Players arrive at spring training camps hours after MLB lockout ends

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Friday, March 11, 2022

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. --Arizona Diamondbacks catcher Carson Kelly and manager Torey Lovullo shared a hug, a grin and a few slaps on the back under the bright blue sky that the Cactus League is known for providing.

The bickering is over. Baseball is back.

A day after owners and players reached agreement to end a 99-day lockout, all 30 spring training camps opened across Arizona and Florida. Now the four-week sprint begins in earnest to get ready for an April 7 Opening Day.

"We've been waiting for this for a while," Diamondbacks infielder Josh Rojas said before Friday's workout. "It's good we got everything done. I did my best to stay ready for this day, whenever it came. It happened fast."

Sunday is the mandatory reporting date for players, but many were eager to get to work early.

Cleveland ace Shane Bieber limbered up in Guardians gear, Toronto Blue Jays star Vladimir Guerrero Jr.began taking grounders, and new St. Louis Cardinals manager Oliver Marmol signed autographs as spring training for major leaguers finally began.

At the complex in Goodyear that Cleveland shares with the Cincinnati Reds, some big names got loose.

Bieber, the 2020 American League Cy Young Award winner, and All-Star third baseman Jose Ramirez were among the players sporting Guardians garb who went through light workouts following check-in physicals.

Bo Bichette and Jose Berrios were among those joining Guerrero at the Blue Jays' camp in Dunedin, Florida.

Rojas was among a large contingent of Diamondbacks players who reported to camp in Scottsdale. Like many players, he had been attending informal workouts at various fields in Arizona while labor talks intensified. The union had even set up a makeshift base in Mesa, Arizona, at a multipurpose sports facility, but that was starting to clear out Friday as players reported to their regular camps.

"We did a really good job staying ready," Rojas said. "There were lots of places where 15, 20, 30 guys were meeting up, running our own practices. Ground balls, live bullpens, live at-bats, hitting on the field."

In Tampa, Florida, Yankees star DJ LeMahieu was among a multiteam group working out for the final time at a high school field less than a mile from New York's complex. Boston's Rafael Devers and Philadelphia's J.T. Realmuto, Didi Gregorius and Andrew McCutchen also have been taking part over the past month.

LeMahieu hugged and shook hands with some of the other players after the session.

"For sure, officially the last unofficial workout," he said.

St. Louis outfielders Harrison Bader and Tyler O'Neill were at Roger Dean Stadium in Jupiter, Florida, where the Cardinals and Miami Marlins share the complex. Last week, New York Mets star Max Scherzer was at the ballpark as part of the negotiating teams working on a new labor deal.

On this morning, with temperatures in the 80s under partly sunny skies on Florida's east coast, it was time for the talk to turn from CBA to ERAs and RBIs.

"Fans have been through quite a bit lately," Texas Rangers president Jon Daniels said.

Said Yankees slugger Luke Voit: "I just didn't want to lose fans. They deserve for us to be out there already."

Ron Hoskins and son Shawn had made the trek from St. Louis to Jupiter two weeks ago when it appeared Major League Baseball and the union were close to a deal. The settlement came too late for them to see any exhibition action; they are scheduled to return home Saturday.

But the trip wasn't a complete loss. Donning his white Yadier Molina replica jersey, Hoskins wheeled Shawn, who has Down syndrome, to the ballpark. They were among a group of a dozen or so fans and autograph seekers waiting outside the gates, hoping to catch a glimpse of anything baseball.

While they didn't see any big leaguers, Hoskins and his son got to meet Marmol, who was promoted from bench coach to Cardinals manager after last season. Reaching through the gate, Marmol squatted and reached his arm through the fence to sign the shirt of 37-year-old Shawn.

"I liked it," Shawn said.

At George M. Steinbrenner Field, Yankees fans were asking about spring training tickets, with games set to begin next week. Inside the team store, new shirts with "Grapefruit League 22" were in stock, and new TVs were being put up in the restaurants inside the park.

Many players also have work to do.

Freddie Freeman, Carlos Correa and Clayton Kershaw were among more than 100 free agents without a contract as camps opened.

The Cardinals quickly got in motion, reaching a deal with pitcher Drew VerHagen on a two-year contract. The 31-year-old right-hander was 10-10 with a 5.11 ERA in 127 games over parts of six seasons with the Detroit Tigers before spending the past two years with the Nippon Ham Fighters of the Japan Pacific League.

"We believe he will compete for a starting job, but could easily transition to the bullpen if needed," Cardinals president of baseball operations John Mozeliak said.

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