PRESEASON MUSINGS by Gary Jacobs
Spring Hopes: Eternal
FEB. 20, 2007 -- Mid-February is, in many ways, my favorite time of year.
The equipment truck has left Fenway, pitchers and catchers reported last week, and today, Spring Training starts in earnest, with position players reporting for work for the first time since last October. And thousands of baseball writers across the country are all writing the same column.
The beginning of Spring Training gives writers and columnists all over town carte blanche to dust off all their creaky old metaphors about baseball. This week they have license to use ancient, tired bromides like “the national pastime” and, so help me, “the boys of summer,” with complete impunity. They will make grand, sweeping statements in the mold of Bart Giamatti about the nobility of this grand game, the verdant fields on which it is played, and how, with apologies to the Beatles, it’s been a long, cold, lonely winter, but at last the world once again has purpose and meaning, because they’re stretching down in Fort Myers.
I’ll confess: I’m no different. I mock the writers that succumb to such hackery, but I find myself doing the exact same thing.
Why? Because it’s all true. Spring Training DOES represent the incipient end of winter, and even if this winter has been drier than most, I’m still happy to see it in my rear-view mirror. Baseball DOES occupy a special place in the hearts of millions of Americans, myself included – and just because I no longer circle the date on my calendar when pitchers and catchers report, that doesn’t mean I hold it any less special.
Baseball is the sport I learned to love on my Dad’s knee, and the sport that he learned to love from his father, who came over on a big boat to find and fall in love with baseball on his own. It connects the generations like no other sport can. That’s why writers this week will shamelessly expound on sunny summer afternoons in a hammock with a beer and a transistor radio. Not just because it’s an easy cliché but because it represents the common experience of so many so vividly. Who hasn’t taken a well-deserved break in hammock or lawn chair after mowing the lawn, listening to Ken Coleman (or Curt Gowdy) at the mike?
And nothing can tie the past and the future together so neatly quite like Spring Training can. There’s nothing but promise in the air. The Red Sox, god love ‘em, are undefeated. The pitching rotation is unsullied by injury. There’s still plenty of pop in the lineup and even without Gabe Kapler their bench is deeper than many. Red Sox fans can still hold their heads up and declare that maybe, just maybe, this will be a special year.
No, I think I’m inclined to give my writer colleagues a break. Every so often you encounter a phenomenon that earns its wellspring of clichés, deserves every overfull cauldron of hyperbole, every time. The advent of Spring Training reinforces our long-standing love affair with the Boys of Summer, and the eternal, grand, glorious National Pastime they play. Today, this one time, you can call me a hack. You can call us all hacks. Call us whatever you like. Spring Training starts today. -- Gary Jacobs, Boston Dirt Dogs contributor. E-mail Gary