Baseball mixed with bright sunshine, aromatic foods and relaxation
SHEPHERDSTOWN — Where can the dampened spirits left by last season be left by the curb?
Where does hope spring eternal (if sprinkled with a dash of deviled crabs and Baja fish tacos)?
The sun is brighter, the rookies are ever-so talented, the seats are close to the field and even your team is still undefeated. It’s major league baseball’s annual homage to its sport — Spring Training in Florida and Arizona.
Your team may be the worst collection of reprobates ever gathered. But if they are being gathered in central and south Florida and Arizona, then they don’t smell as bad.
And your team may not even be trying to field a competitive club this season. But if they are holding spring training for a little over a month in the fun and sun of the enticing warmth of elsewhere, then they are still worthy of our attention.
Spring training at stadiums and ballparks with names like Hohokam Stadium, Joker Marchant Stadium, Surprise Stadium, Camelback Ranch and JetBlue at Fenway South don’t need to grab us by the wrist and wrangle us to the old ballyard.
We see the soft sun, the access to the players, the mouth-watering smells of food specialties and baseball itself — all lures enough to make us less-stained by records of 47-115 or players who remind us of our own failures as ball players.
Many teams are still in the soft stage. With so many free agents yet to be signed, there are numerous teams whose pitching staffs and benches will be changed in stages as spring training airily moves on through February and almost all of March.
The Cactus and the Grapefruit circuits will see continual changes as the six-week season of dreams meanders along toward opening day.
Rookies are there, grizzled veterans hanging on with minor league contracts are there. Fans won’t pay heed to the marketing ploys of their favorite team. They know the Orioles’ Chris Davis couldn’t manage even a .170 batting average. They know Baltimore’s catchers are a forlorn bunch. Washington stumbled to an 82-80 record after trumpeting its chances to be a World Series savant. Kansas City, Texas and the Miami indoor Marlins stunk up the Midwest, Southwest and south Florida air.
This will be the Braves last year in Kissimmee. They are going to CoolToday Park in North Port next spring. The Orioles are back in Sarasota and the Yankees are in Tampa. The Nationals train in West Palm Beach and the Mets are in Port St. Lucie. Pittsburgh returns to LEMCO Park in Bradenton. Although the name of their facility has been changed through the years, it still opened in 1923. And the Cubs will be in Mesa, Arizona, searching for the right clues that might help them rise again in the National League standings.
The teams will train at places like Salt River Fields at Talking Stick and Spectrum Field. And the smells of exotic foods like salmon Caesar salad, Sonoran chicken, Chi-Town Dogs (onions, sport peppers, sweet relish, mustard and tomatoes slathered over a foot-long hot dog), a large Portobello mushroom sandwich, Pig and Potato (a half-pound of fries generously smothered with nacho sauce, smoked bacon, maple syrup, sriacha sauce and sour cream) and Walk Off Waffles (Buffalo chicken bites topped with cole slaw and blue cheese in a waffle cone) will make the images of watching your team crumble in the standings before Memorial Day a little less chilling.
It’s spring training! And every team, even yours, is 0-0 and in line to challenge the best the other pretenders can offer.