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The surest sign of spring is arriving

Forget what anyone has told you. Forget that Punxsutawney Phil last Sunday predicted we would have an early spring. Pay no attention to the caterpillars or the information contained on the pages of any almanac.

The surest sign that spring is nearly upon us happens this week when pitchers and catchers report for spring training. And that means baseball’s opening day is much closer than many of us want to believe.

Pitchers and catchers for the Pirates are scheduled to report to Bradenton, Fla., on Monday, with the first workout scheduled for Wednesday. Things really start to heat up next Sunday, when the position players are scheduled to report to camp. The first full-squad workout is set for Feb. 17.

Pirates fans in the Tri-State Area will be watching spring training a little more closely this year, if for no other reason than the team will be under the direction of a new manager, Derek Shelton. He’s a baseball veteran, having spent the last two seasons as the bench coach of the Minnesota Twins and 15 years coaching at the Major League level, including stops in Cleveland, Tampa Bay and Toronto.

Cleveland’s pitchers and catchers are scheduled to report to Goodyear, Ariz., Tuesday, and position players are set to report Saturday, with the first full-squad workout set for Feb. 17. Pitchers and catchers for Cincinnati, which also trains in Goodyear, are scheduled to report Thursday, position players are set to report Feb. 16 and the first full-squad workout is set for Feb. 18.

Those dates serve as a prelude to the start of exhibition games. The Pirates will open Grapefruit League play Feb. 22 when they host Minnesota — Shelton’s old team — at 1 p.m. at LECOM Park in Bradenton. The Indians and Reds will open Cactus League play when they meet each other at 3:05 p.m. Feb. 22 in the Goodyear Park facility they share.

And while those games don’t count, they give fans a chance to get a glimpse of what might happen once the regular season gets under way. That happens March 26, when the Pirates visit Tampa Bay for a 4:10 p.m. start, the Indians host Detroit in a 1:10 p.m. start and the Reds host St. Louis in a 4:10 p.m. start. Pittsburgh’s home-opener will get under way at 1:35 p.m. April 2 when the Reds visit PNC Park.

The march toward opening day has started — we hope you will sit back and take a few moments to put the worries and cares of the day behind you while enjoying a spring training game or two.

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