Saturday, 8 March 2014

Ding a Car, Win a Chicken Sandwich

Baseball and poetry seem to go hand in hand. Writers much more eloquent than I have shared their hazy ethereal love for the pastoral game that seems to burst out of winter shadows like tulips in a spring garden.

Ok. Cheesy imagery really isn't my strong suit.
But there is something about baseball's spring training that inspires such insipid metaphors and similes. Maybe it's the fact that the winter has been interminable and the sight of young men shagging flies on an emerald field brings with it fantasies of life renewed. Maybe it is the blissful equity of every team's hopes and dreams of October competition still mercifully intact. Or perhaps it is the quiet simplicity of the game. Grown men, despite the corporate ownerships and billions of dollars at stake, playing like boys.

This is what I love most about spring training; delighting in watching the boy in every man come to the forefront. I love seeing Jose Reyes, he of the multimillion dollar contract, cavorting and kibbitizing with some awestruck rookie as he challenges the kid to a race across the outfield, and then devolving into giggles as the kid realizes that the fun-loving star gave him a 10 yard head start. There is the pure unadulterated joy in the face of the hulking farm boy as he belts his first home run off of a major league pitcher, while his hitting coach dad positively beams with pride from his perch in the opposing team's dugout.You can almost see the Little Leaguer in him as he bounces around third looking at dad for approval. There is first baseman/DH Adam Lind sporting a winter's worth of mountain man growth on his face that is more than worthy of his teammates' ridicule, and then playfully stroking the beard each time he comes to the plate to demonstrate his response to their good-natured teasing. And then there is former ace Ricky Romero, a lone and solitary figure taking to the mound as he struggles to remember what it was that used to make this game so easy and is now so terribly difficult. The forgotten man desperately trying to make himself visible once again.
And of course, there are the every one of us. We jockey for position to watch our favourites and beg for photos and signatures. We delight when they stop to chat (which they do on occasion) and we wrestle for the balls tossed into the crowd. Grown men and women shell out hundreds of dollars for a number 43 jersey, hoping against hope that Mr. Dickey will stop, notice, and maybe converse.

Spring training reminds all of us of a time that was simpler. A time when playing outside was expected and baseball didn't exist on a video game console. It is a place where corporate sponsors don't attempt to buy our affections with bobblehead giveaways, but rather have us cheering for a ball leaving the yard to ding our cars so that we might partake in a free Chick-Fil-A sandwich. (Even the vegetarian me loved that.) Spring training touches that place inside where dreams have lay dormant and hope exists for even the most cynical. (I'm looking at you Older Son!) We set aside the steroid stories, the sabremetrics, our fantasy teams, and the financial inequity, so that we might, for a few hours or days, just enjoy the game and the boys who play it in a way we can only wish we could.

And for me...I get to have my very own Field Of Dreams moment with my adult son. The mother/son road trip version of playing catch. That alone makes the trip worthwhile.

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