Major League Baseball's spring training has begun, as catchers and pitchers have made their way to Florida and Arizona to prepare for the 2012 season. Games in the Grapefruit League and Cactus League won't begin until early March, when all players will report to camp.
Storylines so far include young stars Buster Posey (who has now been asked not to block homeplate) and Stephen Strasburg (who had Tommy John surgery) making their returns to the San Francisco Giants and Washington Nationals, respectively.
The St. Louis Cardinals will attempt to defend their World Series title without retired manager Tony La Russa and slugger Albert Pujols (who reported to the Los Angeles Angels' training facility in Arizona at the crack of dawn Monday).
In New York, the Yankees have completed their trade of pitcher A.J. Burnett to the Pittsburgh Pirates, in exchange for two minor-league prospects — pitcher Diego Moreno, 25, and outfielder Exicardo Cayones, 20. The Yankees also signed former Phillie Raul Ibanez.
And the Boston Red Sox will have to do without knuckleballer Tim Wakefield, who retired Friday after 19 seasons.
Baseball lost one of its best clutch players last Thursday, when former catcher Gary Carter died of brain cancer. Carter, who spent most of his career with the New York Mets and the Montreal Expos, was honored in a pre-game ceremony by the Montreal Canadiens Sunday night.
From the AP, here's a guide to key dates for the 2012 baseball season:
- Feb. 24: Voluntary reporting date for players other than pitchers, catchers and injured players on teams other than Oakland and Seattle. Mandatory reporting date for Oakland and Seattle.
- March 2: Mandatory reporting date for teams other than Oakland and Seattle.
- March 2-11: Teams may renew contracts of unsigned players.
- March 19: Last day to place a player on unconditional release waivers and pay 30 days termination pay instead of 45 days.
- March 28-29: Seattle vs. Oakland (exhibition games in Tokyo).
- April 2: Last day to request unconditional release waivers on a player without having to pay his full 2012 salary.
- April 4: Opening Day: St. Louis at Miami. Active rosters reduced to 25 players.
- June 4: Amateur draft.
- July 10: All-Star game — in Kansas City, Mo.
- July 13: Deadline for amateur draft picks to sign.
- July 22: Hall of Fame induction, Cooperstown, N.Y.
- Sept. 1: Active rosters expand to 40 players.