Write of Spring

UNDER BOUNDLESS BLUE skies, with palm trees swaying in the distance, the __________s play catch on grass as thick and luscious as ____________. The club, coming off its worst season since 19__, has missed the playoffs for the past ____ dozen years but still sees plenty of reason for optimism. "I like our team," says skipper ______ _________. "All I ask is that our guys give ___ percent. If we play the right way, take care of the little things, I think we might surprise a lot of people."

Long-suffering ___________s fans could be excused for feeling less certain about their beloved team's chances, especially after the departure of ________ __________, arguably the best _________ in franchise history. A first-time free agent, he signed a ___-year, $_00,000,000 contract with the New York __________s. His absence was made painfully clear yesterday afternoon, when his _______ leather recliner was finally removed from the clubhouse, replaced with a more customary folding chair.

But here, in the warm _________ sunshine, hope springs eternal. "Any time you lose a future Hall of Famer, it's going to sting a little bit," says _________ ______________, the team's general manager, whose cherubic ____ and youthful _______ belie an intense competitive fire. "At the same time, we still have a lot of talent in that clubhouse. If there's anything I've learned in the ___ months since I graduated from ________ University, it's that these guys will play with pride no matter what. There's a lot of positive energy in that room."

While some teams try to buy their championships, the ___________s will have to earn their wins. "We can't beat them by playing their game," says _____________, whose budget is ____ the size of the biggest clubs. Instead, he's banking on a _________ combination of homegrown talent and affordable, ___________ free agents that nobody else ________.

The possible successors to __________'s throne illustrate that philosophy perfectly. At the moment, the job looks to belong to ______ ______. The ____-round draft pick turned heads during his brief visit to the majors last September, and he looks even more impressive this spring, having added ____ pounds of muscle to his already statuesque frame. "It's all about making the most of your opportunities," he says, taking a break from the batting cage and yet still managing to flex his bulging _____. "I'm going to work hard, be the best ___________ I can be, and ______ willing, good things will come my way."

Standing mostly upright between the kid and his dream is ________ _______________. The cagey 4_-year-old veteran intends to prove that his long career isn't over, despite a spate of significant injuries: a torn ________, a blown _____ and a labrum that's been stretched more than _____ Kardashian's ________. "It is what it is," _________ says, his _______ packed in ice. "I know I can still contribute at the 
big league level. Besides, I was driving my wife crazy back home. I tried to pretend to enjoy taking my kids to school and stuff like that, but I don't even know their names. __________? ___________? I have no _________ idea."

The only other potential option for the ___________s is Rule 5 draft pick _____ ________. Sources have called him a long shot, mostly because the __________s didn't bother to protect him on their 40-man roster, allowing the ___________s to lift him in exchange for $50,000 and a bag of ___________. "I've always flown under the radar," he says, "but I'd like nothing better than to prove the ________ wrong."

The same could be said for the entire ___________s clubhouse. It's hard to imagine a team that finished ___ games below .500 and lost its best __________ will do anything more than suck the life out of everyone unfortunate enough to come into contact with it this summer, like a ________ drinking _______ from a _________. But the club's manager insists that better days lie ahead. "We need to put last year behind us and learn to believe in ourselves again," he says, before leaving for his ___ o'clock tee time.

"____________ can happen."

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