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The Boys of Summer have returned. OK, it’s a little early to start talking about pennant races, but Spring Training is nearly underway and thus starts one of the most exciting times of the year for sports fans.

For the next several weeks it’s sports-o-mania: College hoops sprints toward March Madness, the NBA season continues (with the All-Star game on Sunday and the Hawks a possible play-off contender), the WNBA opens in May with the new Atlanta Dream, the NHL season keeps chugging along and soon, the Major League Baseball season starts. What more could you ask for? (If you’re a college football fan, you’ll get yours in September.)

That said, we offer a primer on the upcoming baseball season with a focus, of course, on the Braves:

David O’Brien, the Braves beat writer for the Atlanta-Journal Constitution, offered his “10 Keys to Success” for the Braves. The top key? Keeping the team’s Big Three starters – John Smoltz, Tim Hudson and Tom Glavine – healthy and able to pitch 600 innings. No. 6 on O’Brien’s list is having Brian McCann and Jeff Francoeur take another step toward becoming franchise players. But with Francoeur’s lumbering off-season, that’s a question mark.

Also, the comeback effort for Javy Lopez continues. The AJC recently told the story of his career resurrection, which officially starts Thursday when catchers and pitchers reported to the Braves’ Spring Training facility in Orlando. Lopez was a fan favorite during his 12 seasons with the club.

“I realized how much I love baseball because it’s an empty space for me,” he said. “I can enjoy the family. I can go on vacation and everything, but there’s a gap.”

Speaking of Lopez, the Los Angeles Times takes an in-depth look at the history of Puerto Rican catchers in the game, focusing on Hector Valle, whose nine games with the Los Angeles Dodgers made him the first catcher from the island territory to play in the Bigs. Fun factoids from the article:

Of the 41 Puerto Ricans who played in the majors last season, 13 were catchers. Only twice in the last 12 years has a World Series been played without at least one Puerto Rican behind the plate; three times in the last six years Puerto Rican catchers started for both teams.

And 17 times in the last 18 years a Puerto Rican catcher has started for the American League in the All-Star game.

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