If it’s February in Florida it must mean it’s nearing time for Baseball’s Grapefruit League, otherwise known as spring training to start.
I love baseball. It’s my favorite sport to play, even if it’s the toughest outdoor sport to have a “pick-up” game. You can get by with two for tennis or basketball and you can make a game of four for football, but with baseball, you’re going to need a good dozen or so to even have a reasonable chance at “playing” (that requires whole fields being “out” and other weird rules, but if you love to play, you can make it work).
Given that playing (outside of community leagues) is not a frequent option, watching it is the next best thing. It’s the perfect outdoor viewing event. Really. Despite many people comparing watching baseball to watching paint dry, no other sport mixes conversation, observation and action as elegantly as baseball.
Not convinced? Let’s do a comparison. Football is an exciting, brutal sport that generates an intensity and energy pretty much unrivalled. But if it’s a good game, you rarely can hear yourself think, let alone talk and the game is more defined by big plays than strategy. Basketball is a breathless run back-and-forth high pace event, but often times you can go away until the final few minutes of the last quarter.
But baseball? Ah, baseball is a game of little things. It’s the twitch of a runner leading off first. The shading of an outfielder just that little bit more to the left. The chess match between the batter, who only succeeds 25-30% of the time and the pitcher/catcher who try to dispose of him. The pleasure of the crisp white lines that rapidly become obscured and the bright green grass, so expertly mowed. The rising anticipation of the crowd as a ball flies deep into the outfield and the sigh of disappointment or thunder of joy that comes next. Running hard to break up a double play. Hit and run. Diving stop.
Each play is meaningful for the very reason that offensive success is so difficult. That one run saved or scratched out could be the difference maker. And in the interim, you can talk with the person next to you. Or behind you. Or (sadly, considering the attendance at some Marlins games) the person across the field from you. You can do that while they’re swinging or pitching or fielding. Try that at a tennis match or golf tournament and see how they react.
The phrase “Hope springs eternal” is the perfect fit for Spring Training. Every team and its fans feels like they have a shot at a winning season and every one dreams that “lightning in a bottle” will hit their team and make them “the one” this year. It’s a magical time.
I was concerned when I was checking on the title of this post that I didn’t see Spalding come up in my “Official MLB” product list. I see that time has yielded new owners of the “official” designation, but baseball is the ultimate nostalgia sport, ruled by records and timeless memories, so I’ll keep my time-honored reference, regardless of the current owner of the designation.