Ah, finally … spring training 2012 is here!

It's that time of year again! (Mark Duncan/AP)

When Punxsutawney Phil sees his shadow, it can only mean one thing: Six more weeks (roughly) until the first pitch of the 2012 season. We all know that’s when the games officially count, but true lovers of the game, young and old, already have a month of action under their belts. Spring training. A very magical place for fans and, surprisingly, players, too.

I had the opportunity to attend several exhibition games during my eight-year stint in Arizona. It’s always a sign of new beginnings and good things to come. It gives 29 teams a chance to start fresh and build on the previous season, and one team the chance to defend what is rightfully theirs. You can see it on the faces of players and coaches. They’re champing at the bit to make a run for the title again.

For the fans, it’s a rebirth of warmth and sunshine. A reprieve from the bitter cold of winter found in the southern parts of Florida and Arizona. The smells of hot dogs and popcorn waft throughout the stadium. A place where you’re almost guaranteed to leave with a baseball and the autograph to go with it. Where you’re excused to play hooky from school because it’s spring training!

We know players are excited to get back into the game after a handful of months off, but how amped up are they? I turned to Twitter and checked in with a few players to see what was on their minds as they head into spring training.

According to Los Angeles Angels’ newest starter C.J. Wilson (@str8edgeracer), “Every year I get more accustomed to the spring training schedule: up early and done by lunch. Afternoons (are) for naps and adventures.” If you’re an Angels fan, hopefully those adventures don’t end in an off-field injury!

And for newcomers? “Meeting Bobby Cox for the first time,” said Peter Moylan (@PeterMoylan) of the Atlanta Braves. Wait, what did he just say? I mean, I know would be a complete train wreck the first time I met a living icon. But a guy who made it to the show?

It didn’t end there. Diamondbacks starter Daniel Hudson (@DHuddy41) said his favorite part of spring training was “seeing all the guys, the fans and the excitement on everyones faces.” You heard me correctly. The players are happy to see us, the fans.

That’s not to say that they aren’t excited to get to the official games though. The spring ritual gets a little monotonous “after a couple of games,” says Hudson. I suppose it’s understandable when you consider the boys of summer stay in baseball-shape year round. It’s not like the old days when players had full-time jobs when the season was over. Now, younger guys play full seasons on top of spring training and then fall ball, too. In this day and age, you have to stay on top of your game.

But spring is still a lot about fun.  Just go to a spring game and you’ll see, smell and hear exactly what I’m talking about.


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