It happened again yesterday, first time since… well, I don’t really remember…probably when I surrendered and stopped fighting it; the cold that is, the booger freeze, the no one gets outta here feeling.
Yesterday must have been above zero because I slipped my hands out of gloves and let em yawn and stretch and even when cold pinched me a “it’s still only February sucker,” I stayed rebel and clenched fists and remembered what it was like to carry a fact and a feeling around all working day long; that the Brewers would play a baseball game later that evening.
There’s no denying the return of pitchers and catchers to Arizona and Florida reservations, but it’s no celebration or rather the celebration never ended because the baseball season never does. The last out of the World Series simply morphed, as it always does, into baseball card piles and books abandoned during the previous pennant races; dreams and legends and franchise histories; fiction and winter meetings, rule v drafts, killing the clock.
And now it’s reality’s turn on the wheel. The ham string pulls and rotator cuffs, rounding out pitching staffs, the stretching, sprints, pitchers covering first base over and over, fringe players wearing number 93 hitting home runs into spring training skies and forcing managers to roll the dice and bring em north.
The buzz of this new season will probably last all the way to opening day and maybe as far as May, but the jackhammer will pounce hopeful heads 6 feet under. It always does. Sure, a few teams teams will linger and who knows; maybe one or two will surprise us all summer long, but mostly there will be failure. Players will be sent down, managers fired. Fans will complain, but something will get quenched. It always does.
The trucks have already rolled west and south and Cinderella has already splintered into 30 naive dreams including Houston; hungrier than ever to not lose 100 games. You can dive into this sunny day so many ways. You can soak away in odorless water filled with potassium, silica, magnesium and iron. Good for a sore arm, arthritis, and shooting the breeze. The Buckhorn Baths in Mesa, Arizona were home to the New York/San Francisco Giants from the late 1940’s’s to early 1970’s.
Leo Durocher made it mandatory for his players to loiter in her waters. The entire team stayed in the Motel with the same name; a classic kitchenette roadway Inn. A silver tray presented by a Durocher team still sits on display there.
The Baths closed a few years ago and no major league team stays at the Motel anymore. But then again, there’s bound to be a player in baseball today who prefers a Ma and Pa motel over a big one with employees dressed like congressman. I’m sure there’s one Rube Waddel or maybe a dozen who arrive to Florida or Arizona with trouble on their mind.
Waddel had no interest in relaxing massages and meditation therapy. He sought release the old fashioned way. He wrestled with alligators, drank pints of Bourbon and wrestled some more; with ladies of the night and when that failed, he threatened suicide. Waddel pitched for the 1903 Philadelphia Athletics; a team managed by Connie Mack; the longest serving manager in MLB history; the one who refused to wear a uniform in the dugout; preferring a business suite instead.
Mack blamed the Athletic’s disappointing 1903 season on the temptations of Jacksonville, Florida and refused to return for 11 years. The Athletics appeared in five World Series during that span and won three of them. Rabbit’s foot, lucky charms? Whatever it takes to tilt the scales and tap into momentum.
Avoiding temptations, soaking in mineral water, drinking away nights and mornings? What’s a more effective tactic? Hell if i know? I’d be most likely to try em all because there’s gonna be slumps and tired arms and scrums of reporters asking dumb questions. There’s gonna be groupies, autograph hounds, and second guessing.
There’s 15 teams in Florida and another 15 in Arizona. The day is regimented and predictable. The opposition plays 10 minutes away. No more St. Louis Cardinals training in Hot Springs, Arkansas; Yankees in New Orleans, Cubs in Catalina Island; Tigers in Honolulu; Brooklyn Dodgers in Havana, Cuba.There are no second jobs to hold down. This is 2014. Teams don’t barnstorm by train or bus and hope to scrounge up a game against a local semi pro team anymore. No one holds down a second job. Spring training is a lucrative carnival..
But it’s all just a change of clothing; a fancier, more comfortable one, but underneath all the Hollywood and hype, everyone is there for the same reason; to begin again or enjoy the illusion that there is a beginning.