Hope springs eternal on Day One of camp

Pitchers and catchers report today.

Those are five words that get most baseball fans excited and they are being heard by all Orioles fans today. Yes, a new season is about to begin. And yes it does seem like just weeks ago we saw the 2016 season end at Rogers Centre in Toronto.

There will be a few more days to provide some excitement along the way. Like the day of the first full-squad workout and the day the exhibition season begins. But the real excitement, of course, truly begins April 3 at Camden Yards when the Orioles host Toronto to start the 2017 season.

We’re all likely going to reach a point when the spring games seem endless and we are all just ready to see a game that counts. But the first major step toward that day is this day. So welcome back, baseball.

Barring a surprise of some sort - and there are usually a few along the way - this could be a mostly uneventful Orioles spring training. Most of the roster is set and so is the rotation. We could probably take a stab at predicting the 25-man opening day roster right now and get most of the names right.

But here a few things fans/reporters could be watching for this spring:
* Who will get playing time in the corner outfield spots?
* Which players will earn the final bullpen spots?
* Will Chris Davis’ left hand no longer be a problem?
* After they spent time on the disabled list late last year, are Chris Tillman and Darren O’Day fine?
* Will there be any news about potential contract extensions for players like Tillman, Manny Machado and Zach Britton?
* Who will emerge as leadoff hitter or hitters?
* How will the pitching staff mesh with new pitching coaches Roger McDowell and Alan Mills and new catcher Welington Castillo?
* What pitcher will emerge with the Vance Worley long relief/swingman role?
* Will the Orioles improve their outfield defense?

The Boston Red Sox, after adding left-hander Chris Sale, are the clear favorite to win the American League East. But the other four teams all see themselves as contenders and are conceding nothing. Division championships are not won on paper. (First cliche of the new year?)

It was at FanFest that manager Buck Showalter issued his statement that just winning is no longer good enough. This one got some fans stoked, but it’s going to take more than words.

buck-showalter-smell-baseball.jpgThe skipper said of the 2017 season: “We played so well for the majority of our games (last season). We went 0-9 or 0-10 to start spring and no one even remembers that. Some of those evaluations we made through that 0 and whatever last spring helped us.

“For me, personally, I’m really looking forward to this spring because I think our guys are ready to get on with it. Now that they know what’s ahead of them, they know the grind. And how many things have to be committed to get it right. This is real hard to do.

“I was telling the fans today and our players know this, but just being competitive and in the playoffs isn’t good enough for us anymore. They talk about how tough our division is and what the other clubs have done. Our guys have heard that every year. Hopefully we’ll be there.”

The first step on the long road to finding that out has come. Pitchers and catchers report today.

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