I don’t care what the calendar says or what that rodent in Punxsutawney says — spring has sprung.
For lifelong baseball fans like me, Valentine’s Day 2017 was especially sweet, as that was the day Major League Baseball pitchers and catchers reported for spring training.
“Pitchers and catchers report” is music to the ears of baseball lovers who emerge from the long, cold winter yearning for the sound of the crack of the bat, the smell of freshly cut outfield grass, and the sight of stark white bases surrounded by a perfectly dragged infield. It is one of the first signs that warmer weather is on the way.
It is a time to break out some of my favorite baseball movies, like “Field of Dreams,” “Bull Durham” and “The Natural,” stories of the simplicity and the beauty of the game.
I grew up a Reds fan, and I think about some of my childhood heroes like Dave Concepcion, Johnny Bench and Eric Davis. And I recall some of my favorite baseball memories: World Series home runs by Kirk Gibson and Joe Carter, the daily wizardry of Ozzie Smith, and listening to the voices of Marty Brennaman and Joe Nuxhall call Tom Browning’s perfect game on the radio.
But baseball has always meant more to me than that. For me, baseball meant time spent with my dad.
He drove me to Little League games and took me shopping for that perfect glove. He took me to my first major league game in Cincinnati and taught me how to keep score. I’ll never forget how beautiful the stadium and the field looked. It even looked beautiful after Tom Seaver gave up seven runs in the second inning to the hated Dodgers.
Because of him, I got my first baseball autograph. He drove me from Portland to Anderson for a baseball card show, where I met Cubs first baseman Bill Buckner. All I had was a scrap of notebook paper, but Buckner saw that and grabbed a baseball card, which he signed for me. Little did we know that day that, five years later, Buckner would move on to Boston and become the biggest goat in World Series history.
Just as it does for Ray Kinsella in “Field of Dreams,” baseball takes me back to my teen years, when my father and I didn’t always see eye to eye, but we could always talk about baseball.
Moms are also part of the story. They provide much of the support so their kids can play the game they love. They make trips back and forth to the practice field, wear their sons’ jersey numbers in the stands, cheer the loudest, and somehow manage to find time to supply refreshments between games of a double header.
Spring training is a time for optimism. Everyone is in first place, and fans can find a reason why their team has a chance this year.
That’s part of why I love baseball.
But mostly it is the memories that go along with the game.
While “pitchers and catchers report” means the pros are in Arizona and Florida getting ready for their 162-game quest for greatness, it is a reminder to me of what spring and summer have always meant. It has meant baseball and barbecues with my family and time spent in the sun following a winter of shoveling snow.
And it is a reminder of the quality time I spent with my father at the ballpark. Whether we were watching my beloved Reds play in Cincinnati or listening to the radio on the back porch, baseball always brings back the fondest of memories.
So, I say, “Play ball!”
And, Dad, wanna have a catch?