The Enid News and Eagle, Enid, OK

Sports

February 12, 2013

The sweetest of words: Pitchers and catchers report

Short days, long nights, cold winds tugging at your sleeve.

Everything is gray and brown, the only hint of green the occasional weed insolently poking its head above the still-dormant carpet of Bermuda.

But this week annually produces a bit of mid-winter joy, a day devoted to love and the promise of the coming spring.

This is the week lovers everywhere hear the sweetest words known to mankind — pitchers and catchers report.

Oh yeah, and Thursday is Valentine’s Day, too.

But we are talking about baseball, and those who love the grand old game’s unique meter and cadence.

It brings with it the promise of warm days and balmy nights. With much of the country still held in winter’s glacial grip, we watch with envy these young men spending languid days in the sun practicing their unique craft in places with exotic names like Jupiter and Surprise.

The Cubbies and Colorado’s Rockies got a jump on the rest Monday, while the bulk of the big league teams will kick off their 2013 between today and Thursday.

The game is stinging from more allegations star players used performance-enhancing drugs. Alex Rodriguez of the Yankees, Washington’s Gio Gonzalez, Melky Cabrera of the Blue Jays, Texas’ Nelson Cruz, Bartolo Colon of Oakland and San Diego’s Yanmani Grandal have been accused of receiving banned substances from a now-closed Florida clinic. More names may follow.

Some teams spent a ton of money to get better. The Los Angeles Dodgers shelled out more than a half-billion dollars upgrading their lineup, while the Blue Jays added starting pitching, including ex-Mets’ knuckleballer and 2012 National League Cy Young Award winner R.A. Dickey.

Just as the world is reborn every spring, bringing with it a sense of hope and optimism as it pushes aside the lifeless remains of the previous year, so, too does optimism reign supreme in baseball’s spring training camps.

Everyone’s a winner this time of year, even the lowly Houston Astros, who lost an MLB-worst 107 games a year ago.

Grizzled veterans have a new bounce in their step, fresh-faced rookies all show the promise of future stardom.

And the fans are given over to giddy bouts of hope that this might be, must be, is bound to be, just has to be their team’s year.

There’s a different pace to spring training. The higher paid and higher the profile the players, the more relaxed they are. The young guys, the hungry ones, the fellows tired of riding buses in the bushes, are the ones on edge. This is their chance to prove themselves, to make themselves stand out, to take one more step up that long ladder to “the show.”

Even when the games begin, they don’t really count. The regulars work on their hitting strokes, shake off the winter rust a bit, then head off to the golf course after their requisite three or four innings. And if the game ends in a tie, so be it.

The optimism nurtured during those languid late-winter afternoons will be severely tested come April, of course, when camps break up and the teams head north.

The green shoots of spring will be tested by cold April rains, and the less hardy of the lot will wither in the heat of summer, when it becomes painfully obvious this will not be your team’s year.

But the disappointments of summer are swept away each year when we hear those beautiful words again, pitchers and catchers report.

Mullin is senior writer of the News & Eagle. Email him at jmullin@enidnews.com.

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