After weeks of drills on the backfields of spring training complexes under the warm Arizona sun and meaningless exhibitions, the Salt Lake Bees are eager to finally play a game that matters.
The Bees will kick off their season Thursday against the Sacramento River Cats, something the players have been looking forward to as the mundane routine of spring training took its toll.
River Cats at Bees
P Thursday, 6:35 p.m.
Note » All at 6:35 p.m.
Thursday » Sacramento
Friday » Sacramento
Saturday » Sacramento
Sunday » Sacramento
Monday » Fresno
April 8 » Fresno
April 9 » Fresno
April 10 » Fresno
"You can only play so many non-meaningful games until it starts getting to you," said first baseman C.J.Cron, who begins his first season with the Bees after an All-American career at the University of Utah. "And once we all found out what the roster is going to be like, we got pretty excited because we can do a lot of good things here. We’re ultra-confident right now that we can win a lot of ballgames."
Confidence is a word several Bees used to describe the team’s outlook. With a roster full of veteran experience and young prospects, the Bees are setting their sights on a Triple-A championship.
Last year’s team came close, falling short in the Pacific Coast League finals. But Efren Navarro, a Triple-A All-Star last year entering his fourth season with Salt Lake, said the Bees are capable of going further this season.
"We’re stacked," Navarro said. "… We had all spring to get to know each other, and now that we’re here the whole team is ready to go. Hopefully we can go farther in the playoffs this time around. We’re shooting big and hopefully we can win the whole thing."
The Bees’ high hopes are appropriate for Opening Day, that annual rite of spring when each team is given a clean slate and harbors aspirations of summer success leading to postseason glory.
Manager Keith Johnson said his heart will be beating fast when he looks into the crowd for the first time Thursday, thinking of the possibilities of the season that will follow.
"It’s very exciting," he said. "All the work you’ve put in over the course of the spring to try to get these guys ready. There’s a nervous energy you get before competing."
But Opening Day also is a fresh start for the players, who are one level from the majors. And for many that is a lifelong dream waiting to be fulfilled.
"I want to make it to the big leagues," Long said. "That’s been a goal ever since I was a little kid. The focus is working on my game, getting it to the point where I would eventually get a call-up."
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