Vincent Velasquez labeled spring training as a "grind," causing the Quad Cities River Bandits starting pitcher to constantly look ahead.
All he could think about was the season opener.
"I wanted to get out of spring training so fast," Velasquez said. "I'm getting ready for a good season."
Nearly six weeks after most of the roster reported to spring training, the Bandits can trade early mornings and workouts now for an actual game. QC opens its run as a Houston Astros affiliate tonight at Kane County.
First pitch is scheduled for 6:30 at Fifth Third Ballpark in Geneva.
"It's a big adrenaline rush," said Velasquez, tonight's starter. "But that's when you've got to keep your composure and not do anything different -- just go out there and be yourself."
It could be difficult getting caught up in the pageantry that defines opening day. Tonight could get especially interesting at Kane County considering that club is starting its first season as a Chicago Cubs affiliate.
However, those taking the field show guarded excitement with a focused tone.
Real games mean the opportunity to compete for bigger opportunities.
"You've got to push yourself to another level and compete," Velasquez said.
Since spring training started, that mentality has been there.
"You always have an eye on the season," Bandits starting third baseman Rio Ruiz said. "But as long as you take your at-bats seriously in spring training, you're not going to have any worries in the season."
With spring training now history, there should be no worries.
"It's always exciting getting that first game in," Bandits designated hitter Chase Davidson said. "Hopefully, it's a good start."
From the Bandits' perspective, the start is important. Seventeen players are appearing on a full-season club for the first time in their careers.
With that comes more butterflies. And bigger crowds
"It's a pro-ball atmosphere," Ruiz said. "I was in the (rookie-level Gulf Coast League last year) and we didn't have fans at all. Now that I'm in a full season, I get to feel the real presence of the crowd."
Move over, spring training. It's time for the real fun.
"It's going to be awesome to play in a real game," Davidson said.
That first pitch is almost here.
"It's going to be great," Ruiz said. "I can't wait."