Spring Offers Just a Glimpse of Summer’s Promise

I consider the season of spring to be the undercard, the preview before the feature presentation, the trailer for “Scooby Doo 2: Monsters Unleashed” when you bought tickets to see the life-altering “The Girl Next Door.”

Typically, most people try to assign such an inglorious distinction to autumn, a time which precedes the snowy festivities of winter and comes right after the good weather has just about run its course. And logic, at least on the surface, works for you.

But it’s not that I don’t enjoy the newfound sunshine trickling in around springtime, or the birds chirping, or even the odd green fertilizer recently seen terrorizing the Yard. Far from it, in fact.

Ironically, I just want the real thing.

You see, I believe spring—whether at home in New York or in Cambridge—to be little more than a tease, a prelude, a pre-season season, more than a real one.

To me, spring is summer’s little brother, and the height advantage lies in sports.

Every other time of year—but especially spring, due to its glaringly parodistic nature—pales in comparison to the quality and quantity of the athletic feats of mid-June through September. The period is defined by sports more than any other, and it’s not even close.

On the one hand, fall claims football’s regular season, the lion’s share of college football, and even World Series baseball in October. Winter, to its credit, gets the bulk of pro basketball, hockey and college hoops. Even spring—despite the above derogatory remarks—is tied to March Madness, MLB Opening Day, the NBA playoffs and the road to the Stanley Cup. (Some soccer may or may not be happening throughout the year, I’m not really sure.)

So I can understand if a sports fan out there is a bit mystified at my argument, as—after all—the summer “only” has baseball.

But who said we were limiting ourselves to so-called professional sports?

Have any of those other seasons featured me telling current Boston College freshman and fellow Regis High School alumnus Juan Maldonado that I’m going to strike him out in wiffle ball on three “filthy, knee-buckling” sliders—and manage do exactly as I had predicted?

Have they ever seen world-famously lazy Yale freshman and Staten Island native Pietro “P-Train” Deserio hit, when challenged, an absolutely implausible series of three pointers while sitting down on a park bench…just so he could sit out that game of three-on-three, undisturbed?

Have any of those other seasons witnessed Notre Dame first-year and Long Island native Kevin Brennan resoundingly reject a jump-shot by pathetic Queens native and University of Chicago student John Latella—directly into his face?

Has spring, especially, featured an endless string of noontime games of “Ultimate Knock-out”—all of which have devolved into some form of basketball-throwing group violence?

The answer, I’m pretty sure, is a resounding “No.”

And if you’re wondering—or if the nickname “P-Train” wasn’t obvious enough—Juan Maldonado, Pietro Deserio, Kevin Brennan and John Latella are not the names of prestigious sports recruits from my high school. They don’t partake in major NCAA Division I, II or III athletics; nor did they play a varsity sport in grades nine through 12. While CYO games may have been a different story, the “best” the group has now is Pietro, who plays rugby for Yale. The fact that I struck out Juan was no more of a historic athletic achievement than the expletive-laden mom joke he delivered to me immediately afterwards.

And that, in more than one sense, is exactly what I’m getting at.

Summer doesn’t trump all other seasons in sports because professional athletes are earning millions at the time. Nor is it special because college students are doing it in the steps necessary to becoming said professional athletes, either. The days of June through September, to me, represent just the opposite.

It’s the only time of year that boasts the honor of being best remembered in terms of a wide, and at times random, assortment of game-related anecdotes and jokes that only you and your friends will remember.

It’s like the Olympics, only more amateurish than ever intended.

It’s an unending sequence of pick-up games; inevitably “tackle” games of “touch” football; the World Series of Wiffle Ball taking place in the middle of July while the some older residents of my apartment complex are sunbathing in the area between third base and left field.

But it’s also sitting in the bleachers in Yankee Stadium on an unbelievably humid June night, yelling out the Yankee roll call, calling out to Mariano Rivera, and mocking Oakland A’s outfielder Eric Byrnes. It could also be, for some of you, taking part in some ostensibly inferior equivalent tradition in Fenway Park.

There’s a nourishing freedom in all of this, a feeling that can only come with no school on the immediate horizon. It’s an autonomy that doesn’t simply make a 95-degree New York summer tolerable, but something to be relished. It brings us troops of little kids tirelessly running through sprinklers and playing stickball and basketball, and it also gives us the non-alcohol-related courage to challenge—and thoroughly demolish—such kids in any sport we allow them to select.

In a way, it’s paradoxical. It’s surely less about the actual competition, and even less about who wins or loses. For once, the vast amount of games played aren’t about the dramatic rivalries sportswriters love to talk about. But so much of it, simultaneously, is about trash-talking, relentlessly mocking your friends, and playing, non-stop, until it’s time to go home.

I admit that I’m being a bit nostalgic here. Many of us also work in the summer—seriously cutting into time for sports, playing or watching—and I’d be foolish to begin to misrepresent the season as a utopia that swings around every few months and rids one of all kinds of bad weather, depression, and responsibility.

But sitting here in April—the pre-season season—teetering on the brink of 60 degree weather in the Boston area, it’s difficult not to stray and think of even warmer climes. It’s a trying thing, I’m finding, to take spring for what it’s worth, and enjoy the undercard as much as the main event.

When it comes down to it, it’s nothing short of a Herculean task to have to sit through clips of “Scooby Doo 2” when you know “The Girl Next Door” is right around the corner.

—Staff writer Pablo S. Torre can be reached at torre@fas.harvard.edu. His column appears on alternate Mondays.