To the fields of play
What is the game we play today?
The game we play
Is best of all
From glowing spring
To glowering fall--
Our own great game of BASEBALL, BASEBALL... --St. Bernard's School (N.Y.C.) Baseball song.
Did you smell it in the air yesterday? I mean, here it is, only February, and you've been trying to put it out of your mind for at least a couple more weeks (for the sake of the NBA), but it stared you right in the nostrils.
It was a sensation that shot right up through your upper vacillary and pitched camp in that nostalgic, ever-chilklike corner of your mind. And maybe it was the warm sun, maybe it was the fact that you could put your down-filled whatever into drydock for an afternoon, but it was there, and the aroma tingled "baseball" and nothing else.
It is now that most unique time for the game which is a culture first, a sport second. Spring training, that profound ritual which baseball and its throng undergo each February, is upon us. For me, for many, it is the most welcome time of the athletically-pregnant year.
But why? For crying out loud, the very name itself is misleading, if not an oxymoron. It's called "spring training," but by the time the vernal equinox is a reality, the regular season is only days away.
Maybe the "training" should be jettisoned also. This isn't a football camp, where sweat and hamstring pulls are the entrees baked by a hot summer sun. Nor is it a basketball camp, where blisters form like a plague, "suicide sprints" aren't just a clever term. Former Boston Celtics coach Tommy Heinsohn used to call his Buzzards Bay training camp "Parris Island." Meanwhile, Rick Monday and Davey Lopes head down to "Dodgerland" in Vero Beach, Florida. The sentences seem far from equal.
Sure we all envy the ballplayer--so young, so strong, playing hookie from winter, inflation, the energy crisis, and urban blight to gambol in the Florida clime and play baseball, just play baseball.
But ironically, it is the onlooker who reaps the most benefits. For it is that unchanging and steadfast aspect of the ritual itself, the fact that spring training does and always will occur in the same way, a laid-back, almost pensive introduction to the epic of regular season that follows, that annually hoists the pastime onto its pedestal. As columnist Art Spander once philosophized, "It remains that time when athlete and spectator both dream, when the dreariness and discomfort of winter at last are slipping away, when baseball once more is the game we knew as kids."
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