by Bill Holmes
It's that time of year again. The Super Bowl, the very last football game of the season, is over. The days are getting warmer and longer. Fathers and sons are out playing catch. Youth league posters for spring signup are all around town. The ads and circulars in the newspaper feature gloves, mitts, bats, cleats, cups and other baseball equipment. The local baseball fields and parks once again have kids getting ready for another season. All this can only mean one thing, it's almost time for baseball spring training to start.
Baseball is and has always been my favorite sport. I have vague memories of watching baseball on my folks huge black and white TV when I was very young. The TV probably had a 9" or 10" screen. That was back when we lived in New Jersey, across the river from New York City. Back then NYC had three major league baseball teams and even more TV channels. I'm sure at some point I saw the Giants, Dodgers and Yankees play on a local NYC station. I was always a Giants fan, Dad was a Yankees fan his whole life. Even back then we disagreed on a few things. When I was a little older we moved to Florida. There were far fewer TV choices and far fewer games on TV. That's OK because now I was able to throw and catch a baseball. Almost every evening during the spring and summer my Dad and I would play catch. I would have the gloves and ball ready when he got home from work. These were teaching experiences, not just recreation. Dad was always giving me lessons and tips on fielding and throwing. I remember that every spring, as I got bigger and my arm got stronger, we would stand a little farther apart. I can remember being able to feel the difference in my abilities from year to year. When I got to be a tween and a teenager I would think I was as good as Dad. He would zing a throw or two to put me in my place and show me that it wasn't quite yet the year. Then finally one spring I was able to throw as hard and far as my Dad. That was a memorable event to me.
I think I was about eight years old when I started playing organized baseball. There were no t-ball or coach-pitch leagues back then so we didn't start quite as early as kids do now. That was an exciting time for me. We were going to play real games on real fields and wear uniforms. Before my first spring training, Dad took me to Finkelstein's department store. I remember it as a huge, cluttered store. I guess it had a good sports department because that's were we bought my glove, shoes (rubber cleats) and maybe a bat. Our team had a sponsor so we had great uniforms. They were grey flannel, full button jerseys with blue piping and the sponsors name embroidered on the back. We had blue stirrup socks and a blue hat. We played at Crabtee Park on University Blvd. near San Jose Blvd. The park is still there. That was the beginning of several years of playing organized baseball every summer. I couldn't wait for the new season to start each year.
I got to relive those days when the kids were growing up. Unfortunately not so much with my oldest but quite a bit with the youngest. The games of catch in the evenings, the joys of going to the sporting goods store for all the equipment and the new uniform each year, especially that first year. I must admit that my spring trainings in Florida were a little warmer than those for my son here in Texas. It can get pretty cold and windy here in February and March. One day might be in the 70's but the next can be in the 40's and windy. Baseball in the cold can be a little painful. Although my youngest son is now grown, we got to share his high school alumni game a few days ago. We still get to have at least a little spring training together. I'm thankful that he shares my love of baseball.
In between those years of my youth and my sons and now again since they are grown, I've had major league spring training to look forward to. It's a magical time of year.
Every team is undefeated and ready to win the pennant. All the rosters are looking strong with the off season moves and the new rookies coming up to the big club. The injuries are all healed and everybody is in the best shape of their career. Of course we all know that some of those off season trades and sighnings will be busts, some of the new "can't miss" rookies will miss by a mile, new injuries will crop up, old injuries will return, some players will have stayed around a year too long and any number of other problems and excuses will arise. A few of the favorites to get to post season will have bad years for any number of reasons. Likewise a projected cellar dweller will play above their expectations and either make the post season or at least make the races interesting. One or more of those big free agent signings will look pretty foolish. Some team will take a chance on a reclamation project and strike gold. It all happens every year and we know it. The fun is that we don't know what will happen to which team or player. Everybody still has to play the games.
My team, the Texas Rangers, start spring training on February 12th with pitchers and catchers reporting. There are several question marks about the Rangers. They failed to pull the trigger on any blockbuster free agent deals. They lost one of the best, though flawed, players in the game to a division rival. They traded their team leader of the past several years. They have questions about their pitching, both starting and the bullpen. They have a potential 50 game drug suspension of one of their big bat starters. They have bench strength questions. They also have the the psychological scars of two losing World Series appearances and a stretch run collapse in the last three years.
Major League season starts March 31st with a game between the Rangers and their old in-state and new American League West division rival Astros.
Until the regular season begins we can all enjoy a few games that don't count. Watch the new roster, try to predict the winners and losers from the free agent and trade deals and evaluate the rookies. When the season kicks off, I'll be rooting for the Rangers, Braves and Rays. A Rangers/Rays AL Championship Series followed by a Rangers/Braves World Series followed by a Rangers World Championship would be perfect. You can dream the same scenario for your team too. After all, at this time of year every team is tied for the lead.
It's a new season and I'm ready. Play ball, batter up!