The Grapefruit League

A Saturday Special

I've been pushing the weather lately. Opening windows, running in shorts, ignoring snow and slush. Pushing for spring.

You can't make it through March passively. The onset of spring requires manipulating your senses until they're willing to accept just about anything as a harbinger of this most magical of seasons.

Yesterday the Red Sox opened up in Florida, split squads talking on the Tigers in Lakeland and the Chunichi Dragons in Winter Haven. In less than a month the Red Sox open up at Fenway Park.

Between now and then stretches the Grapefruit League.

The name is fine. Nobody ever named a college football bowl after a grapefruit, so the name is just fine.

I've never seen a Grapefruit League game, but reading the Globe every morning brings me closer. As if there's someplace, perhaps a cloud, floating between Winter Haven and Boston, allowing for both the gradual thaw and the full-body plunge into total warmth, the spring of anticipation and the spring of indulgement unified in my mind. After all, spring training is the time to dream.

My father used to tell me about a childhood friend who had a batting cage and pitching machine in his backyard. If anything ever could, that sounded like a dream.

Of course, there was a batting cage in the next town when I was growing up. I'd visit the place every once in a while with my brother and father. I'd brave the Nolan Ryan cage, bat lefty in the Luis Tiant cage, and scoff at the kids my age who never got past the Little League cage.

But the closest I ever came to a personal pitching machine was in high school. The father of one of my softball teammates owned a machine and reserved the gym every Sunday afternoon starting in January.

This father was one of those gungno types who attended our games and screamed when we lost. You couldn't help but think that he helped the coach make decisions about who would start, who would bat where in the batting order.

He cared too much, probably not in the right way. He bought an expensive pitching machine just to help his daughter train. But he brought us spring training in January, and for that I thank him.

So we'd practice hitting and fielding in the gym for about three hours every Sunday until official practice started. Then the machine would go into storage and our team would move outside.

Even now, it's about this time of the year that I start thinking about playing baseball outside.

The smell of leather and mud and sunshine is what I seek every time I open my window in March. A breeze tosses me from Cambridge to my high school gym to Winter Haven and back again, gazing across the River at the Boston skyline.

Never mind that there's snow on the ground this morning. Two days ago the weather topped 50 degrees, and I took the T to Park Street and walked down Commonwealth to Kenmore Square.

I was thinking about the Red Sox winning their last world championship 70 years ago. Seventy is a nice round number, and I believe in cycles.

I was thinking about coming home from Sunday afternoon practices, stretching out in the living room in my sweats, and settling down in front of the T.V. with a snack.

I'd always eat the same thing, every Sunday. Two grapefruits. Dreaming of baseball. Pushing for spring.