, but we're going to go slow with him.
Cervelli was quicker to heap praise on Tanaka, though he did make a point to note that it was only a short bullpen session.
"The way the ball travels, it's so easy," he said. "I'm so excited just to have Tanaka here, and I think it's going to be great. But he only threw 25 pitches, so we'll have to see the whole Spring Training."
Rothschild also told Hoch that Tanaka will throw again Saturday, which is also the date of the first workout for Yankees pitchers and catchers in Tampa. All eyes will be on the 25-year-old right-hander this spring, so expect every pitch he throws this weekend to be analyzed ad nauseam.
With the exception of New York's spending spree, coupled with Jeter's bombshell, no team generated more headlines, good and bad, this winter than the Seattle Mariners.
Fixing the offense has been a focal point for general manager Jack Zduriencik each of the last three years. He's tried trading for well-regarded prospects (Justin Smoak, Jesus Montero), drafting quality college bats with early picks (Dustin Ackley, Mike Zunino) and signing lower-tier free agents (Raul Ibanez, Jason Bay) with nothing to show for it.
One thing the Mariners do have going for them is starting pitching. At least, they planned to have a strong rotation, but Hisashi Iwakuma will be out for at least four weeks with a finger injury, and, according to Ryan Divisih of The Seattle Times, Taijuan Walker is dealing with shoulder soreness.
Felix Hernandez, who may be placed in a hermetically sealed bubble to keep his arm healthy, will be tasked with carrying the rotation until Iwakuma returns. The Mariners ace raved about the additions of Cano and closer Fernando Rodney to Lyle Spencer of MLB.com:
These guys, Cano and Rodney, have a lot of personality. That's what we need here -- to have fun. You can't get too serious. It's a game; you have to have fun. The last thing you want is a quiet clubhouse. I don't think this clubhouse is going to be quiet. I know Fernando a little, and he's a great guy. He keeps things loose.
There are going to be expectations for the Mariners, because, well, how can there not be? But this team still needs to get more from young stars like Zunino, Nick Franklin, Brad Miller and Kyle Seager to be a threat in the loaded American League West.
It's been almost 30 months to the day since Grady Sizemore last played in a Major League Baseball game, taking the field for the Cleveland Indians against the Chicago White Sox on September 22, 2011.
If Sizemore was going to attempt an MLB comeback, it would have to be in a low-pressure situation for a team with plenty of outfield options to choose from and a deep farm system.
That's why it wasn't a huge surprise to see the Boston Red Sox, who have an MLB-ready center fielder in Jackie Bradley and a wealth of outfield depth, take a gamble on Sizemore with a one-year, incentive-laden deal.
Signing the contract was the first step on Sizemore's road back to the big leagues, but it was this picture taken by ESPN Boston's Gordon Edes (via Twitter) that provided visual evidence he's still capable of swinging a bat, or at least holding one, without breaking himself:
Grady Sizemore pic.twitter.com/0mTXxC5PkW— Gordon Edes (@GordonEdes) February 12, 2014
Sizemore was given a spot on the 40-man roster when he signed with the Red Sox, so it certainly seems like the team is intent on giving him every opportunity to make it in the big leagues.
I'd be surprised if he started the year in Boston, because his timing after two full years off isn't going to return after just one month in spring training. He should stay behind in extended spring training to get his feet under him.
Gerrit Cole gives the Pirates reasons to be optimistic in 2014.
There may not have been a better story in baseball last year than the Pittsburgh Pirates' resurgence. The tema posted a winning record and made the postseason for the first time since 1992, then took the St. Louis Cardinals to five games in the National League Division Series.
Rob Biertempfel of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review provided this outstanding image for the 2014 Pirates, who are currently working out in Bradenton, Fla., on his Twitter page:
Despite their success last season, the Pirates have stayed quiet this winter, for better and worse. They have the top farm system in baseball entering 2014, according to Baseball America, and didn't trade from their wealth of young talent in the offseason.
On the other hand, they did lose free agents A.J. Burnett and Marlon Byrd, who took their talents to Philadelphia. Byrd was expendable given the money he got ($16 million over two years), his age and Gregory Polanco's looming presence in Triple-A.
Burnett, who debated his future all winter before reportedly agreeing to a one-year, $16 million deal with the Phillies, will be much harder to replace. He reinvented his career in Pittsburgh, striking out a career-high 9.8 hitters per nine innings and leading the NL in groundball percentage (56.5) last year.
However, as Tom Singer of MLB.com noted after Burnett's deal was reported, the Pirates are in a better position to absorb the loss thanks to an excellent stable of young pitching. Gerrit Cole, Francisco Liriano and Charlie Morton are a formidable trio at the top, with Jameson Taillon waiting in Triple-A and Nick Kingham and Tyler Glasnow a little further behind.
Catcher Russell Martin told Singer that even though Burnett is gone, there are plenty of guys who can step into a leadership role this year:
He definitely was a leader, the way he approached the game and the warrior-type attitude he had on the mound. But he wasn't the only leader on that  team. [Francisco] Liriano ... he has a more quiet presence, but he also took the ball every time and competed the way A.J. did.
With reigning NL MVP Andrew McCutchen, a potential ace in Gerrit Cole and arguably the best farm system in baseball, the Pirates will certainly be fascinating to watch in 2014. Whether they are still a playoff team is another question entirely, but a little luck can go a long way.
There may not be a more talent-rich team to watch this spring than the St. Louis Cardinals, who bring all of those electrifying arms, a loaded position-player group and top prospects Kolten Wong and Oscar Taveras to camp.
What's even better for the Cardinals is that they might actually be stronger on the mound this year, because as you can see from this Vine video on the team's Twitter page, left-hander Jaime Garcia is back:
Garcia appeared in nine games last season before undergoing surgery on his left shoulder to repair a torn labrum in May. He was effective in the games he did pitch last year, posting a 3.58 ERA and a 43-15 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 55.1 innings.
The Cardinals will have plenty of arms to choose from for their rotation in 2014, with Adam Wainwright, Shelby Miller, Michael Wacha, Carlos Martinez, Joe Kelly and Lance Lynn alongside Garcia.
Based on last year's postseason, Lynn and/or Kelly will likely end up in the bullpen. Martinez will be groomed for a job in the rotation, according to manager Mike Matheny, via Derrick Goold of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.
If that's not enough to get Cardinals fans excited, here's another video from the team featuring Matt Holliday doing what he does best:
Even in a down year, by his standards, Holliday still hit .300/.389/.490 with 22 home runs in 141 games last season. As long as he can stay healthy, and Taveras develops as expected, the Cardinals will have no problem making up for the offense lost by Carlos Beltran's departure.
Even though New York Mets pitchers and catchers aren't due to report until February 15, some of the team's biggest stars have already taken part in spring activities, including David Wright and Ike Davis:
Davis, in particular, has a lot at stake this spring. He was supposed to be New York's first baseman of the future, hitting .264/.351/.440 in 147 games as a rookie in 2010 and crushing 32 homers in 2012.
Last year was a disaster on every level for Davis. He hit .205/.326/.334 in 103 games with the Mets, got sent down to Triple-A in early June before returning before the All-Star break and was the subject of trade rumors this offseason, telling ESPN New York's Adam Rubin that he was a little shocked a deal didn't happen.
Now, with another chance to prove he can start at the MLB level, Davis told Anthony DiComo of MLB.com that he's not putting any additional pressure on himself this spring:
Nothing's changed from the first Spring Training I got here until now. You don't know if you're going to be on the starting team, you don't know if you're going to be a starter, you don't know where you're going to be. You just have to go out and play and see where they put you. We're not in control of that. We're in control of how we play on the field, and that's it.
The Mets boast a solid starting rotation, with Zack Wheeler, Bartolo Colon and Dillon Gee at the top. Top prospects Noah Syndergaard and Rafael Montero could see time in MLB this season. Next year, when Matt Harvey returns, this could be one of the best rotations in baseball.
But the offense around Wright has to step up. Davis isn't a high-average hitter, but his power could be a valuable asset if it plays.
After entering last season as the consensus favorite to represent the National League in the World Series, the Washington Nationals will be flying under the radar to start 2014.
New manager Matt Williams, who takes over for Davey Johnson, is leading his first spring training as the man in charge.
It can be an overwhelming task to take over a team as talented as the Nationals for a first-year skipper, but Williams sounds like he's got the hang of it, telling Adam Kilgore of the Washington Post that this is a great opportunity for the team:
We have to have the ability to enjoy what we’re doing. I want them to embrace the process of this. And there’s meaning behind that. The process of going through spring training, 13 days for the pitchers and catchers, of working every day before they even get a chance to see somebody in a different uniform, is long. But if we embrace the process of all the stuff we’re going to do, then they’re prepared to take the next step.
Despite Williams being a first-year manager, the Nationals are a loaded team that is capable of beating anyone in baseball.
They have a loaded roster and good balance on both sides of the ball, with Stephen Strasburg, Gio Gonzalez and Jordan Zimmermann leading the rotation and Bryce Harper, Jayson Werth, Ryan Zimmerman, and, already taking swings in Florida, Ian Desmond:
All the hype surrounding Washington last year will return gradually throughout 2014. There's nothing this team can't do, especially if Harper is able to play in 140-150 games and Anthony Rendon develops into the hitter he was expected to be coming out of college.
If the Los Angeles Dodgers want to get past the NLCS this year, keeping Matt Kemp healthy is imperative. The former All-Star hasn't been in peak condition since May of 2012, leaving a void in the lineup that no one can pick up.
Kemp played in just 73 games last season, hit a paltry .270/.328/.395 and had to sit out the Dodgers' playoff run with an ankle injury.
As the team opened camp on February 8, he was back on the field. Giving Dodgers fans a special Valentine's Day gift, the team tweeted this photo of Kemp in a batting practice group with L.A.'s other big bats:
Kemp wasn't the only Dodger who returned to the field after an extra-long layoff. Josh Beckett, who made eight starts last year, threw a bullpen session on February 10 and told Ken Gurnick of MLB.com that he's not far from where he needs to be:
I'm far advanced for February. I'm probably not going to start Opening Day in Australia. They're paying a guy [Clayton Kershaw] a lot of money to do that. Not all of us are getting ready for those days [in Australia]. Some of us have a little more time than it appears we do.
Given the Dodgers' pitching depth, especially after signing Paul Maholm, the team can afford to take things slow with Beckett and make sure that he's at least an effective starter in 2014.
It's one thing to have the best baseball player on the planet. It's another thing when you are saddled with one of the worst contracts in baseball.
That's the situation facing the Los Angeles Angels entering 2014, with Mike Trout poised to take another run at an MVP award and Albert Pujols just trying to prove his career isn't over.
With regards to the latter situation, the Angels got good news Thursday on the first day of camp. Pujols told reporters, including MLB.com's Alden Gonzalez, that he feels great after a productive winter:
It was a great offseason. Like I told you guys at the end of the season last year, everything happens for a reason. It [stunk] sitting on the bench for almost 2 1/2 months last year, as competitive an athlete as I am. But at the same time, it happened for the best, because I was able to not have the surgery on my heel and miss maybe some of my offseason training.
Even though he wasn't the same hitter in 2012, his first season in Los Angeles, that he was during his time in St. Louis, Pujols still hit 30 homers and slugged .516. The Angels would gladly take that again, especially to help offset the loss of Mark Trumbo.
As for Trout, the stories this spring are much different than they were last year, when there was some controversy about him showing up to camp weighing 241 pounds. Based on his play last year, I don't think the weight was an issue.
This year, according to Mike DiGiovanna of the Los Angeles Times, the talk around Trout could be about the Angels looking to open long-term contract negotiations with the superstar.
There's a good chance the Angels will renew Trout's contract again in March, but it won't have the sting of last spring's renewal because it will be done amid negotiations for a multiple-year extension that is expected to make Trout one of baseball's highest-paid players.
Based on his age (22), incredible level of performance and positional value as a center fielder, Trout has every right to ask for and receive a deal bigger than Alex Rodriguez's $275 million pact from the Yankees in 2007 and Clayton Kershaw's $30.7 million annual salary from the Dodgers.
Whatever ends up happening with Trout, the Angels know he's not going anywhere until at least 2018.
Who knows, if Jered Weaver, C.J. Wilson and Tyler Skaggs, who was acquired in the Trumbo deal, take charge of the rotation, Pujols and Josh Hamilton combine for 60-70 homers and Trout does what he has the last two years, the Angels could compete with Texas and Oakland in the AL West.
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