Fans renew love for the summer game on Valentine's Day

Thu Feb 10, 2011 4:25pm EST
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By Larry Fine

NEW YORK (Reuters) - As the echoes of the Super Bowl fade, baseball fans have begun dreaming of Valentine's Day and a renewal of their love for the summer game with the arrival of pitchers and catchers to spring training camps.

Nothing warms the heart of snowed-in devotees of the diamond like visions of the hardball tossed and the crack of ball on bat in the warm weather climes of Florida and Arizona in the Grapefruit and Cactus Leagues.

Cupid's big day, Feb 14, this year also marks Monday's voluntary start for pitchers and catchers from Major League Baseball's 30 teams to report to team training camps and begin limbering up for the 2011 campaign.

Twelve days later is the mandatory date for all players to be in camp, and teams are all in full swing for preseason games by the time March begins.

Spring training, with roots going back to the 19th century, is a time for players to reunite with old team mates, get in shape, bond with newcomers and work on improvements.

The relaxed atmosphere leads players to mingle more with fans at the small ballparks and practice fields, and draws team followers from northern locales.

The games are casual, with shifts of players taking their turns on the diamond, though management often casts a close eye on the skills and condition of aging players while appraising the readiness of young hopefuls.

Wins and losses are not necessarily accurate indicators.   Continued...

<p>Workers observe the diamond as finishing touches are put on RFK stadium in Washington March 31, 2005, in preparation for the first home game of the Washington Nationals Baseball team. REUTERS/Jason Reed</p>