Feb. 23, 2012

By Craig Chval (’15)

With 159 days between game seven of the World Series and opening day, it’s a long, cruel winter without baseball. For fans of America’s pastime, February and March are those months when you wait for the next day that brings us closer to the end. Today is one of those days.

Today, the pitchers and catchers of the Chicago White Sox and Texas Rangers reported to spring training in Arizona, which means every team has officially begun preparing for the season.

In celebration of the end of the winter and beginning of the spring, here’s a look at the former Irish players who will look to impress during this preseason …

Milwaukee Brewers infielder Craig Counsell (’92) will move from the field to the front office, retiring after 16 years in the major leagues. The 2001 NLCS MVP has become a special assistant to Brewers general manager Doug Melvin. Counsell ended his career with a spectacular fielding percentage of .985.

Reliever Brad Lidge (’98) will make his Washington Nationals debut this year after spending his first 10 seasons with the Houston Astros and Philadelphia Phillies. The two-time All-Star spent much of 2011 injured but posted a 1.40 ERA in his 25 appearances.

Relief pitcher Aaron Heilman (’01) signed a minor-league contract with the Seattle Mariners this offseason and will report to spring training. In his nine combined seasons with the New York Mets, Arizona Diamondbacks and Chicago Cubs, he has appeared in 477 games with a 4.40 ERA.

Milwaukee relief pitcher John Axford (’05) will return to the Brewers after a breakout 2011 campaign. The closer converted 43 consecutive save opportunities while posting a 1.95 ERA. At the conclusion of the season he was named the National League’s reliever of the year and placed ninth in the Cy Young voting.

After spending some time in the minors last season, pitcher Jeff Manship (’06) will start spring training on the 40-man roster of the Minnesota Twins.

Coming off a big 2011 season, relief pitcher Jeff Samardzija (’06) will hope to build off that success into 2012. The right-hander’s .297 ERA last season was second best among Cubs pitchers and his 88 innings pitched were the most for any of Chicago’s relievers.

Also starting the season on a 40-man roster, pitcher David Phelps (’08) will look to make an impact for the New York Yankees. The 2010 Yankee minor league pitcher of the year has posted a 2.61 ERA in his four seasons in the minors.

After making his major league debut with the Boston Red Sox last season, pitcher Kyle Weiland (’08) will start the 2012 season with the Astros, who acquired the right-hander in an offseason trade.

Outfielder A.J. Pollock (’09) will play in spring training for the Diamondbacks. The former first-round pick hit .307 with eight home runs, 73 RBI and 36 stolen bases last year with AA Mobile.

— ND —