Hark, do you hear it? No, not that. Not the snow and the wind. Listen closer.
There. Surely you heard that. It went thuunkk.
The sound of a fastball (not thrown at full speed yet, for a pitcher does not want to be shut down with a shredded rotator cuff or a torn ligament in his elbow) popping into a catcher’s mitt.
Or that other sound. It went crraaaack.
The sound of bat colliding with ball … the ball soaring off into the blue, out where the palm trees sway in the breeze beyond the left-center field fence. An 11-year-old boy in cut-off jeans and a yellow T-shirt beats a young girl in a Hannah Montana T-shirt to the ball.
The sounds and sights of spring. There’s nothing quite like it. If you do not hear these sounds or see these visions, you have turned your imagination off. You need to turn it back on. Immediately.
If you do not crank up your imagination when the snow is flying, for what purpose then is the young robin chirping away on the snow-laden branch out your kitchen window?
The answer to the question, “If a robin chirps on a snowy branch in your backyard and no one is there to hear it, does it make a sound?” is a resounding yes. But only if you can’t wait for spring … and baseball … to hurry up and get here already.
If it doesn’t matter to you — this changing of the seasons and the arrival of baseball — then the robin does not make a peep. Which doesn’t mean he does not weep for thee.
In my mind’s eye, I am down south and taking cuts in the batting cage. Every time I connect (my bat is a fine blonde ash and has the words “Wonder Boy” etched on the business end of the bat) and send the ball on a clothesline toward the distant fence, I am pretending the ball is Roger Clemens … or Barry Bonds’ fat head … or BALCO … or a congressional hearing … or the letters HGH … or the Nanny Diaries … or Donald Fehr … or Bud Selig and his laboriously methodical “study” of the Mitchell Report … or, well … practically anything that is outside the white lines that designate the boundaries of fair and foul territory.
Foul territory. It fits, doesn’t it? The game drifted into foul territory for a while there, say, for maybe 10 years or so. But now it’s getting back on track — even if the national sportswriters have a depressing propensity to dwell on the past and tired subjects like Clemens, Bonds, Sosa, McGwire, BALCO, the Mitchell Report, et al.
You and I, we have a message for these drones of the keyboard: Let it go.
We’ve moved on. You’ve plum worn us out beating this tired drum about steroids and HGH and over-the-hill ballplayers who once took juice to help them stay young and to hit the ball farther than it was supposed to go.
Let’s make one thing clear about the Mitchell Report: It did NOT name one player who received a single vote in last year’s balloting for Rookie of the Year, Most Valuable Player or the Cy Young Award. Not one.
This isn’t meant to denigrate or diminish the report, but rather to place it in its proper context, which is historical, legal and political.
And, let’s face it, we don’t have world enough nor time to squeeze that part of baseball into the more serious machinations of things historical, legal and political going on around us.
We’re in the midst of a doozie political battle in which this country will see either its first woman presidential candidate or its first black candidate for president. Very heady stuff. Kroo-shal, too.
And so, in our leisure moments — and just for sanity’s sake — we need the game of baseball with its perfect symmetry, and its white lines and rosin bags atop pitching mounds, and the sound of spikes scraping on a dugout floor, and its on-deck circles and the plate exactly 60 feet, 6 inches from the slab on the mound.
The thing about baseball is that it makes sense. As historian Jacques Barzun once wrote, “Whoever wants to know the heart and mind of America had better learn baseball, the rules and realities of the game.”
Part of the reality, of course, is that in the ’90s and early this decade some players got to live and play better through chemistry.
But just as real is the fact that in the hearts and minds of baseball fans, we mostly didn’t give a hoot.
And of those who minded a great deal and were glad a federal case was made of the whole sordid business, an honest admission of previous sin — plus a contrite and sincere apology from the player — would have eagerly been greeted with forgiveness.
“Go forth, hit more homers, strike out more batters and sin no more, my son,” we would say. “Now let’s play ball.”
Would be swell to say that in one month, opening day will be in the good ol’ US of A. Alas, the Selig, baseball’s commissioner, has always kept one eye on Taiwan and Japan and China and such places while keeping the other one closed to what’s going on right under his nose.
With Selig, baseball always has been a pockets-first affair. And so baseball will start this year on March 25 somewhere in Japan instead of in the U.S. or in Puerto Rico, a territory as close to the heart of baseball as the Land of the Rising Sun is light-years from it.
Soon, USA will be carrying box scores (box scores!) from the Cactus and Grapefruit leagues. It is there we will find the names we love: Jeter, Pujols, Papelbon, Sizemore and Victor Martinez, Teixeira, Guerrero, Miguel Cabrera, Johan Santana, Joe Torre (in a Dodger uniform!), Ryan Braun, Chase Utley, Matt Holliday…
For some of us — those who have been tapping a foot awaiting the very first bird to chirp on a snowy branch — there are names like Cameron Maybin and Evan Longoria and Clay Buchholz and Joba Chamberlain and Colby Rasmus.
We are the ones who stay ahead of the game, counting the days till The Opener, with visions and sounds from F-L-A and ’zona in our heads. We leave the old names and the old sins to yesterday.
As Fleetwood Mac put it musically — Hillary and Bill once danced to it in happier times — “Yesterday’s gone… Don’t stop…thinking about tomorrow…”
Is a whole new game. In both sports — baseball and politics. I’m pumped, aren’t you?
Contact Doug Clarke at firstname.lastname@example.org.