Seven men, one dream and the journey to the big leagues

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The road to the big leagues is more challenging than most fans realize.

Each step up the ladder through the minor leagues produces another set of obstacles. A player’s energy is sapped by long bus rides, bad food and cheap motels. His skills are tested by opponents just as hungry as he is to reach the majors. And his desire can take a hit at any time by a prolonged slump or streak of bad luck.

I spent a week at spring training in Arizona talking to players about the challenges they have faced in chasing their big league dreams.

From established big leaguers like Torii Hunter and Colby Lewis, to journeymen like John Lindsey (pictured) and Corky Miller, to rising star Dustin Ackley, they each had a unique take on life, sports and their love of baseball.

But they all had one thing in common: To them, it’s the journey itself that matters most.

Here are their stories.

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2017 Preview: The American League Central

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For the past few weeks we’ve been previewing the 2017 season. Here, in handy one-stop-shopping form, is our package of previews from the American League Central

Do the Indians have a weakness? Do the Tigers and Royals have one more playoff push in them or do they have to start contemplating rebuilds? The White Sox and Twins are rebuilding, but do either of them have a chance to be remotely competitive?

As we sit here in March, the answers are “not really,” “possibly,” and “not a chance.” There are no games that count this March, however, so they’re just guesses. But educated ones! Here are the links to our guesses and our education for all of the clubs of the AL Central:

Cleveland Indians
Detroit Tigers
Kansas City Royals
Chicago White Sox
Minnesota Twins

2017 Preview: The National League East

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For the past few weeks we’ve been previewing the 2017 season. Here, in handy one-stop-shopping form, is our package of previews from the National League East

The Washington Nationals crave a playoff run that doesn’t end at the division series. The Mets crave a season in which they don’t have a press conference about an injured pitcher. The Marlins are trying to put the nightmare of the end of the 2016 behind them. The Phillies and Braves are hoping to move on from the “lose tons of games” phase of their rebuilds and move on to the “hey, these kids can play!” phase.

There is a ton of star power in the NL East — Harper, Scherzer, Cespedes, Syndergaard, Stanton, Freeman — some great young talent on ever roster and, in Ichiro and Bartolo, the two oldest players in the game. Maybe the division can’t lay claim to the best team in baseball, but there will certainly be some interesting baseball in the division.

Here’s how each team breaks down:

Washington Nationals
New York Mets
Miami Marlins
Philadelphia Phillies
Atlanta Braves