Spring training once again in full swing in SWFL

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Hurricane Ian kept the stands at Charlotte Sports Park empty for more than a year, but now another sign of normalcy for baseball fans in Southwest Florida as the Tampa Bay Rays pitchers and catchers are back in Port Charlotte.

And it’s not just the fans who are happy to be back.

“We’re so appreciative of the community itself to get this up and running and to kind of get back into the flow of it here that we’ve been so accustomed to,” Rays manager Kevin Cash said.

As Hurricane Ian devastated Charlotte County.

“I know there’s been a lot of families in the community…it hasn’t been the best of times, maybe coming out to a baseball game and supporting a team or their players can help put some smiles on their face,” Cash said.

Cape Coral alum Shane McClanahan has been a standout on the mound for Tampa Bay. He’s sidelined until 2025 because of an elbow injury, but the former All-Star is still an asset in a clubhouse with a lot of new faces.

“I wish I was a part of it, but we’ll get there, we’ll get there, and I’m excited to contribute when I can and however I can,” McClanahan explained.

In Lee County, the Boston Red Sox returned to the practice fields at JetBlue Park.

Some familiar Southwest Florida faces in pitchers Kutter Crawford from Florida Gulf Coast University and former Estero High School star Josh Winckowski are back with the Sox.

Each guy is battling for a spot in what will be a new look rotation for Boston as Winckowski, who spent time in the bullpen last season, hopes to build on in 2024.

“I think there’s some things that I even like relieving more than starting,” Winckowski said. “Bullpen is always a good time. But yeah I’m excited for the opportunity to potentially start this year and see what we can do with it.”

Down the street from JetBlue Park, it was a lot of smiles at the Lee Health Sports Complex as the Minnesota Twins pitchers and catchers are back in Southwest Florida. Fans showed up to see the big leaguers up close. The Twins start the new season looking to defend their division title and get back to the postseason.

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