The wind is still nippy and the forecast still bears threats of snow -- but as it stands, the Winnipeg Goldeyes will be ready to go.
See, ten days ago, Shaw Park was still a field of white, loaded up with snow with no grass in sight. But on Tuesday, the diamond spanned out green -- wet, but green.
"It's a miracle," head groundskeeper Don Ferguson said, though there's nothing miraculous about the long hours he's put in to get the field clear. "It's a big improvement. We've just got to clean her up and make her look pretty."
With training camp slated to open Saturday, that's a big relief. At one point, Goldeyes general manager Andrew Collier had to contemplate moving the team's two pre-season home games on May 6 and 7 against the Fargo-Moorhead Redhawks down to North Dakota, where their diamond was closer to opening-day condition.
Luckily, that won't be necessary -- and for the Goldeyes players who began trickling into the clubhouse this week, that means it's finally starting to feel like baseball season. "It's been a rough past few months," said pitcher Matthew Rusch, who lives in Winnipeg year-round. "It's tough to look out the window and get motivated to play baseball when there's a foot of snow out there."
Now, the building is starting to feel the buzz. Players are jetting into the city this week, and training camp kicks off on Saturday. On that day, the park will already be full of fans, as the team's annual open house starts at 10 a.m. Fans can come pick up season tickets and mini-packs, buy single-game seats and watch the Goldeyes go through their first field practice of the spring.
The first 1,500 fans through the gates at Saturday's open house will get free munchies and there will be prize packs given away.
The open house will also mark the first chance fans have to meet most of the new Fish. Only six players are back this year from the team that won the American Association championship last season. Rusch, who was the winning pitcher of record to clinch the Goldeyes' wild-card spot and both playoff series, is one of them. With the retirement of Ace Walker and other notable teammates, the second-year Goldeyes pitcher is ready to take another step forward on and off the field. "It's an additional challenge for me, but I'm looking forward to it," Rusch said. "That pressure -- I love it."
Time to turn the heat back on. For the players riding the championship high, it's been a long off-season waiting to get back to work. Returning outfielder Josh Mazzola, who landed in Winnipeg Monday afternoon, played ball for awhile in Nicaragua, but by February he was itching to get back up north and get the season underway.
Because the only thing better than winning, is getting a chance to do it twice. "The expectation's always high," he said. "I know when we start practising, we all have a common goal, and that's to win the championship."