Published February 14, 2017
The images are being beamed now from Lakeland. Hearts in Detroit are being warmed.
The Tigers, in their creamy whites, are playing catch. In the batting cage, they’re toughening up hands made tender by a winter off.
The players are smiling, chortling even. They embrace, ready to spend the next eight months together on planes, buses and in hotel lobbies.
Every team in baseball is 0-0. The San Diego Padres are still mathematically alive for the playoffs.
The Internet is being filled now with the photos and the videos. The men with the Old English D plastered on their jerseys and over their hearts.
Oh, to be among the fortunate down in Lakeland, basking in the sun, enjoying the warm temps and being within arm’s reach of Justin Verlander.
Soon the rest of the squad will join the pitchers and catchers, along with some non-roster invitees who’ll wear numbers like 72 and 66 during spring games.
It’s the beginning of the realization of dreams by some young players and the last gasp effort at glory for some grizzled veterans.
The crack of the bat and the thwack of a baseball hitting the mitt will never sound so good all year.
It’s just not the same with the other sports.
The Lions gather for the first time in late-July in Allen Park and that’s nice for the die-hard football fan but where’s the romance? Football is violence and precision and it’s filled with military metaphors. The start of a new football season is as romantic as new recruits arriving at boot camp.
The Red Wings meet in Traverse City in September and that’s exciting for the antsy puckheads, but how many of us ever laced up a hockey skate? Hockey training camp is background noise. We’ll pay attention when they drop the puck for real.
The Pistons have media day in early-October but how long can you listen to the sound of basketballs bouncing on a gym floor before you need an aspirin? Basketball camp is as antiseptic as a bottle of Listerine. Let us know when opening night is.
Ah, but baseball spring training…
Who among us has never had a game of catch? Who hasn’t played in a company picnic softball game, or in Little League?
Who doesn’t live and die with their baseball team?
It’s an old line and it might be apocryphal but here goes.
Baseball Fan goes to Opening Day. His/her team loses. The fan pouts and doesn’t eat supper.
“What’s got ya down?” the Fan’s friend asks. “What, did you think your team would go 162-0?”
Baseball Fan looks up at the friend, and says with all sincerity, “Yes.”
But Opening Day is still six weeks away. And that’s OK because the boys of summer are back in Florida and Arizona, where they belong in February and March.
Spring training is perfectly timed.
It comes when the winter blahs have set in. The glitz of the holidays have worn off. The groundhog never seems to cooperate. It’s still February, for gosh sakes.
If it wasn’t for spring training, if it wasn’t for the photos of the players kibitzing and hitting fungoes, I don’t think many of us would survive the winter.
Spring training is an iron clad promise.
It guarantees us that something good is coming. And its very existence, its machinations, provide a source of comfort, especially to those of us to the north.
I don’t know if a Dodgers fan or a Marlins fan or a Rangers fan can truly appreciate what spring training means to a Tigers fan. How can they, when those Southern California, Florida and Texas folks never have to deal with winter’s blast to begin with?
How can they wax romantic about palm trees, cactus and baseball when they get the first two all year long?
This hasn’t been a very vicious Michigan winter (yet), granted. But it’s winter nonetheless. And baseball’s been absent around here for over four months, which is about four months too long.
Where’s the single to right, moving the runner from first to third? Where’s the Verlander bender for called strike three? Where’s the 6-4-3 double play that nips the batter by a microsecond?
Where’s the six-game winning streak in June? Where are the fireworks on Friday night?
Where’s the Miguel Cabrera three-run homer to right-center? Where’s the Ian Kinsler dirty uniform?
Where’s the 2-8 stretch in July that elicits the calls to fire the manager?
Where’s the no-hitter after six innings? Where’s the hate for Alex Avila?
Where are the peanuts and Cracker Jack?
Where’s the turn on the Merry-go-Round or on the Ferris Wheel?
Where’s the thrilling walk-off win on a Friday night over the Indians?
Hey, when are the Yankees in town, by the way?
It’s coming. Spring training sees to that.
Be still the heart.