Spring (Training) Has Sprung

Tracy McGrady (1) of the Houston Rockets looks for an outlet pass while being guarded by Derek Fisher (2) and Carlos Boozer (5) of the Utah Jazz in Game One at the Toyota Center April 21, 2007 in Houston, Texas. McGrady scored 23 points and lead the Rockets to an 84-75 win.
Getty Images/Matthew Stockman
Just 111 days after the final out of the World Series, teams began to break out the bats and balls Wednesday in sunny Florida and rainy Arizona.

"The excitement for me is really starting to build," new Pittsburgh Pirates manager Lloyd McClendon said in Bradenton, Fla.

While some Cincinnati players showed up Tuesday in Sarasota, Fla., Wednesday was the first day teams were allowed to work out at spring training.

But Cal Ripken, the Baltimore third baseman who broke Lou Gehrig's record for consecutive games played, learned he had a hairline fracture in his rib cage and will miss up to a month of spring training.

Ripken, 40, was hurt at home, either working out in preparation for his 20th full season with the Orioles or while playing basketball. He played in 2,632 consecutive games before voluntarily ending the streak in September 1998, then was bothered by a bad back that limited him to 86 games in 1999 and a career-low 83 last year.

"I woke up Tuesday and it was hard to breathe," he said. "I'm a little saddened, a little disappointed because I was working hard during the winter and was really feeling good."

With opening day 45 days away, teams are sure to take aim at the New York Yankees, who have won three straight World Series and four of the last five.

Soon after he arrived in Tampa, Fla., Yankees manager Joe Torre said he is interested in managing beyond this season, the final year of his current contract.

"I think I would miss this," he said.

The Yankees welcomed back pitching coach Mel Stottlemyre, who rejoined the team after missing the 2000 postseason while undergoing treatment for multiple myeloma.

"It feels great and I'm really excited, just like a rookie in camp," he said. "I've been waiting anxiously for this to start."

Stottlemyre underwent a stem-cell transplant as part of his cancer treatment.

"I'm in remission," Stottlemyre said. "I have no signs of the cancer I had before. I am disease-free, cancer-free right now. There has been no signs of any bad cells for a while.

"Physically, I'm real close to 100 percent. I can't say I'm 100 percent, because my immune system still has a little ways to go. They tell me March 15, it will back to 100 percent," he said.

In Vero Beach, Fla., Los Angeles Dodgers catcher Chad Kreuter was anxious to get back on the field.

"This is what I do," hsaid. "I'm a baseball player. To start things again is always exciting."

Fans wait all winter for the start of spring training, filling their time with hot-stove talk of trades and signings.

But on Wednesday, it was time to get out the equipment and get back on the field. Most position players report next week, and the pace will pick up March 1 with the start of exhibition games.

The Texas Rangers and their new $252 million man, Alex Rodriguez, open the season against the Toronto Blue Jays on April 1 at San Juan, Puerto Rico.

In Peoria, Ariz., San Diego outfielder Tony Gwynn was talking about overcoming his injuries. The eight-time batting champion, who turns 41 on May 9, had season-ending surgery on his troublesome left knee on June 27.

"I feel good, but that doesn't mean anything," he said. "I've been cautiously optimistic. You can't speculate because you just don't know until you go out there and do it."

Over in Tempe, Ariz., Angels players couldn't do much on an afternoon of heavy rain with temperatures in the 40s.

"A lot of people don't think that we have good pitching, but the Angels have a lot of good young pitching and it's good pitching," said 24-year-old right-hander Ramon Ortiz. "Every young pitcher is a very good pitcher."

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