It’s February. There’s ice on my car windshield, and I keep checking for snow in the forecast. Some of my neighbors still have their Christmas lights up. Yet this morning, when I wake up, it’s as if spring has already arrived. As if, when I step outside, I’ll be greeted by a light spring breeze rather than the bite of cold in my lungs. As if the sun’s rays will be creeping over the horizon come daybreak, instead of — if I’m lucky — a faint glow from behind a thick layer of cloud. I wake up, and anything seems possible. I wake up with my thoughts on baseball.
The phrase “pitchers and catchers report” has a way of confusing my brain into thinking winter is over. Even though the National Hockey League season is merely halfway done, the first sign of spring training pushes me into baseball mode. It means it’s not too early to start thinking about Opening Day, milder days and longer nights, and the possibility this season will last well into October for my team. I think of a season, unlike the real spring and summer, that could last well into the late months of the year — whose memories could, possibly, stretch on into the rest of my life.
The arrival of pitchers and catchers sets off sonic, tactile memories — smells, sights, and sounds that are entwined with both spring and baseball. It ignites memories collected across more than 40 years — I won’t say how many more than 40 — as a fan of the sport. I store those recollections in a small compartment of my mind until the start of each season. And then, on some February morning, I open my eyes and the floodgates open, the light streams in. It’s all there for me to experience: the powdery feel of the gum in a new pack of baseball cards; warm spring breezes that smell like lilacs; Bob Sheppard’s voice reverberating in my head (for some reason, he’s always announcing Don Mattingly’s name in these memories); the sound of the television in my parents’ backyard echoing the call of a game into the neighborhood; the slow-motion cadence of the game itself, signifying the laid back nights of summer.
The arrival of baseball season brings hope along with it.
It’s a long season. Anything can happen. At least that’s what you tell yourself when your team starts off slowly. April. May. June. Still so much time to enjoy the embrace of warm weather, hoping the respite from the snow and biting wind will never end. Baseball means freedom from winter’s doldrums. It means summer vacation and the promise of picnics in the park and lazy days at the beach. It means renewal and optimism and a sense that anything is possible again.
It’s only February.
Surely, there will be snow and ice and early sunsets and the drudgery of sloshing through the rest of winter, but the mind works in mysterious ways. “Pitchers and catchers report” signals that the fog of winter will soon disperse, and the crack of the bat won’t be far behind. Soon I will hear my father’s taunts about the Yankees, and I’ll retort with good-natured jabs about the Mets. I’m ready. I’m ready for box scores and hot dogs and peanuts and Cracker Jacks. I’m ready for the injuries and the heartbreaks, the deepest lows and the incredible, soaring highs — the victories pulled out of defeats, the sight of a home run sailing into the summer sky, the shimmering lights of October, casting their glow through so many long nights.
Pitchers and catchers have arrived, and hope feels eternal. Spring feels like it’s already here.