Springtime Optimism

Phillies fans, plagued by a long winter and the first playoffs-less season since 2006, had a reason to celebrate on Tuesday morning, when they were delivered from the tortures of winter by the sight of baseball.

That delivery came in the form of pictures, delivered via Twitter by beat writers and various social media types, that showed baseball players – real, live, baseball players! - engaging in such baseball-related activities, like running, throwing, and fielding, marking the first day of pitchers and catchers reporting for Spring Training.

It was the first glimpse that we've had of baseball since the Phillies ended their 2012 season with an 81-81 record following a campaign that could really only be described as disappointing. And even though the 2013 Phillies don't figure to blow the 2012 team out of the water, that doesn't really matter now that the players are showing up to camp and readying themselves for another long season.

There's a lot of people out there who think that the Phillies, and their fans, shouldn't be too optimistic about the 2013 season. And to be honest,  I'm one of them. The Phillies were outgunned, outmanaged, and outplayed by both the Atlanta Braves and Washington Nationals in 2012, and that doesn't figure to be any different in 2013. The stranglehold they once held on the division is a thing of the past; a relic as old as Ryan Howard's MVP award.

That's all true, there is no denying that. But shortly after the reports started rolling in about players taking the field and working out, this picture arrived, via the Phillies official Twitter account. The picture, which has made the rounds a dozen times by now, is of Chase Utley, glove in hand and moving to his left to field a ground ball. At first glance, there is nothing spectacular about that photo, but it is in fact the first time since 2010 that Utley appears to be healthy and ready to play at the start of Spring Training. While it remains to be seen whether or not his knees will stay healthy, it's a big step ahead of 2012, where he spent the first few weeks taking grounders while seated on a stool.

Maybe we are getting ahead of ourselves here, but that picture is a clear indicator that 2012 is behind us and that fans can maybe, just maybe, have a sense of optimism and hope heading into 2013. Utley's rickety knees and mystery-shrouded future won't hang over the spring like some ghastly visage and leave us wondering whether he will ever play again. Instead, he's a symbol that what was broken can be fixed, that the shortcomings of the past aren't doomed to repeat ad infinitum. Chase Utley taking grounder is, quite frankly, the first real ray of sunshine followed by a long and cold baseball winter.

Sure, it's the first day of Spring Training, and there is no guarantee that Utley will actually be healthy this season, but why not rally around that hope that this team can turn it around?

It's fair to say that the Phillies are firmly entrenched behind the eight-ball heading into the season, thanks to an aging roster full of players who, quite frankly, might not have much left in the tank. But that doesn't mean that the fans can't still have a reason to be hopeful about 2013. After all, the rotation, bullpen, and offense have enough firepower to be competitive if everything goes their way, so let's not give up the season just yet.

And even though the season is still nearly two months away, the fact that actual baseball-related activity is occurring in Clearwater is a sight for sore eyes.

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