BRADENTON, Fla. - The headline in Thursday's Bradenton Herald said it all: "The boys of summer are back."
Pitchers and catchers reported to Pirate City on Wednesday, and the 2014 version of spring training was officially under way.
Sunny skies, a cool breeze and temperatures in the low 60s greeted the Bucs, who did throwing, catching and hitting on four different fields under the watchful eyes of manager Clint Hurdle and many organizational coaches, including Curve skipper Carlos Garcia and batting coach Ryan Long.
Fans stood three deep around the pitching area to watch Francisco Liriano, Gerrit Cole, Charlie Morton and Jason Grilli loosen their arms. When Edinson Volquez took his turn, some folks whispered he's the guy who could replace A.J. Burnett in the rotation.
Old-timers Bill Virdon, Manny Sanguillen and Mike "Spanky" LaValliere are tutoring current Buccos, but Kent Tekulve, who is ill, and Hall of Famer Bill Mazeroski, whose wife is ailing, are missing and not expected to be here.
Several national media members were present on the first day, including Ken Rosenthal, the outstanding writer who also is known for wearing bow ties on Fox Sports TV games. Jean and Joan were interviewed by Tom Balog, a 28-year veteran of the Sarasota Herald Tribune, who was doing a feature on fans at the first day.
Among the many fans taking in the early action was Dave Orr, longtime leader of the Altoona Curve Bleacher Bums.
Jean and Joan got their autograph season going by securing signatures from Russell Martin, Neil Walker, Justin Wilson, Jameson Taillon, Chris Stewart and Duke Welker.
Besides baseball, it's been a busy second week for us.
The Bradenton Boosters held their annual luncheon Wednesday at River Wilderness Country Club in Parrish with 140 in attendance to hear Pirate broadcaster Steve Blass and Trevor Gooby, the Pirates' director of Florida operations. Blass was entertaining, as usual, with stories about his playing days, while Gooby reported the club has sold more tickets than usual for spring training, thanks to the Bucs' outstanding 2013 season.
We also attended the 10th annual Southwest Florida Altoona Day, which attracted 80 people to the Colonial Golf and Country Club in Fort Myers. The event is put together by Bill Kearney, who called on Tom Foose and Tom Bradley to speak about the Altoona Area School District Foundation.
The week also included a trip to the Hard Rock Casino in Tampa, where we met up with Hollidaysburg friends Dave and Marcia Dravis, as well as an afternoon at Coquino Beach.
Eating stops in Bradenton were made at the Red Lobster, Sweet Berries, Popi's and Outback, and we also met Altoonans Chick and Pat Dillen for lunch at Phillippi's in Siesta Key.
The Bucs' full roster is expected to be here Monday, so more baseball news next week.
Jim Lane, a retired sports editor of the Mirror, reports from Florida in February and March.