People ask me what I do in winter when there's no baseball. I'll tell you what I do. I stare out the window and wait for spring. -- Rogers Hornsby
The start of spring training allows me to indulge in the annual baseball previews, to study the scouting reports of opposing teams, analyze the expected starting lineups and pitching rotations, and evaluate the depth of each team’s bullpen. It allows me to examine the schedules and visualize the early season games; to note when and where the Cardinals play in April; and to plan and prepare for their arrival to Philadelphia – this year, four games in early May – when my anxiety levels will surely increase as I experience war-time rushes of adrenaline when crossing enemy lines into Citizens Bank Park.
It is foolish and childish, on the face of it, to affiliate ourselves with anything so insignificant and patently contrived and commercially exploitative as a professional sports team, and the amused superiority and icy scorn that the non-fan directs at the sports nut (I know this look -- I know it by heart) is understandable and almost unanswerable. Almost. What is left out of this calculation, it seems to me, is the business of caring -- caring deeply and passionately, really caring -- which is a capacity or an emotion that has almost gone out of our lives. And so it seems possible that we have come to a time when it no longer matters so much what the caring is about, how frail or foolish is the object of that concern, as long as the feeling itself can be saved. Naiveté -- the infantile and ignoble joy that sends a grown man or woman to dancing and shouting with joy in the middle of the night over the haphazardous flight of a distant ball -- seems a small price to pay for such a gift.
…what kept us there, what nailed us to our seats for a sweet, boring hour or more, was not just the whop! of bats, the climbing white arcs of outfield flies, and the swift flight of the ball whipped around the infield, but something more painful and just as obvious – the knowledge that we had never made it. We would never know the rich joke that doubled over three young pitchers in front of the dugout; we would never be part of that golden company on the field, which each of us, certainly for one moment of his life, had wanted more than anything else in the world to join.As time passes and my baseball playing days recede ever so farther into the background, it is the small things, the relaxed atmosphere of spring baseball and the orderliness of fielding drills and batting practice, which for me brings forth memories of summers long gone. When I am watching a ballgame, as for Angell, “for those two or three hours, there is really no place I would rather be.” Baseball is in my blood, it is the one constant in my life outside of family. It brings me joy and frustration, heartache and exhilaration, but in the end, it is “a Little Leaguers game that,” in the words of Mario Cuomo, “excites us throughout adulthood . . . even as the setting sun pushes the shadows past home plate.”