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Spring Fever
March 1, 2005
by Brendon McCullin

Is there a more glorious calendar entry in the entire world than “Pitchers and Catchers Report”? With the opening of Major League Baseball’s training camps in Florida and Arizona the world takes yet another step towards the eventual thaw of spring.

Pitchers and catchers showing up to start knocking off the rust means that soon there will be baseball games again. Soon there will be nightly shots of young baseball wanna-be’s on ESPN trying to impress grizzled old managers on picture perfect baseball diamonds under a warm sun. Soon every baseball writer in the country will be filing stories with bylines from places like Kissimmee or Port St. Lucie or Peoria.

Going to spring training has been among the best experiences of my life as a sports fan. In order to get there, for all but the fans of a few teams, you have to take vacation. In a lot of cases, that vacation is also an escape from terrible weather back home. The games are mostly played during the day, in the most relaxed atmosphere possible. At night, particularly in Phoenix, at dinner or at a club you run into people that you sat near at a game that day.

The players are so close that you could reach out and touch them. Most of them sign autographs. All of them are near enough to really be able to tell their physical condition (or lack thereof in the case of some pitchers). The games don’t count for anything, but the games are secondary right from the start. Spring training is all about the experience.

It’s where young women sun themselves in bikinis in the outfield while young men – and old and middle-aged ones, too – behind home plate pass binoculars around an entire section so that everyone can have a look. It’s where you can watch major league players suit up in stadiums that often are too small even for a minor league team. It’s where you can see the hot young prospects get their first look at the dawn of their career. It’s where you can yell something at A-Rod and know full well that he heard you because almost everyone in the stadium heard you.

Sure, it’s also where you can spend time wondering which players are juicing or which ones just stopped thanks to baseball’s new steroid testing policy. Or debating the pending legal case against this player or that. Or wondering when a given player from Latin America will iron out his visa issues and make it to camp.

Mostly though the baseball discussions are largely positive, with fans looking forward to the season ahead. There are endless discussions about fantasy teams and who’s going to start at third base and whether a pitcher will be in the fourth or fifth slot in the rotation. Going to spring training is all about getting a head start on knowing your team and its competition. Seeing the new players that were signed or traded for and trying to project how many home runs they’ll hit over the short right field wall in the team’s home park.

This year spring training will be about Ken Griffey Jr. trying to stay healthy for the first time this century. Wondering whether Barry Bonds will talk to anyone all season. Checking out Randy Johnson in Yankees’ pinstripes. The Boston and New York media hunting for any Yankee or Red Sox player that is willing to talk a little Trot Nixon style smack. The national media trying to find something to talk about besides the Yankees and Red Sox. John Smoltz returning to his role as a starting pitcher. Carlos Beltran and Pedro Martinez trying to cure Mets fans of their inferiority complex. Roger Clemens suiting up for his absolutely, positively, he-really-means-it-this-time last spring training. And checking out the old Expos players in their new Washington Nationals uniforms.

The stories change every year but the excitement and underlying meaning never do. Soon I’ll be able to drive with the windows rolled down while a play-by-play announcer tells me about the “3-2 pitch” on its way to the plate. Soon I’ll be able to sit in a stadium on a warm afternoon or just cool enough evening, eating a hot dog and watching a game with winter’s snow and cold just a distant memory.

Thanks to those wonderful pitchers and catchers that have reported for duty, I now have faith that soon I won’t be scraping ice off of my windshield every morning.

Soon it will be spring. Soon the baseball season will start.

It can’t happen soon enough.

(Brendon McCullin is a volunteer staff writer for 2 Walls Webzine)

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