The Cutoff Man: Hope springs eternal

Clint Hurdle, who most last managed from 2002-2009 in Colorado, enters his first season as Pirates skipper. Clint Hurdle, who most last managed from 2002-2009 in Colorado, enters his first season as Pirates skipper.

While many people will be celebrating a Hallmark holiday with their loved ones this Valentine's Day, baseball fans worldwide are also celebrating the official start to spring training. Today is the reporting date for most teams' pitchers and catchers, and by the end of the week, spring training will officially be underway. While we at Carnegie Mellon certainly don't have the time to be traveling frivolously, the start of baseball's preseason serves as an excuse for diehard fans to pack their bags for Florida and/or Arizona for some warm weather and, finally, some Major League Baseball.

Spring training is important because it provides preseason excitement and intrigue. It allows for position battles, it gives prospects a chance to strut their stuff, and, most importantly, it provides optimism for every baseball fan. Fans have every reason to be happy and optimistic — not much can go wrong (barring an injury), actual games are being played, successful springs can only leave high hopes for the regular season, and if a player or team has a bad spring, who cares? It's only spring training. Not to mention that baseball has ushered spring in five weeks before it actually begins.

The 2011 season marks the first year at the helm of their respective teams for five managers and the first full season for five more, and a good spring training will no doubt instill much-needed confidence in each for the regular season. Even without a good spring training record, signs of leadership, control, and an understanding of the game and his players will leave a good impression for each new manager. Terry Collins of the Mets will no doubt be under the most scrutiny if spring training goes poorly; Clint Hurdle of the Pirates, however, has nowhere to go but up; and anything positive out of Bradenton, Fla. will be a good thing for that franchise.

Mike Quade will be entering his first full season as manager of the Cubs after an abbreviated interim stint at the end of the 2010 campaign. Quade's team has certainly upgraded its starting lineup this offseason, and spring training will allow Quade to quickly get on the same page as his new stars Matt Garza, Carlos Penam and Kerry Wood. On the other hand, Florida's Edwin Rodriguez will enter his first full season with a Marlins team that, while certainly chock full of future talent, does not look nearly as well-equipped as the group he managed in 2010. However, Rodriguez is in full control of the Marlins' potential in 2011, and his ability to nurture the talents of youngsters Chris Coghlan, Gaby Sanchez, Logan Morrison, and Mike Stanton will dictate how successful this Florida team can be. Keep in mind that on paper, Bud Black's young Padres were not expected to do much last year, but, well... Black's 2010 Manager of the Year award more than tells that story.

On a sadder note, this past weekend brought the death of an old manager: Chuck Tanner, who managed the Pirates from 1977–85 and led the 1979 team to a World Series title. Pirates fans — and all other baseball fans — mourn his passing and no doubt fondly recall the "We Are Fam-a-lee" Pirates that came back to win the Series after trailing, three games to one. Hopefully, 32 years after that triumphant season, Hurdle will be able to foster this year's young, talented Pirates team into something that would have made Tanner proud, and — finally — return winning baseball to Pittsburgh.