Football is over - baseball is near

Bill Shanks starts the 2011 season, at least sort of.

The recruits are all signed. National Signing Day is over. College football fans across the nation can now dream that an 18-year-old who will sit in 12th grade biology class today will come in the fall and make a difference.

And now the Super Bowl is over. Green Bay is taking the Lombardi trophy home to the Cheeseheads. There's no Pro Bowl to wait on anymore as the last bit of football, and heck, they're not even sure if there will be pro football this fall.

So that all means one thing - something we've all been waiting to hear since October.

It's time for baseball.

In one week, pitchers and catchers will report to Florida and Arizona. There's nothing like that reporting day. Heck, all they do is check in, and many of them will be there before then anyway. In fact, there will be many members of the Atlanta Braves making the journey south late this week.

For the Braves, this will be the first time since 2006 they'll be coming in the next year as a playoff team. The challenge is even greater now, with the perennial first place Phillies laying down the gauntlet with their offseason addition that they are not ready to relinquish the top of the National League East.

This will be a different spring. For the first time since 1990, someone other that Robert Joe Cox will give the ‘Welcome to spring training' speech. Fredi Gonzalez is in charge now. And even though he's very similar to ole number six, Gonzalez will be his own man.

Players will have to feel him out - to see how the new man in charge reacts to different things. What will he allow them get away with? What will he be more understanding about compared to his predecessor? What will he be tougher on?

It'll be a learning experience in February and March. Everyone will be learning about the new man in charge.

But there's a lot to look forward to for this Atlanta team. They were good last year, and there's a chance they'll be good again in 2011. Sure, there are a lot of questions. But not one team in the sport will report to spring training without them. All have questions to answer and things to figure out before March 31.

Gonzalez will eventually be pleased most of the attention will not be on him after the first couple of days. After people get their first snapshots of the new manager, the attention will undoubtedly move to the third baseman.

Will Chipper Jones, who will turn 39 in April, make it back? And if he does, what kind of player will he be coming off the major knee surgery?

That's where the questions begin, but plenty will pop up in the seven weeks. That's what spring training is for, and we're certainly glad it's almost here to figure everything out.

Bill Shanks hosts The Bill Shanks Show on WPLA Fox Sports 1670 in Macon, GA and The Atlanta Baseball Talk Show. Shanks writes columns for The Macon Telegraph. Email Bill at and follow him on Twitter at

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