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Spring training revives hope

An arc of blue sky streaks across the grey roof of Toronto’s Rogers Centre.
An arc of blue sky streaks across the grey roof of Toronto’s Rogers Centre.
Minor Leaguer

Wintertime at Toronto’s latitude can be tough. It’s not really the −20°C cold or the snow and slush, but it’s the short days and grey skies that get to me. It’s all too easy to get trapped in the routine of waking up in the dark, getting into the dark subway tunnel, popping up to my windowless office, and working until I leave and go home in the dark. The lack of sunlight, the annoyance of putting on layers upon layers of clothing, and the absence of a baseball game to listen to on my headphones as I walk around the city just keeps me inside more often than I’d like. It also makes me spend much more time at work than I’d like. Every winter I feel that I fall into a dull routine and live a boring life.

But when mid-February comes around, things start to pick up. Days grow longer. The first robins return. There is still a glimmer of sunlight when I leave work. Blue Jays players report to Dunedin. Andrew Forbes wrote that pitchers and catchers reporting is when summer is revived. For me, it is when hope is revived.

Spring training—the six weeks or so before the regular season begin when ballplayers do a lot of stretching—is actually pretty boring. News articles offer little, maybe a few stories on how someone is in the best shape of his life, maybe one on how Jeopardy! screwed up a clue about the hometown team, a bunch featuring pundits predicting the results of an unpredictable season, and definitely at least a few about an up-and-coming minor league sensation.

Games aren’t too much better, frankly. Major league players come to bat for just the first few innings then drive away to another field of green, driver in hand, ready to hit a much smaller ball. Sure, some interesting minor league players take over (and we can make adolescent jokes about Justin Shafer wearing #69), but it’s clear that no one on the field actually cares about winning or losing the game. They probably care about doing well personally but it’s all about getting ready for the real games that start in April. And, sites like this start to have gamethreads where diehards gather to chat for a while during the early part of the afternoon, but even they aren’t really into the game like they would for the regular (and post-) season.

But there is something special about that first spring broadcast on the radio. For the past 20 years or so I’ve made a point to try to tune in to the hear the first pitch of the first game of spring training. The voice of Jerry Howarth calling me a “friend” and starting the game with “it’s time to play ball” through the radio while the melting icicles on my porch drip-drip-drips combine to become one of my favourite sounds.

Little did I know that 2017 would be the last time I would hear it live. This year I missed the first game that was broadcast as I was at work but I did tune into Mike Wilner and Scott Richmond call the second game on Saturday. Jerry was not there—and neither were many of the regulars as they were playing on the road— but hey there was still a live Blue Jays game being played coming out of my radio’s speakers.

Yes, these are “fake games” that don’t mean much, but to me, it is summer—and hope—revived. It allows me to hope that soon, I will be able to venture out of my office during lunch breaks and eat on a park bench, that routines will be broken, that baseball roadtrips will be taken, and that, not too far into the future, I will be able to look up and see an arc of bright blue appear as the grey sky of the Rogers Centre retracts for a hot, sticky game in the middle of a lazy summer afternoon.