As spring training opens, here are key Cardinals dates for the next seven weeks

When you hear the smack of the ball in Yadier Molina's glove, you know your calendar is about to fill up with Cardinals baseball.

Jeff Roberson/AP

For baseball fans, few words are more eagerly anticipated in the dead of winter than "pitchers and catchers report."

But those words also can be confusing.

What exactly does "pitchers and catchers report" refer to?

Thursday, for example, was the day that Cardinals pitchers and catchers were scheduled to officially report to the team’s spring home in Jupiter, Florida. But they weren’t required to actually be at Roger Dean Stadium on Thursday. They were just supposed to be in the area and ready to go for the first official pitchers-and-catchers workout Friday morning.

Their position-playing teammates will join them next Tuesday, the next official report day, and then work out for the first time Wednesday.

Of course, many Cardinals pitchers and position players — more than 20, according to media reports — have been working out at Roger Dean for the past week or longer. These players probably couldn’t even tell you when spring training actually, officially begins. For them, it already has.

But they know when it ends. As excited as is everyone when camp opens, they will be more than ready to head north. By the time the spring season officially begins March 21, players already will be talking about how long is spring training and how they can’t wait to get the season started. The Cardinals will launch theirs on Sunday night, April 5, at Wrigley Field.

Until then, here are some spring training dates that are worth remembering:

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Wednesday, Feb. 25. Pitchers, catchers, position players, coaches, clubhouse attendants and executives all are required to be in camp for the first official full-squad workout. This is a big day for Mike Matheny, who will address the entire team for the first time since Oscar Taveras’ death.

Thursday, March 5. The Cardinals will play their spring training opener against — who else? — their Roger Dean neighbors, the Marlins. With six games against Miami in spring training, the Cardinals will see their share of Giancarlo Stanton.

Saturday, March 7. Cardinals at Nationals. Perhaps they’ll get Max Scherzer’s first start. Or Stephen Strasburg’s. Whoever they face, the Cardinals won’t see much of him. Starters typically work only one or two innings in their spring debuts.

Monday, March 9. Red Sox visit Roger Dean. The Red Sox were called out by MLB last year for not sending enough big-league regulars across the state to face the Cardinals. Maybe that will entice Allen Craig and Joe Kelly to volunteer for the three-hour drive from Fort Myers to Jupiter. If not, they still can catch up with whoever the Cardinals send to Jet Blue Park for the rematch March 23.

Wednesday, March 11. Cardinals at Braves. Well, hello, Shelby Miller. The Braves will visit Jupiter 10 days later.

Thursday, March 12-Saturday, March 14. One of only two times this spring that the Cardinals are scheduled to play three consecutive days at Roger Dean. The Thursday game against the Orioles will be the first televised by FOX Sports Midwest but hardly the last. FSMW will carry 15 of the Cardinals’ final 17 games in Florida.

Wednesday, March 18. The first of two off days in March and a good time for some roster cuts.

Sunday, March 22. The Cardinals make their longest trip of the spring to face the Orioles in Sarasota. With the next day’s game in Fort Myers, about an hour south, at least some of the Cardinals will make this a one-night road trip.

Check out this gallery of Cardinals photos from Jupiter.

Thursday, April 2. The team’s final game from Florida will be the sixth game against the Mets this spring. This also will be the only Cardinals game in Florida not scheduled to start at 12:05 (or 12:10 in a couple of cases) Central time. Because it’s getaway day, first pitch will be at 11:05 a.m.

Friday, April 3. The Cardinals will play at their Class AAA affiliate Memphis in a 6:05 p.m. exhibition rescheduled after a rainout in 2014.

Sunday, April 5. And the real season starts with a doozy: Jon Lester versus Adam Wainwright (unofficially) in the nationally televised season opener. First pitch is set for shortly after 7 p.m.

Monday, April 13. Home opener against the Brewers.

You can follow Stan McNeal on Twitter at @StanMcNeal or email him at stanmcneal@gmail.com.