Today wasn’t a necessarily warm and balmy day. 48 and sunny is, however, quite nice by Richmond standards in February and downright spring feverish by New England standards, especially given their recent spate of epic snow. Still and all, the day put me in mind of baseball.
Thwack, Thwack, Thwack. The sound of a baseball firmly nesting in the pocket of a well-oiled glove thrown by an arm that, no matter how warm, will be tight and sore in the early days of spring.
Players will soon be stretching in the morning Florida and Arizona sun; young bodies loaded with a season’s worth of energy preparing for the war of attrition that is a 162-game major league baseball season.
Crack, crack, crack. Wooden bats repeating the pattern, looking to lock in on the mostly unattainable arc of that perfect Williams-esque sweet swing. Not a ping, ping, ping. That’s for amateur ballplayers. Pros use wood to hone the art of hitting a round thing accelerating at between 85-100 miles per hour with another round thing and hitting it “squarely”.
Baseball. The only sport in which the manager and coaches actually uniform up just like the players and somehow it doesn’t seem weird. Think about the absurdity of Bill Belichick or Doc Rivers getting their game on looking like a doughy version of the players they coach, tarted up in full NFL or NBA gear somehow vainly attempting to be taken seriously. Better yet, think about the lunacy of John Farrell, Joe Maddon or Buck Showalter decked out in a suit exchanging lineup cards at home plate. I think I just threw up a little bit in my mouth.
Of all the enduring sports, baseball is the most timeless and unchanged. Yes, the live ball era, the stench of PEDs, over-specialization in the form of designated hitters, relievers of every stripe and the specter of instant replay slowing down a game already threatened by ever-increasing game times have profoundly transformed the game that Abner Doubleday envisioned. Essentially, however, it’s the same: sixty feet six inches (the six inches due to a clerical error in the original plans) from the rubber to the plate; 90 feet between the bases; the only sport in which the defense controls the ball.
Within this rigid construct teams are free to build ballparks with insane angles, inconsistent distances to the fence and a myriad of other physical quirks (uphill center field runs and hanging support beams that are actually part of the field to name just two) then draft players designed to excel in and take advantage of those peculiarities. Baseball boring? Really? If you don’t get it I feel badly for you. It’s probably because someone never had the patience to show you the way. There’s still time. Find a baseball fiend, er, friend and dig in.
Feel the sunshine on your face. Smell the oil rubbed into a superstitiously favorite piece of leather with no holes in it or the pine tar applied to a bat with all the hits still in it. Eat the same food, run the same drills, throw the hard hook exactly the same and perfect the swing because you know that the slightest deviation can mean the difference between excellence and a playoff berth and a third place finish against a no name team on the last game of the regular season.
Thwack, thwack, thwack. Crack, crack, crack. The drum beat of another season once distant is now upon us. My glove is oiled. I await the call that will never come but nevertheless revel in watching those that can as they strive. Baseball. Forever young and born in the spring. Give it your attention and you can learn a multitude of lessons about patience, delayed gratification and self-sacrifice. While you’re at it you’ll also learn to treat both the joys of a long journey well rewarded and the depths of crushing disappointment with equal respect. Bring it!