Spring Training Makes Us Believe In Our Teams, Ourselves
Spring training starts this week. Both the Grapefruit (Florida) and Cactus (Arizona) Major League Baseball training leagues have games scheduled for today, Wednesday, February 24. Their scheduled season games will continue until March 31. The day after, April 1, marks the official start of the 2010 regular MLB season.
Major League Baseball spring training started in the 1920s, so for almost 90 years, teams have honed their skills and developed their strategies on fields in cities other than those they call home. The tradition that has lasted this long is evidently becoming stronger—for example, the home cities of both spring training leagues recently built new ballparks for the barely threemonth long spring training season. What activities take place within their walls during the rest of the year when the various ballparks are not in use by the Major League teams is not immediately known to us, but we are certain that these facilities do not sit empty and idle. They are put to good and often remunerative use by the organizations that operate them, in many cases for the betterment of the Major League teams that call them home during spring training and by any number of good and worthy causes.
Spring training brings more than ballparks and game excitement to the cities where the teams battle each other. Baseball fans can watch their teams shake off their ennui and hone their skills for the coming regular season. There is always excitement in watching professionals prepare to do their thing, whatever it is. Player trades and deals made during the off-season now indicate whether or not they will produce the results desired.
And there is usually, somewhere on some team’s roster, a “phenom”—usually a new recruit up from the minor leagues or, more rarely these days, just from behind a cow or off an urban sandlot diamond—who, as the shortened form of the word phenomenon implies, seems to possess unlimited skills and unparalleled ability. The phenom can knock them into the stratosphere with one swing of the bat, pitch a fastball at Mach 1 speed or run bases so fast he leaves a vapor trail, or so scouting reports have it. Fans lucky enough to live in cities that hold a spring training ballpark or who can travel from wherever regular season games are played rush to behold this wonder.
Sometimes the phenom joins the Majors and makes a record that will stand forever; sometimes he is a flash in the pan that fails to last even to Opening Day. Whatever the case, the phenom, like the spring training season he bolsters, if even for only a short while, adds to the fun and anticipatory excitement. The start of spring training means that Opening Day is not far behind. And if Opening Day is only a few months away, so, too, are the glorious days of summer and all that Major League Baseball implies—hot dogs with the taste that only their being passed along a row of seats hand to hand from vendor to purchaser can provide, seeing darkness come down and banks of lights come up at a night game and realizing that there are still some innings remaining to seal a victory or snatch a win from what seems like certain defeat, cheering on your team because it is your team and they’re playing in your town and whether they win or lose, they are, truly, your team and no one else on earth is as fiercely loyal as you.
Spring training brings with it the promise of summer while providing the immediate gratification of seeing a game well played by professionals who demonstrate artistry and skill, even just practicing. Over the course of the short spring training season the game of baseball comes alive and wakens us to the promise that even in the middle of winter, we can dare to anticipate the wonder of summer that lies ahead.
Go Yankees! Go Mets!