Spring Training

Welcome to the first post. Pitchers & Poets is all reared up to go, but I worry it may take some time to get the winter stiffness out of my baseball mind and the off-season dust shaken off of my keyboard. So we’ll do what the pros do and call these next few weeks Spring Training. I’ll take this time to get the kinks ironed out of the website, fill out a roster of contributors, and better introduce myself.

In the meantime, here are some thoughts on Spring Training.

In one sense, Spring Training never meant as much to me as it did to some other kids. In Los Angeles, where I grew up, it was warm enough to play baseball all year. The fact that baseball began in spring and went through summer and ended in fall was second nature to me. Baseball season was intuitive, like the seasons themselves. There needn’t be any practical reasoning behind when Opening Day happened. Opening Day was simply opening day. It just was.

Only in college did it occur to me that for some people, baseball was not a year-round thing. In Seattle, New York, and Minneapolis kids were taking the winter off from baseball. Maybe they played basketball or something. Maybe they just sat inside all day and thought about it, swinging imaginary bats in front of a mirror and flipping through cartons and cartons of cards. What a sad existence, I thought. Winter is tough enough in those places as is.

When I say that Spring Training might have meant less than me, that’s what I meant. For me, Spring never about grabbing my glove that first time as soon as the last snow melted. It was about the big guys, the pros, the Dodgers at Vero Beach. And that was plenty. I’m not the first one to say this, but there are few phrases more pleasing in English than “pitchers and catchers report.”

For the first ten or so years of my life, Spring Training was like a distant world. I was lucky to have been taken to baseball games from a young age, but those were in big stadiums, under bright lights, and the same guys played every night. Spring training was different. The games were all in Florida or Arizona and played during the day. Everything looked smaller on the television. Superstars disappeared into clubhouses and practice fields, and the marginal backups became momentary giants.

Then, on a trip to Florida to visit family and friends, we went to Spring Training. It was glorious. It was baseball at the human level, and I ran around collecting autographs like a maniac. I got Javier Lopez, and Fred McGriff from the Braves to sign my program.

I got Rondell White and Cliff Floyd from the Expos to sign my baseball. They smiled and joked with all the kids. An adult next to me said White and Floyd were best friends, they came up through the minors together, and they were the future of the Montreal baseball. I remember liking that, and liking the two young players, and thinking I’d follow their careers. But glorious Spring Training can’t last forever. A week later, the Expos traded Cliff Floyd to the burgeoning Florida Marlins. A few days after that came Opening Day. And now, the Expos are just like my only Spring Training experience –a mere memory.

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