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The Rites of Spring: The Game Begins Anew

Cracker Jack


"Gentlemen," Casey Stengel once said to his hapless Mets during a particularly poor spring training performance, "this is a baseball!"

"Hey Skip," ballplayer Choo-Choo Coleman called back." Aren't you rushing us a little?"

Now old Choo-Choo was not known particularly for his wit (not to mention his ball-playing), but that's the kind of thing that happens when the grand old game of baseball emerges from its winter hibernation and the delightful ritual of spring training begins.

Spring training is a time for painful windsprints, leglifts and drills, and for not-so-painful games of pepper and idle chatter around the batting cage.

And it's not really all that much different at Harvard than it is any place else. While guys like Yastrzemski and Munson were poling the ball around at places like Winter Haven and St. Petersburg yesterday, guys like Joyce and Singleton were going through the rounds down at Briggs Cage.

Sure, there are those who try to make the rites of spring seem pretty serious. An eight-column headline in the Baltimore Sun a few years back proclaimed "Triandos Hits Four Off Iron Mike" after journeyman catcher Gus had smacked a few pitching-machine fastballs over the fence. And Crimson coach Loyal Park put on a pretty good show yesterday afternoon when he chewed out his squad a little bit during practice.

Most of all, though, spring training is the exciting springtime revival of a game that is by definition FUN, so even borderline ballplayers have a hard time being overly serious about the whole affair.

Baseball, in a word, is a gas.

What other occupation actually pays grown men to put on a white uniform, tall socks and a cap to go out before a crowd and run around four bags?

In what other sport can you take a crow-hop before tossing the ball, hustle your way out of a pickle, sharpen your skills with pepper, or get thrown out of the game for a rhubarb?

Baseball is unique, and it captures the hearts of the American people from the first time horsehide smacks a leather mitt in March, during the punishing heat of late summer and through the hellbent pennant drives of early autumn. From April to October, the second-section boxscore takes precedence over the front-page headline.

As my father once told me, glancing up from the sports page on a summer day when news of some Mideast disaster dominated the front-page news, "When all else goes wrong, you can always count on one thing--the Yankees will be in first place."

Of course, in the last year or two the pro game has been prostituted by the incredible increases in players' salaries, but the game remains pretty much pure at Harvard.

Park has had the Crimson out since early February, working in preparation for the southern trip over spring vacation.

And Park has nothing but praise for the gang. "This baseball team is just such a fine bunch of kids," he said yzsterday, "they're just incredible."

More than the personalities, though, it seems to be the game that has gripped Park and instilled him with the desire to coach.

"Each year it's interesting because you start out and you have no idea who's going to play where," he said. "You're putting a puzzle together, and you try to see what pieces shake down," he continued, "and I think that's exciting."

Mr. Stengel, I think, would have agreed.

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