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Early welcome to the 2012 season

Today is a mostly symbolic start to spring training, though there's often a very real focus on who's been prepping the longest and looking spry and sinewy. Early report wasn't always a time for zealous preparation and boasting about being in the best possible shape. I'm not sure whether you're supposed to be nostalgic about something that was probably bad for everyone involved, but if this were the first half of the 20th Century, you'd have scenes like:

PLAYER: "Just came in on the train, Dust-o. I'm horribly out of shape and the season is half-over."

DUSTY: "Here, have some whiskey to get the weight off. Pharmaceuticals and exercise haven't been invented yet."

The modern spring training is pretty regimented. We can thank better training and discipline (I'd wager more than PEDs) for better baseball. Was something lost with a year-round media cycle and scrutiny of players physiques? Maybe not, but it might have been more striking to watch the long journey from doughy, drunk and erratic in the spring to slightly less doughy, slightly less drunk and peak-performing in early autumn.

Speaking of transformation, the Reds' offseason change really seems to have brought springtime hope. As we wait for the first pictures of mass stretching, let's get in that spring state of mind. Oh, here they are now and there they are over there.

What to watch for:

  • How will Mat Latos (and better half Dallas Latos) take to the new team? There hasn't been a lot of publicized bad blood with Reds teams of late and it seems like a clubhouse with a lot of good feelings floating around. So it should be cool.
  • Does Aroldis Chapman look like he's doing starting pitcher warm-ups and stretches and is that even a thing? Is he wearing a jersey marked STARTING PITCHER?
  • Is Jeff Francis taking a lot of calls?
  • Tweets and photos involving Sam LeCure. His unbridled enthusiasm not only fills the Willis Void, but he's gradually becoming a Reds National Treasure. We've already gotten some good material, including this: "@matt_isaacs4: @mrLeCure #mastyboys is close, but massett, Marshall, madson and yourself should be #LeMastyboys" and this photo.
  • An off-the-cuff Corky Miller interview. He's one of the least likely to just pump out the platitudes. Some good interplay with LeCure can be expected.
  • Is Andrew Brackman throwing any pitches that could be described as "worst?" Along with Josh Judy, also on a major league deal, I'd expect him to get some early buzz - but it's not clear what chance either have of making the team.
  • Is Chris Heisey standing in background of photos taken with Ryan Ludwick?
  • What does it mean that Brett Tomko is trying out for the Reds and Mike Cameron retired today? Do we have to re-tally the points in the Griffey trade? Did someone just win a hyper-specific prop bet?

Suggested menu:

Salad: Spring greens, with small balls of mozzarella, hand-painted with stitching. Southwestern ranch dressing.

Wine: A Petaluma wine, in honor of Jonny Gomes

1st course: moutarde-drizzled hot dog and with non-artisanal bun (combine kraut, relish, ground beef reduction as needed)

Main course: Several of the more Tex-Mex items on the Skyline menu

Desert: Graeter's Ice Cream hand-glopped onto some frybread

Coffee: Maybe this?

Cocktail: Mint julep. Or tequila. Some agave nectar in there probably.

What they're saying about the Reds:

"The Reds are a lot like last year's Milwaukee Brewers, loading up on pitching to maximize their chances of winning with a star first baseman. It worked for the Brewers, who won the National League Central in Prince Fielder's final season in Milwaukee. It should work for the Reds, who control Joey Votto's contract only through 2013" -- The New York Times

Anticipation is building steadily for Latos' debut in a Cincinnati uniform. At 24 years of age and with a couple of excellent seasons already under his belt, the sky is the limit for him. For Reds fans, there is the hope that the club will have a legitimate ace at the top of the rotation for the first time in a couple of decades. Yes, there is reason for legitimate excitement in the Queen City. -- Chad Dotson, Redleg Nation

With Joey Votto and Mat Latos leading a talented group of twentysomething blue-chippers, Ryan Madson and Sean Marshall ready to close out games, a premium prospect like Devin Mesoraco poised to crash the lineup, and the rest of the division either potentially weakened (Cardinals, Brewers) or just weak (Pirates, Cubs, Astros), the Reds are being picked by many to win their second NL Central title in three years. It's a pretty damn defensible pick. -- Grantland

The Reds have made it very clear that they're going all-in this offseason, presumably in an effort to maximize their chances of winning a title before Joey Votto qualifies for free agency after the 2013 season. GM Walt Jocketty opened up the prospect vault to acquire Mat Latos and Sean Marshall, then landed what could potentially be the bargain of the offseason by signing Ryan Madson to a sweetheart one-year contract. -- FanGraphs