December 12, 2019

Spring Into Winter

March 31, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

The problem with starting the baseball season in March is that we haven’t had enough time to digest spring training.  Or at least, to write about it.

I spent the final weekend of spring play in Arizona and caught games at Camelback Ranch – the home of the Chicago White Sox and Los Angeles Dodgers – Hohokam Park – which is the winter home of the Chicago Cubs – and at Goodyear Ballpark – which is shared during spring by the Cleveland Indians and Cincinnati Reds.  The level of play was adequate at best but I’d gladly trade a few fielding errors and mental miscues for the one thing that spring training pretty much guarantees and the regular season does not: good weather.

Every game I saw in Arizona was either completely bathed in 75-degree sunshine or started that way before giving way to a cool, peaceful desert night.  In short, it was baseball weather.  Just as football should always be played with a nip in the air, baseball exists to be played under clear skies in weather that welcomes us, not assaults us.  Alas, that’s not to be now that the games are being played for real as cold, rain and even snow are in the forecast as baseball says goodbye to spring and hello to winter.

Baseball’s regular season should never start in March and probably shouldn’t begin until the middle of April.  Early season games should be concentrated as much as possible in warm weather cities and in domed stadiums and each future major league ballpark should have a mandatory retractable roof.  This is a rule that should have been put in 20 years ago.

There should be more doubleheaders in the warm months as well so that the season starts later and ends before October.  Baseball should never be played in November.  Why?  Because that’s what it was like in the old days?  No.  The old days weren’t so great.  Baseball shouldn’t be played in March or November because the game is just better in warmer weather.  That’s it.

The best part about seeing games in spring training – besides the weather – is the optimism and the unknown.  The White Sox looked good in the one game I saw them play but one game in spring is not a bellwether for a 162-game season despite the fact that Adam Dunn hit a home run so far at Camelback it was as if the ball were sent back through time.  The Cubs looked bad in their two games I saw, (really bad) and I won’t go so far as to say there’s a snowball’s chance in hell that the Cubs will win the World Series this year but I do feel secure in saying that snowballs will be seen at Wrigley Field before Memorial Day.

The footlong, one-pound hot dogs at Hohokam are to die for.  And I almost died waiting for mine.  Service at Phoenix-area ballparks is velocity-challenged at best.  It’s as if someone told all the concession workers that baseball is meant to be played at a slow pace and so if it’s possible to handle someone’s order in one minute why not make it ten?  I’m not trying to be cruel.  Many of the concession workers appear to have been volunteers raising money for various charitable groups and I’d certainly rather have my money go to a worthy cause than get my footlong in a timely fashion but I only say that now.  At the time I was ready to push down children to get that hot dog in my hands and nearly did exactly that as I reluctantly, very reluctantly, made certain that my nephews had their hot dogs in hand before I devoured mine with the desperation of Alfonso Soriano looking for a fly ball lost in the sun.

My nephews and I inhaled our footlong hot dogs just moments after getting an autograph from Cubs Hall of Famer Fergie Jenkins and it’s a good thing because if we’d tried to smile around Fergie after quickly eating one pound of pork product it could have been ugly.  It could have been criminal.  Watching the Cubs get slapped around by the Colorado Rockies that day made the footlongs even more difficult to digest.  Luckily the best play, by far, in the game was made right in front of us and I mean right in front of us.  Our group was seated about 40 rows directly behind home plate and a screaming foul ball came off someone’s bat early in the game and right toward us when the coolest guy in the world came to the rescue.  The guy was wearing sunglasses and looked a little bit like Dennis Quaid (seriously) and casually reached up with his left hand and caught the screaming liner barehanded without flinching, standing up or screaming for Mommy.  And he didn’t spill a drop of the beer that he was holding in his other hand.  Then, in a move that proved this guy was not only Fonzie but also Tom Hanks, he handed the ball to a little kid sitting in the row in front of him.  This was the coolest person to ever live and he was sitting near us at a Cubs-Rockies spring training game.  I should have asked for his autograph.  I should have bought him a footlong.

The footlong hot dogs at Hohokam receive competition from the Island noodles served at both Camelback and Goodyear.  What are Island noodles?  They’re Asian noodles stir fried and served with chicken and vegetables and, if you have even ten-percent of the guts as the guy who caught the foul ball at Hohokam, you smother the whole thing in hot sauce which makes you sweat and perhaps hallucinate while you eat them.  This is America.  This is baseball.

There was a contingent from the Cincinnati Reds staying at our hotel in Avondale which was nestled in a patch of desert that served as home to a great deal of heat and at least one jackrabbit.  I was hoping to see Dusty Baker or Joey Votto hanging out by the pool or perhaps strutting down the hall with a bucket of ice but had no such luck.  The Reds players staying with us were young and unfamiliar and appear to have been rookies with little chance of heading north which I guess says something about our hotel.  Actually, it was a very nice hotel which countered the desert’s ferocity by always having cold, fruit-filled water ready in the lobby and they also put out cookies each evening.  Baseball isn’t about baseball.  Baseball is about food.  And then baseball.  Oh yeah, baseball isn’t about low-brow bumper stickers either (as if there are high-brow bumper stickers) but I can’t fail to mention the one we saw on our way to the airport: “Cash, Ass or Grass – Nobody Rides For Free.”  Maybe that has nothing to do with baseball but it could serve as a sad, often accurate slogan for life.

Spring training’s great lesson is that no matter what you eat or who you root for this is a time to be optimistic if not downright melioristic.  If a stranger in shades can make an amazing catch, if I can eat a footlong in nine seconds then anything can happen.  This could be the year the White Sox finally recapture the esprit de corps of 2005.  Maybe someone will finally hit .400.  Maybe it won’t be so cold.  It’s spring and all things dwell in the house of the possible.  One joins with many in the desert’s shadow and sees nothing but green fields and happy days.

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