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Phils Arrive in Clearwater...

February 12th 2013 19:02
Chase Utley not fielding ground balls seated in a lawn chair was a welcome sight in Clearwater earlier today.

As I perused the channel guide in search of something sports related to view over the weekend, I was once again reminded of just how awful this time of year is for sports: nothing but pro fishing, golf, some bull riding and a few random college hoops games, the latter of which are OK yet still a month away from the excitement of March Madness.

The up-and-down (mostly down thus far) Flyers and the STILL Andrew Bynum-less Sixers haven't done much to quench the thirst of Philly's faithful either, and we are still a ways away from seeing what Chip Kelly has in store in his first season in an Eagles' visor.

Fortunately, as the calendar turned to this week we're offered a ray of hope, a reminder that warm weather will be returning (hopefully) sooner than later, and the barren wasteland of February sports is nearing its end:

The Phillies are beginning the pitchers and catchers portion of their Spring Training schedule in sunny Clearwater, FL!

Soon we'll be treated to the sight of pitchers fielding comebackers and covering first base, throwing their bullpen sessions, and the oh-so-sweet sound of catcher's mitts popping in the morning Gulf Coast air.

It will be interesting to gauge the vibe coming out of camp this preseason, as in past years the Phillies have descended upon Clearwater carrying not only their gear and personal belongings, but also the weighty expectations of making another serious run at another World Series title.

Based on last season, it would appear that burden has shifted down I-95 to the upstart Washington Nationals, who are coming off their first National League East title - ending the Phils' streak at five - and after re-signing 1B Adam LaRoche and inking free agent RHP Danny Haren, appear to be looking to start their own string of postseason appearances.

Meanwhile, the Phillies enter 2013 with seemingly more question marks than last year, chief among them the ability of Roy Halladay, Chase Utley and Ryan Howard to bounce back from injury-riddled, subpar seasons and return to the form that placed them among the elite at their positions in all of Major League Baseball.

Combine this group with what is a very murky outfield situation - at best - and many among the fans and media are of the mindset that the 2013 edition of the Phillies will be closer to last season's 81-81 group than the 2011 squad that won 102 games.

But with things just getting underway this week, this is no time to get negative. And the first positive sign came today, in the form of an early-reporting Utley fielding grounders at second base - and on his feet, as opposed to seated in a lawn chair to keep the strain off his chronically-injured knees like the previous two preseasons.

Keeping him upright and healthy and ready to open the season at second base instead of on the DL would be a big step in the right direction.

So buck up, Phillie fans, and keep grinding your way through February...meaningful baseball is just around the corner!
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