Today is the day. After a long, cold, snowy winter – with more snow on the way – the first sign of spring is finally here. Today, pitchers and catchers report. Those four words, which could possibly be the four most beautiful words in the English language (after the two most beautiful words, play ball, of course), are music to a baseball fan’s ears.

Part of the allure of Spring Training is the players are more relaxed, more likely to interact with the fans. Families take yearly pilgrimages to Florida and Arizona to soak in the magic.

This year will obviously be a different one. The coronavirus pandemic continues to fundamentally alter aspects of everyday life, including how we enjoy sports and attend games.

But what hasn’t changed is what Spring Training means. Hope.

For six or seven weeks, every team is in it. Every fan base believes that this could be their year. With a fresh slate and endless possibilities stretched before them, optimism runs high.

That’s certainly true for the Philadelphia Phillies. Sure, the National League East is gearing up to be a challenge this year. But that’s what makes it fun. I’m over the negativity that plagued us for much of the 2020 season, including the offseason. I’m over thinking about how bad the bullpen was last year, or how there are still question marks in a few areas of this team.

I’m over the fact that not a single “expert” picked the Phillies to finish higher than fourth in 2021. I’m even over the fact that if things continue down the path we’re on, this could be the second season that I can remember where I won’t be attending at least one game in person, although my cutout was present in left field for most of last season.

Instead, I’m going to focus on all of the possibilities that Spring Training brings.

“Sign J.T.” turned into “signed J.T.” and the best catcher in baseball will be in red pinstripes for a long time to come. Realmuto and Bryce Harper can now rest easy, and maybe play a little lighter, knowing that the team is committed to winning, as evidenced by the moves new president Dave Dombrowski has made this offseason.

Speaking of Dombrowski, he has craftily put together a team that has a great chance of competing. He’s made a bunch of minor moves to add an element of competition to the final spots in the rotation, has shored up the bench, and most importantly of all, he’s quietly addressed a bullpen that was historically bad.

While we’re in this optimistic mood thanks to Spring Training, let’s talk about the bullpen. Sure, it was a disaster last year. But it can’t get any worse, right? The additions of Archie Bradley and Brandon Kintzler should strengthen the pen and not cause fans to turn the TV or radio off when the starter gets pulled this year. The offense was one of the best in baseball last year. With an improved bullpen, anything is possible.

Did I mention offense? Didi Gregorius is back on a two-year deal, well deserved after last season. Alec Bohm, the runner up in the Rookie of the Year race, has a full season ahead of him to show his stuff. A 162-game schedule of Harper, Realmuto, and Bohm is a thing of beauty.

Rhys Hoskins and Scott Kingery, two guys who have yet to hit their full expectations, could be in the running for Comeback Player of the year. That center field “problem” the Phillies have? We have the opportunity to see Adam Haseley take that starting job during spring and never look back.

So we can focus on the issues the Phillies have, and we can bemoan the fact that the Phillies could be the fourth best team in the most competitive division in baseball. Or, we can embrace what Spring Training is all about and focus on what could go right for the team this season. After all, these next six weeks are the one time fans of every team can find something to look forward to. And I don’t know about you, but after the last 12 months, a little bit of hope and optimism sounds wonderful right about now.

Photo: Chris O'Meara/AP Photo
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