As an insatiable fan of sports, I am most thankful that the month of February is finally over. It was a ghastly 28 days, void of any sports excitement or milestones. I find myself saying this every single year, except 1994 when the NY Rangers were making their surge toward Cup glory. It is a month beleaguered by post football withdrawal, prima donna basketball players, and the Winter Extreme Games. It is the only time of the year I’d contemplate watching Will and Grace re-runs instead of the 11:00 PM Sports Center. To me that is close to the apocalypse.
However, March has arrived with a knight in shining armor for all of us entrenched in sport’s boredom. Baseball is this savior. America’s Pastime will single handily rescue us from our despair and carry our sporting enthusiasm through the spring, summer, and fall. We will soon be watching baseballs float over bleachers, old fashioned brush backs, and the under-utilized suicide squeeze. Once again I can look forward to Sports Center and indulge in the genius rhetoric of Peter Gammons. I will have the opportunity to defend my 2002 fantasy baseball title, giving me a “real” reason to scour box score after box score. Most importantly, my passion for sports will be revitalized with the dead of winter passed.
I am not alone in my sentiment; the arrival of Spring Training has created an unbounded fervor across baseball purists nationwide. Six weeks of Grapefruit and Cactus League ball make for the perfect appetizer before the 162 game entr‚e. We, like the ball players, need to warm up and mentally prepare ourselves for the grueling season ahead.
Admittedly though, our calisthenics take on a different form. The core of our preparation revolves around player and team due diligence. It has been months since the climax of off-season transactions and during those weeks we were pre-occupied with play-off football and vacations to warm destinations. Spring Training allows us the opportunity to examine the arrival of new free agents, waiver pick-ups, and hyped draft picks. It is a time to familiarize ourselves with the 2003 version of our favorite squads and begin to predict pennant probabilities.
The weeks leading up to Opening Day present baseball fans nationwide with an occasion of excitement and eager anticipation. I might argue that for many, it is the best days of the entire baseball season. With the arrival of new players and the feeling that prospects will finally mature, fans begin to invest in a mighty reservoir of hope. Your hometown team has yet to lose a regular season game and all reports from camp seem to be overly optimistic. This year’s team has much more speed, ball pen arms are fresher than ever, the team chemistry is unparalleled, and the free agent pick up is making everyone around him play better. Does all of this sound familiar? It seems as if every team has a realistic shot at the title and the “most potent lineup in franchise history.” We all know that not every team is rich in promise or stacked with the new super weapon; however, this is the one time during the year when loyalists can be allowed to think so. All teams are tied for first and the pennant race is still wide open. There is no good reason not to set high expectations and dream of a champagne filled utopia….or is there?
I guess the answer to that question depends on how much one fears the mental strain and anguish that may occur if expectations aren’t met. I’ll be presumptuous and assume that most people out there are just like me. I’m a serial optimist when it comes to my favorite squads. A slight glimmer of hope provides a feeling of exhilaration. Unfortunately, more often than not I find myself mid-season rooting for a team of underachievers with no championship hope. Subsequently, I wonder why my expectations were so high and if I would be happier if I had predicted misery in the first place. I conclude that my pre-season excitement and grandeur vision of a trophy outweigh the inevitable reality of losing. At least I can take solace knowing that there are thousands of fellow fans in the same predicament. Two months into the season individuals will be bedeviled by a sleuth of questions: Why the rash of injuries? Is it bad karma? Where did it all go wrong? Dreadful news will be a daily occurrence and fans begin to curse the darkness.
Yet, no one will be able to take away those weeks of early spring when we had convinced ourselves that a title was imminent.
Thankfully, I will be in no such position this baseball season. I have completed my calisthenics and completed my due diligence in an effort to accurately forecast my expectations. Yes, Fin 2 is starting to brainwash me. But I really do know what is going to happen this season and am confident that I will not be disappointed. Yankees again.