The Midwest has been hit with a typical contrarian March cold blast, and the east coast has been hammered by a snowstorm. Perversely, the crummy, winter-is-still-with-us weather has made me think that the real spring cannot be far away, and that it’s okay to start thinking about something good that will be coming with the warmer spring weather in just a few days: baseball.
Although they fell just short of that elusive World Series win, last year was a magical one for the Cleveland Indians. The team overcame injuries to crucial members of the pitching staff and key position players and, with deft manager Terry Francona holding things together with spit, scotch tape, and baling wire, the Tribe improbably made it to the doorstep of a championship. With the players hopefully healed, and Edwin Encarnacion set to fill a big hole in the middle of the lineup, Tribe fans are dreaming that this might be the year. Hey, lightning finally struck the long-suffering Chicago Cubs last year — why can’t it strike the Indians this year?
Spring is the time of dreaming for all baseball fans. Tribe fans aren’t the only ones who are hoping that the team’s off-season moves have put the right pieces in place, that the player who had the unexpected great year last year wasn’t a fluke, and that the minor league phenom will step up and produce in the big leagues. It’s all part of the time-honored baseball process that has been part of America’s National Pastime for more than 100 years. The baseball fans who are dreaming and hoping about their teams today are just new links in a very long chain.
I was down in Cincinnati today. It was a gorgeous day, with bright sunshine streaming through the conference room window, temperatures touching the 60s, the mighty Ohio shimmering in the distance, and far below the covered field of Great American Ballpark, where the Redlegs play.
With such a scene, what red-blooded American wouldn’t think about baseball, and spring training? Oh, by the way — pitchers and catchers report for the Tribe in three days.
Today is National Signing Day. For those of you who don’t follow college football — and if you fall into that category, you really should reconsider your life priorities — National Signing Day is the day that high school athletes sign letters committing to attend certain schools. National Signing Day has become a kind of holiday for sports fans, even though the only sports-related activity is the athlete picking up a pen and signing his name. It has become like Selection Sunday, when the NCAA Tournament field is announced, or the day that pitchers and catchers reports for spring training.
The dynamics of National Signing Day are interesting to observe. Most teams go into the Day with a roster of “verbals” — athletes who have already verbally committed to sign their letter of intent. However, there are always a few holdouts who announce their decision on National Signing Day, usually by picking among the caps of competing teams and putting on the hat of the winning school. As a result, evaluation of recruiting success or failure becomes perversely skewed to the holdouts. Fans of schools like Ohio State, which already has “verbals” from more than 20 excellent athletes, will focus on the holdouts and feel let down if their team doesn’t land one, when they should be focused less on the prima donnas and more on the corps of fine players who long ago agreed to be part of their school’s program.
When National Signing Day comes, coaches get to finally talk about their recruits. After they have done so, I imagine they breathe a sign of relief, and then start planning their next recruiting trip.
The temperature has crept above freezing, the sun is shining, and the massive snowfall is beginning to melt a bit. The slightly warmer weather gives us a glimpse of the spring to come.
Another sign that spring is just around the corner is this: pitchers and catchers report to the Cleveland Indians’ spring training camp tomorrow. Spring training games then will start in a few weeks. The Tribe is in the Cactus League, playing from the Goodyear Ballpark in Goodyear, Arizona.
It will be a new roster of catchers and a bunch of new pitchers for the Indians this year, in what will undoubtedly be a “rebuilding” year. The question for Tribe fans is whether the Indians’ roster actually includes enough talent to really rebuild, or whether we are in for endless and embarrassing years of futility, as was the case in the ’70s and ’80s. In any case, expectations for 2010 are very low indeed.
When pitchers and catchers report, however, hope springs eternal.