SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — Last Feb. 11, it was in the low 50s at Salt River Fields as pitchers and catchers reported to camp.
“We were frigid at this time last year,” Mike, a longtime Arizona Diamondbacks security guard, said as he stood outside Jackrabbit Field.
Indeed, it was in the mid-70s as Diamondbacks position players officially reported to camp on Tuesday. And over on Jackrabbit Field — the northernmost field of the dozen practice fields at Salt River Fields — new hitting coach Turner Ward facilitated batting practice as players intermittently greeted one another after a four-plus month offseason.
“G!,” general manager Kevin Towers shouted as he stepped onto the Jackrabbit infield and bee-lined for freshly-inked Diamondbacks outfielder Gerardo Parra. “Did you have a good winter, buddy?”
The two caught up while Diamondbacks managing general partner Ken Kendrick introduced himself to newcomer Matt Tuiasosopo, a corner outfielder/infielder formerly of the Detroit Tigers.
Of course, many — if not most — had been at the facility for more than just a few hours by this point in the morning. With so many players living in the Valley, or in areas negatively affected by winter weather, several had been working out at Salt River Fields for a few weeks.
“I think it’s smart to come down early on and get outside,” manager Kirk Gibson said following Tuesday’s workout. “And our facility is virtually open all year, so it’s a great asset to us and you’d be foolish if you didn’t want to use it.”
At Jackrabbit, the rehabilitating Cody Ross — a Scottsdale, Ariz. resident who was among the aforementioned faction of early reporters to camp — stepped into the cage to take batting practice at the front-end of a four-member group consisting of outfielders Mark Trumbo, Tuiasosopo and Parra.
Mark Grace — now a hitting coach with the short-season Hillsboro Hops — halted things.
“I need a doctor’s note, Cody,” he loudly announced. “Or at least a note from your mom.”
Ross, who is recovering from a freak hip injury suffered last August, laughed and took his swings, driving several balls over the Jackrabbit outfield fence, the effort looking fairly seamless.
He will likely take part in live batting practice on Wednesday morning, according to Gibson.
“It’s kind of a week-by-week process,” he explained of his outfielder’s status. “But he’ll be mixed in with certain things.”
Ross isn’t the only player ahead of schedule as it relates to conditioning.
“They all (look good),” Gibson said of his squad.
“They’ve been working out. You can see with the body types.”
And while spring training used to serve as a kind of boot camp for out-of-shape players, as Gibson explained, that has changed.
“The training techniques are much more refined,” he went on. “They’re preparing themselves for a whole season much earlier than they used to. You used to come to spring training to get in shape; I think most guys’ aim is to come to spring training in shape now.”
Outside, the weather may have been glorious, but it was hardly responsible for the sense of optimism at Salt River Fields on Tuesday. Members of the largest Diamondbacks camp in history packed the premises — in an official way, for the first time, anyway — and the full squad seemed to share the hope that always comes with a fresh spring.