Sunday, March 2, 2008

The real fields of dreams

Greg Hardy lists some items to consider during spring training in his most recent column for The (Columbia) State, something that also serves as a primer for the upcoming major league baseball season. Greg, who is a friend of mine, also regularly writes irreverent columns for cbssportsline.com’s Spin. Check him out.

Greg’s column elicited more than a few smiles, reminding me of great times spent in Florida ballparks before I moved to Illinois. There really is no better line than “catchers and pitchers report to spring training.” And there is truly no better place to be than a spring training game.

Greg inspired me to offer my own spring training list, one that is alphabet challenged since it only goes from C to Y (with a few other letters left out.) Here goes.

C – Conversations with fans sitting nearby, hearing stories from old men (and women) about retired players like Harmon Killebrew, Ted Williams and Sandy Koufax.
D – Thinking of my dad who taught me respect and love through the greatest game ever. I miss hearing his stories, laughing when he told a lame joke, and just hanging out with my pop.
E – Early games where teams use four or five pitchers and insert only a few veterans, games where you can see players whose hearts and souls are focused on every pitch.
F – Four-hour games. Yes, that's right. During spring training where else would you want to be than in a place where young kids are fighting for a roster spot, the sun is shining, and your team still has a shot? As a matter of fact, I'll usually head out to a spring game a few hours early to see batting practice and to hear fungos cracking fly balls to rookies and veterans alike. With all due respect to those fields in Iowa, heaven is really spring training sites like those at Winter Haven, Tucson, and Fort Myers – places where dreams truly come true.
G – Seeing young girls with gloves shagging foul balls and keeping score. Loving the fact my daughters and I can speak about the game as my father and I had.
H – In March, we all believe our team can win – even fans in Pittsburgh and Milwaukee. And it can happen. Who thought the Rockies would reach the World Series or that the Brewers would come close to postseason play? Hope is important. (Just ask the millions who have voted for Barack Obama.)
I – Innocence still lives on in places like Vero Beach and Kissimmee despite efforts to commercialize these spring training games.
K – Kids reaching over the railing with their programs, excited to even get an autograph from players numbered 88 and 92.
R – Seeing a rookie succeed despite their anxiety and fears. Last year, we watched Hunter Pence drive in the winning run in an extra-inning game in Kissimmee. He nearly won the NL's rookie of year award.
S – Sunny days where fans can kick back, casually read a program, and escape their worries.
W – Hearing wood bats cracking rather than the pings echoing in so many high school and college parks. Ban aluminum bats before someone gets killed.
Y – Yogi Berra played with exuberance, determination, and respect for the game. He won 10 World Series rings, but never gave up. If players like Yogi can't attract fans, nothing will. Or, as Yogi once said: "If people don’t want to come out to the ballpark, nobody's gonna stop them."

-30-

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