For decades now, Pirates fans who have long since relocated to the year round warmth of Florida have considered Spring Training almost as their team returning from a very extended road trip, and fans from everywhere else have planned trips around this special time of year.
Some of us have made it a couple times but usually just look forward to hearing Greg and Bob talking baseball again while we still see patches of snow on the ground.
See whether you travel or live there, returning to the game is still a pilgrimage. It’s returning to the sights and sounds. The kid who has toiled in the minors for 7 years who finally got that invite he’s been dreaming of since he was 12. The rising star prospect who got a taste last year but this time knows there are expectations. Catchers and coaches learning their new staff start to come to grips with who’s here and in some cases who isn’t anymore.
For some players, it’s the first opportunity to show last season wasn’t the best they had to offer, whole lot more of those this year for every team than usual.
Practical jokes, fishing trips, golf side jaunts, this is where groups of players become a team, for better or worse.
Maz and Sangy, Spanky and Jacko, former players too make the trip to impart wisdom and in some cases just remind the newest to don the black and gold that they represented the same colors once and remain proud they did so. Well, Spanky shows up mostly to remind everyone Sid was out.
The warm sun and seagulls, Danny’s Pizzaria, the Lucky Frog and that incredible Orange Swirl cone at Mixon Farms, the entire atmosphere and the likelihood that you’ll end up eating dinner two tables away from a bunch of kids you just saw shagging flies an hour earlier make it feel like a community.
It changes the dynamic from team and fan to more of a personal identification with these guys. When one of them gets traded, logic is out the window when you have memories of having a beer and shooting the breeze with that third string catcher and his young family at the beer garden.
I’m not sure we’re ready as a society for things to jump right back in to normalcy, but we’re closer than we were last year. The future of what this virus would inflict on our country and our sport were anything but a clear picture and this year we enter Spring Training with eyes wide open, knowing the game and so much more could be snatched from us at any time.
Regardless, the schedule is published and we anticipate as normal a process as possible. Which is important for the host of players who haven’t played competitive baseball since 2019.
All I can say is, let’s do this.
All that emotion, anticipation and ritual is about to start again as pitchers and catchers will most likely report no later than 3 weeks from now. and there won’t be one player who doesn’t think they’re capable of tossing 9 lights out innings repeatedly or hitting .300 with 20 homeruns.
Because the one thing that always makes the pilgrimage I neglected to mention was hope. We’ll keep it realistic here on our site and some will make sure you know how terrible they are before a blade of grass has been trampled. But don’t be shocked if you see a few hopeful pieces, because this time of year, I just can’t help myself.
Merry Springmas everyone.