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Hope -- and stories -- springs eternal on eve of spring training


FORT MYERS, Fla. -- There are stories that tell you we are more than halfway through winter.

Groundhog Day stories.

One of these stories is the famous "pitchers and catchers report" story.

Sunday was the day that Red Sox pitchers and catchers officially "reported'' to the Sox minor league complex in Fort Myers.

Sounds daunting, no? Sounds like something of a military operation.

Close your eyes and you picture Jarrod Saltalamacchia standing in front of GM Theo Epstein -- shoes spit-shined -- saluting and barking "Private Saltalamacchia reporting for duty, Sir!''

Actually, it's nothing at all like that. There is no place to officially report. There's no sign-up sheet at the doorway of the Red Sox minor league complex at the end of Edison Road. Players are not issued rule books.

"Reporting day" is one of the charming myths of spring training.

First of all we have the small issue of the Basic Agreement between Major League Baseball and the vaunted Major League Baseball Players Association. According to the pact, no player is required to be in camp this year before March 2. In some circles this is known as "the Manny Ramirez Clause.'' Faux reporting dates represent when the ballclubs prefer the players appear. But no shows at this hour are not in violation of any contract.

Then we have the small issue of what constitutes "reporting.''

According to Red Sox publicist Pam Ganley, "they basically have to come to the facility or call a team representative. It could be Tito (manager Terry Francona), it could be a coach, it could be Jack (traveling secretary Jack McCormick), someone in the organization.''

Where can they call from? Back in the old days of Red Sox lore, there was nothing to prevent Pedro Martinez from staying in the motherland for Dad's birthday and still "reporting" from the Dominican Republic.

"They should be in the area,'' said Ganley. "I don't know if it's just Fort Myers or if it's part of Florida. But it's with the understanding that if they're not in on the reporting date, they'll be in for the physicals tomorrow.''

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Veteran Red Sox equipment czar Joe Cochran remembers the hunt for Cecilio Guante back when the Sox held spring training in Winter Haven.

Guante was a journeyman righty from the Dominican Republic, trying to catch on with the Sox at the end of his career, but he had little regard for "reporting day.''

"There was a rumor he was landing in Tampa and I was supposed to go get him,'' said Cochran. "I went back to my hotel room to grab a quick shower and the phone rang and they told me he was at the clubhouse. No cell phones back then.''

Cochran remembers rookie Scott Hatteberg riding his bicycle to Chain O' Lakes Park on the day he was supposed to report with pitchers and catchers in Winter Haven. He also remembers Tony Pena being trailed by a Ken Burns camera crew when he first reported for duty with the Red Sox.

Twenty-nine-year-old pitcher Tony Pena Jr. was one of the Sox minor league players who reported to Fort Myers early this year.

"You just show your face, that's all you have to do to report,'' said Clay Buchholz, another early reporter. I don't like to wait until the last day. I think it's good to get down here early.''

Sunday's informal Sox workout was light and sparse. A lot of Boston veterans were not back from Mike Lowell's retirement party which was held on the other side of the state Saturday night. Francona was no where near the ball fields. He was huddled inside with other Sox staffers, plotting how the Sox will attack spring training.

The Red Sox finished in third place in 2010, only the second time in the last seven years in which Boston did not qualify for postseason play. Much is expected of the 2011 edition. Theo Epstein had a big winter, acquiring Adrian Gonzales, Carl Crawford and Bobby Jenks.

Francona was asked about friend Brad Mills (now the Astros' manager) calling him and telling him not to screw things up after Epstein assembled this daunting roster.

"I had quite a few calls like that,'' laughed Francona. "One of 'em was from Theo.

"Expectations are high. They should be. Our front office did a terrific job. Our goals on the field haven't changed. Whatever your talent is perceived, I can never imagine trying to play the game differently. Right is right, wrong is wrong. We''ll still do the best we can.''

Red Sox pitchers and catchers will undergo physicals Monday.

The first formal workout for the batterymen is Tuesday. The phony deadline for position players to report is Thursday.

Bet somebody will be late, claiming visa problems.

It's another spring training ritual.