For the 10th time since this stadium opened in 2003, the Cactus League will get under way with a game between the complex's two tenants, the Kansas City Royals and the Texas Rangers, at 1:05 p.m. CT on Sunday.
It was on Feb. 27, 2003, that the two clubs played the first Spring Training game, a charity event, in the new stadium. The Royals won, 6-3, on Brandon Berger's three-run walk-off homer.
Jeremy Affeldt started that game for the Royals, contributing two scoreless innings. Their starter on Sunday will be right-hander Luis Mendoza, opening his pursuit of a spot in Kansas City's starting rotation. The Rangers will start Colby Lewis, a right-hander who was with the Royals for about a month in the winter of 2007. Kansas City subsequently released him so he could pitch in Japan.
The opening of the Cactus League comes after just 12 days of official Spring Training for the pitchers and catchers and just a week for the infielders and outfielders, but in reality, many of the players have been practicing in Surprise for weeks. Those who weren't at the Arizona complex were training elsewhere. So Sunday's arrival of competition with another Major League team is a welcome step on the march toward the regular season.
"It's Spring Training, but yeah, it's fun," Royals manager Ned Yost said. "There are things that break up camp. The pitchers get here, then you can hardly wait for the whole team to start. And then once you get that, you can hardly wait for the intrasquad games, because it's different. And then you can hardly wait to play real games. Then we go through the real games and the competition starts, and after a point, you can hardly wait for the season to start and you can get down to the grind of it."
Sunday's game marks the beginning of competition for spots on the Opening Day roster that will begin the 162-game grind on April 6 in Anaheim against the Los Angeles Angels.
"We're excited about being able to evaluate our players in terms of which 25 guys are going to be on our team," Yost said.
The big battles are on the pitching staff. Only Luke Hochevar, Bruce Chen and Jonathan Sanchez seem set in the rotation, with Mendoza, Aaron Crow, Danny Duffy, Felipe Paulino, Mike Montgomery, Everett Teaford, Vin Mazzaro and Sean O'Sullivan among the candidates for the other two spots.
In the bullpen anchored by closer Joakim Soria, newcomer Jonathan Broxton and Greg Holland are likely locks, with spirited sparring for the other four spots among Tim Collins, Jose Mijares, Blake Wood, Nate Adcock, Louis Coleman, Kelvin Herrera, Zach Miner, Tommy Hottovy, Jeremy Jeffress and those left out of the rotation picture.
There's also a second-base battle between the guy who started last season with the job, Chris Getz, and the guy who finished the season with it, Johnny Giavotella. In center field, the top candidate to succeed the traded Melky Cabrera is Lorenzo Cain, but Mitch Maier and Jarrod Dyson will be making their bids.
The Royals warmed up for their 32-game Cactus League schedule with intrasquad games of 6 1/2 and six innings on Thursday and Friday, respectively.
"Honestly, no one likes scrimmaging each other," left fielder Alex Gordon said. "It gets some of the rust out of the way and you get some live action, but everyone wants to play a different team, so we're excited to get it going against the Rangers on Sunday."
"We're ready to go," designated hitter Billy Butler said. "Everybody's where they need to be. We get the competition going and get ready for the year."
Mendoza and O'Sullivan are each scheduled to pitch two innings on Sunday followed by Mazzaro, Adcock, Hottovy, Herrera and Ryan Verdugo with one inning each.
The Rangers pitchers will be Lewis, Scott Feldman, Michael Kirkman, Robbie Ross, Sean Green and Miguel De Los Santos.
On Monday afternoon, the same two clubs will meet again, this time at 2:05 p.m. CT. The Royals pitchers will be Chen, Montgomery, Coleman, Collins, Wood, Chris Dwyer and Jeffress.
"I just want to see everybody get their feet on the ground and see some pitches and throw some pitches and catch some ground balls. Just get your legs underneath and get back to playing," Yost said.
Dick Kaegel is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.Less