There's nothing like a warm day, an emerald green field and a bright blue sky to get the juices flowing in a baseball player.
The Grasshoppers open the South Atlantic League season at 7 p.m. Thursday against Hickory in NewBridge Bank Park. But when they arrived and worked out Monday, they were already chomping at the bit.
"I wish we were playing today," said outfielder Austin Dean. "I can't wait for opening day."
Max Garner, who draws the assignment as the opening day pitcher, was also ready to go.
"These next two days are going to be real slow," he said. "That's OK. It's going to be a lot of fun here on Thursday."
The players aren't the only ones revved up. The coaching staff is just as anxious to get things started as the players are to get out there.
"I'm very excited and ready to get this first game under out belt so we can see what we've got," said Frank Moore, back for his third season as the hitting coach.
As for manager David Berg, he was was ready to go back in February when he stopped in Greensboro en route to spring training in Jupiter, FL. "Ecstatic" was a word he used several times that day, and it came up again Monday.
"I'm ecstatic," he said as he watched hitters from behind the batting cage. "I was having fun in spring training. I couldn't wait to get out there."
Berg was the manager here in 2012, when the Hoppers, behind the brilliance of pitchers Jose Fernandez and Adam Conley, won the first half title in the Northern Division to qualify for the playoffs. They eventually reached the championship series, where they were beaten by a red-hot Asheville team.
In 2013 Berg accepted the job as the roving infield coordinator for the Miami Marlins. I talked to him when he came through Greensboro early in the season and could tell immediately that, while the job was fine, it just wasn't his passion.
Now he's back where he belongs, in the dugout. He lives for the camaraderie, hanging out with the guys in the daily routine of a 140-game grind. He even likes the long bus rides on road trips.
"I might be pulling out all the hair that I have left," he said, "but I'm looking forward to it."
Berg wound up with pretty much the group of players he thought he would get. The bulk of the roster played at Batavia in the short-season New York-Penn League in 2013, compiling a 39-36 record. Three of the position players - Dean, second baseman AVery Romero and infielder Justin Bohn - spent a little time with the Hoppers at the end of last season. Outfielder Yefri Perez played 18 games in Greensboro and catcher Sharif Othman was here for 17.
"I think it will help me a lot, being around here (for seven games)," Dean said. "I'm glad to be back here and I expect big things this season, especially for this ball club."
There are only 12 position players to start the season, meaning Berg will have just three bench players available for any game. Around the infield, there's Felix Munoz (.301 at Batavia) at first, Romero (.297) at second, J.T. Riddle (.249) at third and either Bohn or 19-year-old Javier Lopez at shortstop. Juan Avila, who spent most of his time in the Gulf Coast League, will probably begin as the utility man.
The outfield will have Dean (.268), Perez and Carlos Lopez (.318) with Castro as the fourth man.
Chad Wallach should be the primary catcher but Othman will also see a lot of time.
The power statistics in Batavia weren't eye-catching (21 homers in 75 games), but the park there is bigger than NewBridge Bank Park. It's not unusual for home run totals for some players to take a significant jump in Greensboro. But Moore has seen players get wide eyes with their first look at the cozy dimensions here.
"A lot of times you can look at the ballpark and get out of your comfort zone and try to do too much," he said. "The ballpark can be an advantage and it can be a disadvantage if you take the approach the wrong way. We're trying to calm them down, get them to hit line drives and use all parts of the field."
Moore likes the hitters as a group but said no one jumps out.
"I think they go about their business the right way, they're eager to play the game, they play hard and if they do that the fans will appreciate everybody," he said. "I can't single out one person, but as a team I think they'll see a lot of energy from the players and hopefully we'll have some good results."
I'll take a closer look at the pitching staff in tomorrow's blog.