A surer sign of spring

It seems improbable, with everything going on around us, to reach a consensus on too many things these days.

And that’s what made this year’s Groundhog Day a little more impressive.

Woodchucks in our region and beyond came to the same conclusion when they emerged from their burrows on Feb. 2 — that we are destined for six more weeks of winter. At least that was the prediction offered by Punxsutawney Phil, Buckeye Chuck and French Creek Freddie in the early morning sunlight.

Their views were shared by Atlanta’s Gen. Beauregard Lee and Wiarton Willie, who lives north of the border in South Bruce Peninsula, Ontario.

Of course, there were those who had differing opinions — including Shubenacadie Sam in Nova Scotia and Milltown Mel in Milltown, N.J., who both said we can expect an early spring.

While the accuracy of the prognosticating rodents is an interesting topic for debate, there’s an even more reliable sign that spring is a lot closer than we might think — the opening of spring training.

There’s something special about the start of a new baseball season. It’s a time when fans can believe that all things are possible. And, while the games won’t actually count for another seven or eight weeks, the first workouts remind us that warmer weather is just around the corner.

Pirate pitchers and catchers are due to report to the team’s Bradenton, Fla., complex on Monday, with their first workouts set for Wednesday. The remainder of the players are due in camp next Sunday, with the first full-squad workout scheduled for Feb. 19.

The club will have a different look than the one we last saw on Oct. 1 in an 11-8 win over the Nationals in Washington. Gone are outfielder Andrew McCutchen, who has been traded to San Francisco, and Gerrit Cole, now a member of the defending World Champion Astros. We’ll get a glimpse of some of the new names and faces at 1:05 p.m. Feb. 23, when the Pirates open their spring training schedule against the Rays in Port Charlotte, Fla.

LECOM Park, the spring training home of the Pirates, will see its first action on Feb. 24, when the Pirates take on the New York Yankees at 1:05 pm.

Pitchers and catchers for the Reds report on Tuesday, everyone else is due in camp by next Sunday and the first full-squad workout is set for Feb. 29.

For the Indians, pitchers and catchers are due Wednesday, with the full squad due next Sunday. The Indians and Reds open their spring training schedules on Feb. 23, when they face each other in the Scottsdale, Ariz., stadium they share.

Those games won’t count, but we know they will offer clues as to what we’ll see when the regular season schedules begin.

That happens on March 29. The Pirates will open their season in Detroit, the Indians will open their season in Seattle and the Reds will open at home against Washington.

Pittsburgh’s home opener is set for 1:05 p.m. April 2, while Cleveland fans will have to wait until April 6 for their home opener, which is scheduled for 4:10 p.m. against Kansas City.

Baseball’s back — and while a look at the calendar shows us that spring does not officially arrive until March 20, it’s a reminder that better weather is on the way — no matter what your favorite groundhog says.

(Gallabrese, a resident of Steubenville, is executive editor of the Herald-Star and The Weirton Daily Times.)