When I was a little kid, growing up in the frozen tundra of northern New Jersey, this time of year was just getting to be a drag as winter seemingly never let up.
But near the end of February there was something on the radio that gave hope to all of us who were ready to shed the heavy coats and boots. It was the voices of Russ Hodges, Red Barber and Mel Allen, and in the background you could tell they were broadcasting a live baseball game.
Spring training had begun.
The New York Giants, Brooklyn Dodgers and New York Yankees all piped in their games via radio to those of us back home who weren’t fortunate enough to be in the Sunshine State or, in some cases, Cuba and the Dominican Republic. If you’ve never lived up north and/or aren’t a baseball fan, you can’t believe the feeling that came over you as you stared out your window at the icy, glistening snow and had that great knowledge that warmer weather was just around the corner.
It was more than a sport. It was like seeing the first robin of spring, or getting ready to break out the new Easter outfits.
There was a new brightness and hope in the air.
So you’ll have to forgive me if I’m a little nostalgic this week. You see, spring training has begun, and next week the games begin.
There’s a schedule of all spring training games in today’s paper on Page 28. I urge you to take time to try and go see a game. The Astros and Tigers are probably the best choices from around here if you don’t have team allegiances, and the Blue Jays and Phillies are also accessible.
Tickets for the Yankees are hard to come by. The same used to be said for the Braves, but I don’t know if that’s the case any more.
Baseball is the sport that I love to watch. I’m just as comfortable at a Little League or high school game as I am at a Big League contest ... maybe even moreso. That’s because I consider baseball the perfect game. The bases have been 90 feet apart as long as I’ve been alive. Every baseball fan knows how far the mound is from home plate.
Quick now, basketball fans, can you tell me how far the three-point line is from the basket in high school? In college? In the pros? It’s different for all three.
But if you go to a high school baseball game, you’ll see the players competing on a diamond the exact same size as those in Yankee Stadium. One of my favorite movies is “Field of Dreams,” and I often can visualize James Earl Jones saying that over the years, “the one constant has been baseball.”
I don’t spend hours studying the stats for a fantasy league. I don’t write comments to the stories in various New York papers about how my Mets are doing. I just enjoy sitting back and watching the games. I’m just as comfortable with an 11-10 game as with a 1-0 game.
A-Rod on steroids? Barry Bonds lying under oath? To be honest, I don’t care. I love watching the game, and if home run records fall to juiced players, what’s the difference? It’s still a game.
The only big objection I have to steroids is what they can do to your body in the long run, and my fear that some young people may be copying these athletes and destroying themselves.
The only sign of winter that I’m still hanging on to is the Williston High School boys basketball team. But even if the Devils go all the way and win the state championship, the season will be over in about three weeks.
Yes, spring is near. And I know that somewhere up north, some boy is sitting in front of his television and watching that green grass of Florida, and feeling the same way I felt so many years ago.
Jim Clark is the editor of the Williston Pioneer Sun News. He can be reached at email@example.com or at 528-3343.