Sunday, February 09, 2014

Spring Training: Our Heart's Annual Ice Melter

Sometimes I wonder if Florida and Arizona were placed on this Earth just so we in the North can see real life baseball players jogging and playing catch in the sunshine and in 80 degree temps every February.
Now all those reading this who live in those states, hold your horses. I’m not “dissing” your burg. I’m sure your state has more to offer than warning tracks, base lines and pitcher’s mounds. I’m pretty sure, anyway.
But this is a special week for those of us who are winter weary.
We get to see white balls being thrown—that have stitches in them. The fat men this week won’t have carrots for noses and charcoal for their eyes and mouths—they’ll be hitting fungos into the outfield.
We get to see brooms cleaning off home plate, instead of brushes sweeping snow off cars.
It’s spring training time.
This has been an especially rough winter in Michigan, so the four best words in the English language, “Pitchers and catchers report,” bring extra joy.
We’ll smile extra broadly when we click on those initial images beamed up from Lakeland, showing the Tigers in their creamy white uniforms, running in the outfield and throwing the first pitches of the year.
Female fans will be smiling, too, when they see new manager Brad Ausmus, all of 44 years old, tanned and handsome and wearing the Old English D.
It may not be scientifically possible for photos and videos from baseball’s spring training to actually lower the outside air temperature, but don’t tell that to Michiganders who have been slugged by one of the most relentless winters in decades.
Florida baseball and Arizona baseball, in February and March, seems to make all things possible.
You start reading stories of the young phenoms and the free agent signees joining their new teams and the teams with new managers and the magazines with the predictions start to come out and it makes the winter a little easier to stomach, for you can see a flicker of light at the end of this frozen tunnel.
The Tigers’ recent Winter Caravan was just a tease. It was seeing baseball players in person, but they were in winter coats and leather jackets and ski caps. It was Comerica Park, but under a thick blanket of snow.
This week, pitchers and catchers start doing their thing, revving up for another baseball season. They’re the warm-up act for when the rest of the gang joins the fray a few days later.
Before long, you’ll see the intense face of Justin Verlander, staring down the plate, instead of Tweeted photos of him smiling with swimsuit models.
Nothing against swimsuit models, mind you.
You’ll see Ausmus, taking in his first spring training as a big league manager, gazing out onto the field and you won’t be able to help but wonder what those gears in his head are spitting out.
Who will bat lead-off? Who’s my Opening Day starter? (It’s not a slam dunk, is it?) How much do I catch Alex Avila? Do I have a strict platoon in left field? Will Ricky Porcello continue to develop into a solid big league starter? How will lefty Drew Smyly complement the four righties in the rotation?
Just for starters.
There will be the delightful sight of Miguel Cabrera, smiling and cherubic, punishing baseballs all over the outfield—and beyond.
There’ll be Torii Hunter, his youthful exuberance defying his 39 years, laughing with teammates and telling the press, yet again, that all he wants to do is play in one freaking World Series before he retires.
There’ll be the new Tigers—Ian Kinsler, Joe Nathan and Rajai Davis especially, stretching in their new duds and talking about how fun life should be as a Tiger.
And don’t forget The Kid—Nick Castellanos—who on Opening Day will officially no longer be a prospect but a big league third baseman. Think there might be a few eyeballs on him?
The Tigers team that gathers in Lakeland starting this week won’t be like any Tigers team you’ve seen in the Jim Leyland Era.
They won’t be as plodding. There won’t be as much waiting for the three-run homer. There’s a vacuum cleaner at shortstop. They’ll actually go from first to third on a single now and again—and even better, from first to home on a double.
Spring training is time to start asking questions and making prognostications. It’s time for even Cubs fans to think the unthinkable—at least until they throw the first pitch.
Spring training is the time of year when the words “if” and “then” are used more than in the other 10 months combined.
Spring training means seeing former players back in uniform once again, instructing the newbies. In Detroit, it recalls Bill Freehan, always looking like he could still play every February, tutoring Lance Parrish. And Al Kaline, who at 79 will again pull on the Old English D, like he has for the past 62 years, and teach the outfielders how to catch the ball and throw it in one motion—because no one did that better than Al.
Spring training is when big league players actually hop on buses to travel, just like their days in the bushes. And it’s when players like Castellanos dream of traveling by air all year.
It’s a time for baseball to warm our frigid winter hearts—to pump the blood through our chilly veins with more urgency.
Are you feeling warmer and cozier already?


Blogger Michael David said...

Yeah, Greg, I'm feeling a little cozier! We'll be checking out he Open House for the Whitecaps this weekend, too, and that will get us ready for some baseball. I sometimes watch more baseball on TV during spring training, due to being so busy in the summer. Playing outside, the kids' Little League games, actually going to watch baseball live. I can't wait!

5:14 AM  

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