Monday, February 11, 2013

Right Around the Corner

When Punxsutawney Phil declared an early spring this year, I took him at his word. And even though I went snowboarding just two days ago (and loved it), I still found myself asking Amy this morning, is it spring yet?

I'm excited for spring because it means summer is coming, and warm weather, and I love everything that comes with that. It just makes me so happy. Not clearing the snow off my car in the morning makes me happy. Running outside makes me happy. Spring forward makes me happy. And baseball. Always baseball.

This morning Tim Kurkjian of ESPN had an awesome article about Why We Love Spring Training. I just wanted to include a few gems on here:
Indians pitcher Brian Anderson boarded the team bus at 8 a.m. for the two-hour drive to Vero Beach, Fla., for a spring training game in 2003. Thirty minutes into the trip, Anderson realized he had forgotten his hat, spikes and glove back in Winter Haven.

"I was running late that morning because I knew I was going to get to hit in the game, so I was looking for the really important things: batting gloves and a bat," Anderson said. "When we got to Vero, I was in full panic mode. I borrowed a car and went to a mall, but there wasn't one glove in the whole mall, but I found some adidas spikes. On the way back to the ballpark, I saw a Walmart. I thought, 'Hey, Walmart has everything … tires … produce. … It must have a baseball glove.' I found one: $29.95, already broken in. It was a softball glove. A Wilson. It was awful.

"I borrowed someone's hat and pitched in the game. Of course, I got three comebackers to the mound, and I caught them all because my new glove was as big as a butterfly net; it made [Greg] Maddux's glove look small. That day reminded me of when I was 17 playing Legion ball. That is spring training to me."

And that's why it's so great. That's why it's our favorite time of year. It makes you feel young again, no matter how old you are, no matter how many times you have been -- and this will be my 32nd spring training.

It is a sign that the long, cold winter is nearly over and that sunshine and summer vacation is on the way. It is a time for optimism, a fresh start and hope. No one has lost a game, the rookies have so much promise, and the veterans believe it will be their best year.

Only in spring training could then-Rays first baseman Carlos Pena make a mistake in a baserunning drill and justify it by quoting Dr. Martin Luther King's "I Have A Dream" speech. "My first baseman is quoting Dr. King," said Rays manager Joe Maddon. "I love it." Only in spring training could then-new ESPN analyst Terry Francona check into a Disney property hotel only to find out that the room was a cabin on a campsite. He slept in a bunk bed. He called a colleague and asked, "You want to go out later and make some s'mores?"

Only in spring training could this happen: One March in Winter Haven, Red Sox pitcher Dennis "Oil Can" Boyd rented several adult movies from a local video store. It was nearly time to break camp and head north when The Can was detained because he hadn't returned the movies. It was an issue, but the movies were eventually returned and Boyd was allowed to leave with the team -- but not before Chuck Waseleski, a statistical guy who worked for the Red Sox, named the whole episode "The Can Film Festival."

Only in spring training does pitcher Jeremy Guthrie, now with the Royals, ride his bike to work. "It was only five miles," he said of his daily ride last spring to the Rockies' facility.

"He pitched in a game in Scottsdale this spring, then got on his bike -- still in full uniform, with his glove on the handlebars -- and rode back to our facility," said Rockies right fielder Michael Cuddyer, laughing. "It was like a scene from 'The Sandlot.'"

Only in spring training do we hear complete detail of the stories from the winter. Last winter, Mets pitcher Jonathon Niese got a nose job, and as promised, former teammate Carlos Beltran paid the $10,000 cost. One winter, then-Rockies manager Clint Hurdle drove sled dogs in Alaska. Last winter, pitcher R.A. Dickey climbed Mount Kilimanjaro. Rays DH Luke Scott hunted wild pigs with a spear. Giants manager Bruce Bochy went skiing for the first time in his life. "I thought I could do it, I'm still somewhat athletic. But as it turns out, I'm not," he said with a smile. "I got on the ski lift, then I kind of slipped off, and the lift hit me in the back of the head. My gloves and skis and hat went flying. It looked like a yard sale. I didn't even try to ski after that. I went to the lodge and had a beer."

Only in spring training would Padres Chris Young and Will Venable pick teams for a free throw shooting tournament because both guys played basketball at Princeton. "That's as nervous as I've ever been for an athletic competition," Young said with a smile, "because I'm not a great free throw shooter, and my team was depending on me to be good."

Only in spring training would the Twins hold a bowling tournament behind the KFC in Fort Myers. "Joe Mauer would be high-fiving his teammates, guys he's never met in his life, after they rolled a strike," said Twins manager Ron Gardenhire.

Jeremy Guthrie is very much LDS, by the way. I love that story.

I think what I love so much about baseball is how it really is a game. Sure, it's a sport. The single hardest thing to do in any sport is to try to hit a pitch thrown from 60 ft away that can sink, curve, slide, rise, or knuckle at speeds ranging from 50-103 mph. Yes, that's hard. And there's a lot of strategy at conditioning and practice and teamwork required. All of that.

But in the end, it's the sport that really connects kids to adults. I follow a lot of sports, but I never hear about the kinds of things that happen in other sports that happens in baseball. Kid type things. And it extends from the earliest part of the 20th century up until now. It connects one generation to the next.

I just love it. It makes me so happy.

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