Mike and Janet Olsen of Denver take in the view during the grand opening of… (Ross D. Franklin / Associated…)
They are four ordinary words: "Pitchers and catchers report." To baseball fans, however, the words carry an almost magical connotation.
The spring comes alive, even in an otherwise unremarkable photograph of a pitcher playing catch. The season soon will be upon us, but not before six weeks of optimism among fans of even the weakest teams.
Pitchers and catchers begin reporting to training camps Sunday. That's when the Angels start up. The Dodgers are due in Wednesday.
The first spring training games are less than two weeks away. In the meantime, here are 10 Cactus League story lines to get you started:
1. For the first time since 1945, no major league team will train in Tucson. The greater Phoenix area is now baseball's wonderland, with all 15 Cactus League teams training within 40 miles of one another.
2. Salt River Fields at Talking Stick is the full name of the newest Cactus League complex, located in Scottsdale and shared by the Arizona Diamondbacks and Colorado Rockies. The facility is in the Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community, and a talking stick is a ceremonial item used by some Native American tribes.
3. The Chicago Cubs usually lead the Cactus League in attendance, but the Giants might be the toughest ticket this spring, with San Francisco coming off the World Series championship and a fan festival so crowded that the Giants had to shut the ballpark gates. Bonus points for fans who can pilfer Aubrey Huff's rally thong or Brian Wilson's hair dye.
4. For the first time since 2005, the Cactus League is home to the reigning most valuable player in each league — Josh Hamilton of the Texas Rangers and Joey Votto of the Cincinnati Reds. The MVP winners in 2004: Vladimir Guerrero of the Angels and Barry Bonds of the Giants.
5. Take a side trip to Las Vegas and bet on whether the Oakland Athletics will post their first winning record in five years. The "Moneyball" movie, starring Brad Pitt as Billy Beane and based on the book that illuminated Oakland's success a decade ago, is scheduled to arrive in theaters in September.
6. Show him the money? The Rockies did, to Troy Tulowitzki. No free agent this off-season — not Carl Crawford, not Cliff Lee, not Jayson Werth — got as much money as the $158 million that Colorado guaranteed its shortstop in a contract extension that carries him through age 35. He will be 26 on opening day, same as the Angels' Brandon Wood.
7. The Angels and Dodgers each finished 80-82 last season, then went shopping. The Angels committed $93 million to three players (Vernon Wells, Scott Downs, Hisanori Takahashi). The Dodgers committed $91 million to 10 players (Ted Lilly, Juan Uribe, Hiroki Kuroda, Matt Guerrier, Jon Garland, Rod Barajas, Vicente Padilla, Dioner Navarro, Marcus Thames and Tony Gwynn Jr.).
8. The San Diego Padres won 90 games last season, and they were not eliminated until the final day. They tore up the team anyway, because they couldn't afford Adrian Gonzalez or such an otherwise poor offense. Now playing: Brad Hawpe at first base, Orlando Hudson at second, Jason Bartlett at shortstop, Cameron Maybin in center field. The Florida Marlins got Maybin for Miguel Cabrera; the Padres got Maybin from Florida for Edward Mujica and Ryan Webb.
9. As Prince Fielder takes what will almost certainly be his final spring swings with the Milwaukee Brewers, he has to be rooting for Albert Pujols to sign a contract extension with the St. Louis Cardinals rather than head into free agency with him next fall. The market for Fielder could be surprisingly limited, with several big-bucks teams probably unavailable to drive up the market. The Boston Red Sox have Gonzalez at first base; the New York Yankees have Mark Teixeira; the Philadelphia Phillies have Ryan Howard; and the Detroit Tigers have Cabrera. Also, Angels owner Arte Moreno prefers to avoid Scott Boras, the agent for Fielder.
10. Kirk Gibson, entering his first full season as the Diamondbacks' manager, and Mike Scioscia, entering his 12th season as the Angels' manager, are two of the heroes from the Dodgers' last World Series team, in 1988. Don Mattingly, the Dodgers' first-year manager, played 14 seasons with the New York Yankees and never reached the World Series.