This year, baseball in America ended with a sharp ground ball to short right field just after midnight, Eastern Daylight Time. A quick throw to first, and that was it. The 2017 World Series had ended with the Houston Astros victorious over the Los Angeles Dodgers. We who love the game now must wait until February 13, a Tuesday, when the nation’s 30 major league teams welcome their pitchers and catchers to spring training camps and a new season begins, full of optimism.
Spring training brings more than hope. With it comes its own particular symphony, the smack of a ball in a leather glove, the crack of a fungo bat lofting flies to the outfield, the chatter of players, so happy to be back at it, luxuriating in the return of their time, their favorite time.
Endless generations of kids like me still dream dreams of being part of that picture, playing baseball with a major league team, especially their favorite team, especially if they are growing up in that team’s home town. For most, that fantasy never comes true, of course, but nothing stops us from playing ball until other adolescent interests distract us. Indeed, once the snow melts, we play until dark and beyond, with castoff gloves and bats and baseballs whose split seams we have restored with friction tape.
Football owns the season now, basketball not far behind. In Chapel Hill, North Carolina, where I now reside, college basketball dominates life from early November to March. It’s like a religion here. Hockey never seems to go away in northern communities. Soccer, too, defies weather and captivates all ages. And more.
For many, television coverage defines our interest and fandom, controlling schedules and markets, who gets to watch what and when. But for kids, year-round participation is the true game, and where you live assigns your choice of sport. For me in my native Baltimore during the 1940s and ’50s, baseball ruled. It’s what we did. Our game. The Orioles, first in the Triple A International League, then finally the majors, were our home team. We kids played everywhere we could find the space, until the chill of late fall numbed our fingers and chapped our lips, and we had to quit.
And wait for the pitchers and catchers to report. That’s our sign. Life gets much better after that.