by Clark Groome

With the polar vortex’s second visit forecast for this week, the thought that baseball’s Spring Training is about three weeks away is something of an antidote to the expected cold. The Phillies pitchers and catchers are scheduled to report to Clearwater Feb. 13, with the rest of the squad due five days later.

As Spring Training gets closer, there’s a lot of talk about what the Boys of Summer will be doing to get ready for a new season, a season that for Major League Baseball’s 30 teams and their fans will be filled with hope and visions of World Series victories dancing in their heads.

The upcoming season will be different from those of the last couple of years. Not only will the Phillies be starting a season with a manager not named Manuel and with a pitching staff that lacks Roy Halliday, it will be the first time in three years that “the core” – shortstop Jimmy Rollins, second baseman Chase Utley, first baseman Ryan Howard and catcher Carlos Ruiz – will report to Clearwater healthy.

The pitching staff, led by Cole Hamels and Cliff Lee, will also feature the newly acquired Cuban Miguel Gonzalez and Roberto Hernandez (a/k/a Fausto Carmona) and the recently re-signed Kyle Kendrick.

Much to the disappointment of many, Jonathan Papelbon, whose arrogance and negativity has been a major issue since the Phillies signed him two seasons ago, will likely be the closer. The rest of the bullpen is something of a mystery. While there is some positive feeling about several relievers, there really are more questions marks than there is confidence.

The outfield, which is likely to begin the season with Domonic Brown in left, Ben Revere in center and Marlon Byrd in right, is anything but a source of great pride for a team whose outfields used to be one of its strengths.

A regular starting third baseman is still not settled, although it’s likely to be Cody Asche, who played well as last season ended.

Perhaps the most interesting things about the upcoming campaign is what impact the return of Larry Bowa as the bench coach will have on the squad and how Manager Ryne Sandberg and company will improve the atmosphere in what was widely reported to be an unhappy if not flat-out contentious clubhouse last year.

What should be fun to watch as Spring Training unfolds is how some of the team’s minor league prospects do working out with the big club. Third Baseman Maikel Franco, catcher Tommy Joseph and left-handed pitcher and Germantown Friends School alumnus Jesse Biddle will draw much of the attention.

Once the regular season starts March 31 – for the second straight year against an American League club, this time the Texas Rangers – there will be noticeable changes in the game.

Most significant, and long overdue, will be the use of more video review. Each manager will have one challenge during each game. If he uses it and he’s upheld, he can have another. After the seventh inning the umpiring crew chief can ask for a review, which will be done by regular umpires at a video center in New York. All of this will be in addition to the current replay procedure for home run calls.

As the snow is snowing and the wind is blowing, all of this is hopeful news. There’s no way to tell how the upcoming season will play out. But I would like to remind you that the 1993 Phillies team made it to the sixth game of the World Series after a 1992 season in which they finished last. That’s why hope is perhaps the sport’s only Spring Training constant.

Oh! One more thing – this also in the category of hope springing eternal: Maybe the despicable Alex Rodriguez (A-Rod) will actually behave professionally and take his year-long suspension like the man he claims to be. The likelihood is slim to none, but I’m still gonna add it to my list of hopes as we count down to all the fun that begins soon in Florida and Arizona.