MLB spring camps open, Bieber in Guardians gear, Vlad Jr. set

Armando L. Sanchez/Chicago Tribune/Tribune News Service
1 Comment

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. – Arizona Diamondbacks catcher Carson Kelly and manager Torey Lovullo shared a hug, a grin and a few slaps on the back under the bright blue sky that the Cactus League is known for providing.

The bickering is over. Baseball is back.

A day after owners and players reached agreement to end a 99-day lockout, all 30 spring training camps opened across Arizona and Florida. Now the four-week sprint begins in earnest to get ready for an April 7 opening day.

“We’ve been waiting for this for a while,” D-backs infielder Josh Rojas said before Friday’s workout. “It’s good we got everything done. I did my best to stay ready for this day, whenever it came. It happened fast.”

Cleveland ace Shane Bieber limbered up in Guardians gear, Toronto Blue Jays star Vladimir Guerrero Jr. began taking grounders and new St. Louis Cardinals manager Oliver Marmol signed autographs as spring training for major leaguers finally began.

At the complex in Goodyear that Cleveland shares with the Cincinnati Reds, some big names got loose.

Bieber, the 2020 AL Cy Young Award winner, and All-Star third baseman Jose Ramirez were among the players sporting Guardians garb who went through light workouts following check-in physicals. The team formally changed its name from Indians following last season.

Bo Bichette and Jose Berrios were among those joining Guerrero in getting busy at the Blue Jays’ camp in Dunedin, Florida. Sunday is the mandatory reporting date for players, but many were eager to get to to work early.

Rojas was among a large contingent of Diamondbacks players who reported to camp in Scottsdale. Like many players, he had been attending informal workouts at various fields in Arizona while labor talks intensified. The union had even set up a makeshift base in Mesa, Arizona, at a multi-purpose sports facility, but that was starting to clear out on Friday as players reported to their regular camps.

“We did a really good job staying ready,” Rojas said. “There were lots of places where 15, 20, 30 guys were meeting up, running our own practices. Groundballs, live bullpens, live at-bats, hitting on the field.”

St. Louis outfielders Harrison Bader and Tyler O'Neill were at Roger Dean Stadium in Jupiter, Florida, where the Cardinals and Miami Marlins share the complex. Last week, Mets star Max Scherzer was at the ballpark, too, as part of the negotiating teams working on a new labor deal.

On this morning, with temperatures were in the 80s under partly sunny skies on Florida’s east coast, it was time for the talk to turn from CBA to ERAs and RBIs.

“Fans have been through quite a bit lately,” Texas Rangers president Jon Daniels said.

Ron Hoskins and son Shawn had made the trek from St. Louis to Jupiter two weeks ago when it appeared Major League Baseball and the union were close to reaching a deal. The settlement came too late for them to see any exhibition action – they’re scheduled to return home on Saturday.

“Unfortunately, I will not be able to see a spring training game here this year,” Hoskins said.

The trip wasn’t a complete loss for Hoskins.

Donning his white Yadier Molina replica jersey, Hoskins wheeled Shawn, who has Down syndrome, to the ballpark. They were among a group of a dozen or so fans and autograph seekers waiting outside the gates, hoping to catch a glimpse of anything major league baseball.

While they didn’t see any big leaguers, Hoskins and his son got to meet Marmol, who was promoted from bench coach to Cardinals manager after last season.

Reaching through the gate, Marmol squatted and reached his arm through the fence to sign the shirt of 37-year-old Shawn.

“I liked it,” Shawn said.

At George M. Steinbrenner Field in Tampa, New York Yankees fans were asking about spring training tickets, with games set to begin next week. Inside the team store, new shirts with “Grapefruit League 22” were in stock and new TVs were being put up in the restaurants inside the park.

Many players also have work to do.

Freddie Freeman, Carlos Correa and Clayton Kershaw were among more than 100 free agents without a contract as camps opened.

The Cardinals quickly got in motion, reaching a deal with pitcher Drew VerHagen on a two-year contract. The 31-year-old righty was 10-10 with a 5.11 ERA in 127 games over parts of six seasons with Detroit before spending the last two years with the Nippon Ham Fighters of the Japan Pacific League.

“We believe he will compete for a starting job, but could easily transition to the bullpen if needed,” Cardinals President of Baseball Operations John Mozeliak said.