For true baseball fans, the months of February and March are equivalent in their intensity and anticipation as an eight-year-old wakes up the morning after Thanksgiving and begins awaiting the arrival of Christmas morning.
The move from winter doldrums to the idea of spring training sites coming to life all across Florida and Arizona is the transition from the gluttony-to-couch-hibernation of Thanksgiving to the rest of the holiday season – a joyous, anticipatory harbinger of the great thing to come: a fresh baseball season.
And much like the end-of-the-calendar-year excitement, spring training starts with thoughts of thanks being given, ends with an opening day.
A few Sundays back, I was driving with my wife Amy, and seventeen-year-old son Sam. My cheery mood was noted and I replied that it was based, in large part, on it being the day that it was pitchers and catchers spring reporting day for my hometown Minnesota Twins. This came on the heels of a chat the three of us had been having about something that occurred at Christmas. And since I had both baseball and Christmas on my mind…my family was spontaneously feted with song:
“‘Fill my mind with thoughts of baseball! Fa-la-la-la-la, la-la-la-la!”
This got me a ‘don’t-quit-your-day-job’ glance from my wife, and a verbal “Please don’t” from my son. Then, stopped at a red light, I asked for some assistance to complete this ditty:
“Out to the shortstop, skip, skip, skip…”
Silence. There were no takers or baseball lyricists in our van. Yet.
But, try as she might, my fellow baseball aficionado and spouse of twenty-three plus years could not avoid adding her
musical change-up. A pause at a stoplight and the conversation was suddenly enlivened by Amy’s quick-thinking ‘carol of the balls’:
“Throw red stitched balls!
Hit red stitched balls!
Baseball is here!
Baseball is here!”
She ended with a deep sigh, then an apology to Sam – with the rueful disclaimer that after many years together, couples oddly but unwittingly begin to often think alike. By then, however, the damage was done. (Did I mention my wife and I had a baseball-themed wedding back in ’92 after having met during the Twins World Series run in ‘91?)
As the drive and the day continued, it occurred to me that baseball and Christmas have a lot in common: both are celebrated by a large portion of the populace – many with a certain, near obsessive vehemence – and both baseball and Christmas have components that are deeply ritualistic and spiritual in nature, and aspects that are purely secular. Each is celebrated with prescribed formalities and habits, each brings joy to many (and corresponding disappointment to some) hope to most all who partake. Each pursuit requires ample faith that is tested regularly.
The symmetrical intertwining of Christmas and baseball is as tight as the one-hundred-eight red stitches that hold together a regulation sphere of horsehide.
“Just hear those baseballs thwacking
and gloves-a-smacking anew!
No matter the weather
its baseball, and we are renewed!”
Until writing this piece, I never realized that two of my favorite Christmas songs (Oh, Christmas Tree and Oh, Holy Night) have some eerie similarities in rhythm:
“Ohhhhhh, baseball tiiiiime….
…your stars are brightly shiiiiiiining….”
Oh-kay. Moving up a base, because that was a hit-and-run.
Admit it: you heard that sung by Andy Williams.
“God rest ye merry baseball fans!
Let nothing you dismay!
Remember that in Cooperstown
was born our glorious game!”
Of course, while spring brings tidings of good baseball cheer and a new sense of optimism for the season ahead, there is always the powerful factor of longing and nostalgia to account for.
“I’m dreaming of an old baseball
just like the ones we used to throw
We played like our heroes,
threw shutout zeroes
made all the catches when we dreamed.
I’m dreaming of an old baseball
just like the ones I used to throw…”
Fact: Bing Crosby was a huge baseball fan, and once owned a majority share of the Pittsburgh Pirates. Coincidence? I think not.
In closing, I offer a joyous wish all baseball fans can appreciate this time of year.
“We wish you a series season! We wish you a series season!
We wish you a series season, and a World Series win!
We hope you hoist the trophy! We hope you hoist the trophy!
We hope you hoist the trophy, while being sprayed with beer!
We wish you a year of home runs! We wish you a summer of fun!
We wish you lots of baseball….It’s time to playyyyyyyy balllllll!”
So, in the memorable words of Twins pitcher Jack Morris, prior to his unforgettable, eleven-inning masterpiece, game seven of the ’91 series: “In the immortal words of Marvin Gaye…let’s get it on!”