CLEARWATER, Fla. - Chase Utley dumped a box of brand-new, red batting gloves on the Phillies' clubhouse floor as backup catcher Brian Schneider inspected the goods. Charlie Manuel, decked out in shorts and a T-shirt after a workout of his own, sauntered into the room looking for a chat with anyone he could find. Utley was the first one he saw.
A few feet away, Rich Dubee, the man with the enviable task of directing a dream pitching rotation, joked he was bringing a recliner to spring training to watch his Four Aces.
"But we have to curb the excitement a little bit, too," Dubee said. "We still have to play baseball. I mean, we are absolutely thrilled with our starting rotation. You can't downplay that."
Across the room, Brad Lidge tempered expectations for all of five seconds.
"We all feel like we need to win the World Series this year," Lidge said.
Yes, Philadelphia, baseball is back. Spring training officially begins Monday when the 33 pitchers and catchers participate in the first workout at Bright House Field. Four in that group - Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee, Roy Oswalt, and Cole Hamels - will be followed by every camera. They are why none of the previous 128 seasons of baseball played by this franchise held the hype and expectations of 2011.
It began in earnest Sunday as the pitchers and catchers reported to the team's complex for entry physicals, a few hellos, and an afternoon golf tournament. Mostly, it was a formality; many of the players have been using the complex for the last few weeks (or months, in Halladay's case).
The starting rotation will be unveiled to a national audience Monday with an orchestrated news conference televised nationally following the first workout. That unit is what fuels the promise of 2011. Plagued by injuries and sporting a rotation that began with just two aces in 2010, the Phillies still won 97 games. So it's natural to wonder what can be.
"A lot of people that I talked to thought we were going be a World Series contender and the team to beat in 2011 before we got Lee," Lidge said. "And once we got Cliff, it just seemed like the mentality now for us is that we need to win this thing. This is a rare opportunity to have this kind of rotation. It is never as easy as it seems on paper. You never know who you're going to face in the playoffs. Last year, the Giants just couldn't seem to lose.
"The fact that we have those four guys and Blanton as the fifth guy, no matter how hot a team is that we're playing in the postseason, it shouldn't matter."
Even Dubee's cliches are beginning to come true.
"I've always said 'Your No. 1 starter is the guy who is pitching that day,' " Dubee said. "And . . . it's just more of a fact now. We're running out four No. 1 starters. You can't but love what we've got."
Dubee said he hasn't even discussed a possible order for the starting rotation other than Halladay starting opening day. Those decisions, he said, will not be tough.
"We might put the names in a hat and draw them out," Dubee quipped.
So what is a pitching coach to do with a flawless rotation? No, the recliner won't be necessary. Even the best pitchers need another set of eyes when an adjustment is needed. (If you recall, in the days before Halladay threw his perfect game last May, a crucial adjustment in his delivery was implemented by Dubee.)
But . . .
"We're not going to change anything by any means," Dubee said. "I'm not that dumb."