Friday, February 20, 2015

#SpringTraining #NoWaiting

Observers often comment on the nature of time in baseball: there's no game clock; a contest is theoretically infinite; a half-inning may last one minute or thirty; plate appearances are endless games-within-the-game. Time is collapsing in on baseball in many ways, it seems to me, as the clock is being rendered obsolete (or at least a nuisance) in much of contemporary culture. Take Spring Training. Pitchers and catchers are arriving as I write—the frisson of delight that brings me renewed easily—and soon full squads will assemble, split up, stretch in the sun, take infield and batting practice, and slowly resume playing games, suspended since October. When I was a kid, this March assemblage felt virtually mythic with a capital "M," as if out of some imagined master narrative—I knew that teams were gathering somewhere in the South, Southwest, and the West, but the only proof I had was the infrequent grainy black-and-white photographs in the Washington Post or Star. Baseball didn't really begin until Opening Day, when the bunting and sunshine and the bright white uniforms (of the Orioles, my home-team-by-default) heralded the return of the game and, soon but never soon enough, summer. Baseball felt bound by the calendar in very real and irrevocable ways. The season schedule was only printed on paper, and not always easy to find. March was black and white. April was green. The boundary between the two was thick. (For some terrific photos of those old March days, look here.)

In 2015, Spring Training is a 24/7 event, duly previewed, speculated about, followed and remarked upon by baseball websites, official and otherwise, and on blogs, Twitter, and Instagram. This is nothing new, really, but each winter, as Spring Training continues its unsentimental move from the reserves of my fading memory to today's bright blanket media coverage, I can't help but feel loss. This may be the predictable and precious misgivings of someone growing older, or it may be something more. At the risk of sounding pious, I'm not sure that we wouldn't benefit from a dialing back of the megawatt coverage of the exhibition season: I loved coming across the odd box score from a meaningless Grapefruit (hilarious!) League game in the middle of March as snow was thawing outside and birds were building nests in the ash trees in my backyard; the wait for Opening Day, complicated as it was by other more pressing desires of my twelve-year-old self, was a long, delicious wait. That suspension in time has been virtually banished: within a couple weeks, and then within seconds, I'll find online dozens of photos of ballplayers arriving to multi-million dollar camps, emerging from their expensive cars, buffed or doughy, blinking in the sunlight—not to mention streaming games and live stats. When I cared to, which wasn't all that often, I had to picture all of that when I was a kid, an exercise in imagination that both elongated and hastened the wait for Opening Day and Spring in the D.C. suburbs. With that wait having vanished, soothed by more multi-media coverage than anyone really needs, a certain imaginative muscle has gone limp, or threatens to, anyway.

Well, I can always imagine #October.
Toronto Blue Jays at their inaugural Spring Training in Dunedin, Florida, 1977. Just as I would've imagined. (Photo via Torontoist.)

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