Tribe returning to Cactus League action
Players, organization excited to arrive at new Arizona facility
CLEVELAND -- When general manager Mark Shapiro would walk into the Indians' former Spring Training facility in Winter Haven, Fla., he felt like he had to apologize to his players -- particularly the new acquisitions.Sure, Winter Haven had a small-town charm to it, and many residents of the city welcomed the Indians back with open arms each February. But when it came to the facilities, setting foot at Chain of Lakes Park was like going back in baseball time -- and that was not a good thing for a team preparing for action in the 21st century. The clubhouse was cramped and cluttered, and the batting cages and workout room, among other things, were outdated.
That won't be the case this year, as the Indians are headed west this week for their first camp in Goodyear, Ariz. Shapiro will feel no shame in welcoming players to the new spring spot, which officially opens for business when pitchers and catchers report to work Thursday. "The boost from energy and culture that facility is going to provide for us will then transcend into the actual competitive resource the facility will provide," Shapiro said. "It's something we've wanted a long time. It's something [team president] Paul Dolan has worked extremely hard to make happen and something I'm extremely excited about." And Shapiro and the Indians are just as excited about the product they'll put on the field in 2009 after a busy offseason. The Tribe was the most aggressive of any club in the American League Central Division, adding closer Kerry Wood and starter Carl Pavano in free agency and third baseman Mark DeRosa, reliever Joe Smith and infield prospect Luis Valbuena in trades. Couple those additions with the return of Travis Hafner and Victor Martinez from last year's injury woes, and the Indians believe they have the goods to return to the top of the division. Now, the real work of preparing for the season begins. While the Indians don't have many position battles -- they merely need to settle on a fifth starter, seventh member of the bullpen and final position player -- there are still some questions that need to be answered. That begins, first and foremost, with testing the health and effectiveness of Hafner, who began his hitting program in Goodyear late last month following offseason shoulder surgery. Pitchers and catchers will report to the $108 million Goodyear complex Thursday and take their physicals Friday, with their first official workout on Saturday morning. Position players will report Sunday, Feb. 15, and the first full-squad workout will be Feb. 17. The initial days of camp are rather mundane, from a fan's perspective. They are heavy on bullpen sessions, pitchers' fielding practice drills and bunting and batting practice. It will get quite a bit more interesting when the Cactus League season opens with the grand opening of the Goodyear Ballpark on Feb. 25, when the Indians host the Giants. Two more home games against the Diamondbacks and Padres follow before the first road date with the A's in Phoenix on Feb. 28. A Cactus schedule extended by the World Baseball Classic wraps up on April 2, when the Indians face the Cubs in nearby Mesa. The Indians will then pack up their bags and head off to Houston for a pair of exhibitions against the Astros on April 3 and 4, setting up the season opener in Arlington against the Rangers on April 6. This spring marks the Tribe's return to Arizona after 14 Grapefruit League seasons in Winter Haven. The Tribe trained in Tucson for 46 years before moving to Florida in 1993.
Anthony Castrovince is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.