SCOTTSDALE, AZ — They are four words that every baseball fan looks forward to this time of year: pitchers and catchers report.
That date circled on the calendar has arrived for nine of the 15 teams that call the Valley home for Spring Training, while the remaining six will begin practice Thursday.
"The smell of the grass, the sound of ball meeting bat, pitchers throwing bullpens, it's always exciting for me," said Arizona Diamondbacks manager Torey Lovullo. "I've been looking forward to this day for quite some time. We had a lot of downtime in the middle of the summer last year, that was very awkward. We started to play baseball, and it was obviously the type of year that we didn't expect. This just seems like we're starting a new round, and we've learned a lot. Personally, I learned a lot. I think this team has digested what happened last year and they're a little bit angry and eager to get things started and show what they can do."
The Diamondbacks fell well short of expectations last year, leaving Lovullo feeling bitter and in-need of some soul searching this offseason.
"I'm extremely motivated," said Lovullo, who is entering the final year of his contract. "This is professional sports, you need to walk into this building motivated, period. But I've got a little bit of a chip on my shoulder. I'm very eager to get going. I'm very eager to see what direction this team starts moving in day-by-day throughout the course of the spring, and it's my job to make sure they're ready on day one."
Lovullo isn't the only one with a big chip going into this season. In his first season as a Diamondback, Madison Bumgarner was not the ace the team had faced so many years when he was with the San Francisco Giants. Bumgarner had the worst season of his career, and while he said he's not ready to let three months dictate what kind of pitcher he's been over his career, it wasn't easy to stomach this offseason.
"I know we're starting a new year and new goals for this year, but I think everybody certainly remembers what happened last year," said Bumgarner. "Myself, obviously included, underperformed as bad as anybody, maybe worse than anybody. But as a team, most everyone underperformed. That's tough to just kind of push aside, no matter how many guys it is, but like I said, we're all here to win. We'll do what we can to change it."
The start of a new season represents an opportunity to turn the page, and while Spring Training won't look quite like it normally does, any amount of fans allowed to attend is a welcome sight after playing in front of nobody last season.
"Since this started last spring, I know that they've been waiting for this moment," said Lovullo. "To get fans, to hear them cheering, to get their support right there in front of us is going to be pretty special."
"I'm just excited to be back playing baseball again," said Bumgarner. "Thankful it's going to be, not quite normal, but closer to it. I think we're on the path back to that, so hopefully, it all happens sooner than later."
For ticket sale dates and the guidelines in place for spring training this year, visit ABC15's Spring Training Guide.