Today, Feb. 18, is an important date on the annual sports calendar as its marks the day that Major League Baseball pitchers and catchers voluntarily report to their respective teams for Spring Training. While Opening Day is still over six weeks away, today marks the somewhat unofficial start of the 2016 season.
I always look forward to this time of the year because most teams begin the year with a lot of optimism and just about every team feels like they can either win the World Series or at least make the playoffs. Eventually, the brutal reality sets in, but it’ll be a long time before any of the league’s 30 teams are mathematically eliminated from postseason competition.
The pitchers and catchers who voluntarily report today, which will be most of them, won’t be by themselves for long. Other players voluntarily report to their teams on Tues., Feb. 23, and the mandatory reporting date for all players is a week later on Tues., March 1. Spring Training will rock on along for several weeks after that with Opening Day games set for April 3 and April 4.
Another important date a few months down the road that Conecuh County baseball fans might want to keep their eye on is June 9 when the First-Year Player Draft is set to start. As many of you likely already know, Ray Castillo, ace pitcher at the University of Alabama, is in his senior season at the Capstone and looks to be drafted into the Big Leagues in June. Castillo, the son of Conecuh County natives Raymond and Kelly Castillo, was one of the most highly decorated prep players to come out of Alabama high schools several years ago, and he’s steadily improved his draft stock since then by becoming one of the Crimson Tide’s most dominating pitchers.
Alabama is scheduled to begin its baseball season tomorrow (Friday) when they play Maryland in Tuscaloosa. Local fans who would like a chance to see Castillo pitch in person might want to get tickets to the Eighth Annual MAX Capital City Classic, which will feature Alabama and Auburn, on March 29. That game will be played at Riverwalk Stadium in Montgomery.
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As of Monday afternoon, when this column was written, Hillcrest High School’s varsity boys and girls basketball teams were still alive in the playoffs, and everyone that I’ve talked to is hoping that they continue to do well. Both teams have made it all the way to the sub-regional round of the state playoffs this season, and it would be a lot of fun to see them both advance to the South Regional Tournament and beyond.
Both of these teams have been impressive this season and have gained reputations for being tough, gritty opponents who will take on anybody. Most of their schedules consist or larger schools, and the smaller schools on their schedule are among the state’s best. If Hillcrest continues to build on the success they’ve enjoyed this season, then basketball fans in the reading audience will have a lot to look forward to in the years to come.