The sun hangs above the horizon just a little longer these days. It hangs suspended by our hopes of longer days and summer catch in the evening light. As if fighting against an ever-tightening string, the sun pushes toward the night, but the impending months of summer hold it back more and more. For all the rest of the northern hemisphere, it’s winter. For the tight-knit community of baseball lovers, it is officially spring.
Today marks the start of spring training for pitchers and catchers in the Padres organization. For the eager few position players looking to get a jump start on those vying for their spots, the upcoming week of early spring ball may provide them the needed edge to win a chance with the big league club. The baseball season starts today, it starts in the warmth of the Arizona sun. For the players who make their homes beneath piles of snow, slush, and cold, the rays that beat down on the Peoria Sports Complex melt away the long months of the baseball offseason. For some, the winter leagues provided a distraction and a chance to keep their skills sharp. For others, today marks a new beginning. Whether it be a return after injury, a shot at something new, or one final chance at making it big, the start of spring training is something special. Of course, it’s special to the fans as well.
For boys eager to catch their heroes in action, spring games provide a memorabilia extravaganza. The Cactus League retreats offer days of bonding, cheering, exploring, and exhilaration. It wasn’t long ago that I was just a boy splitting time between Tucson and San Diego. My first taste of spring training came in the form of a father-son trip to Peoria. Sharing a hotel room, bad food, and the occasional bad joke, we embarked on a journey that forever planted me in the world of baseball fandom.
The position players had reported for duty, all seven fields of the Peoria Sports Complex were in use. In the cages, I caught a glimpse of Tony Gwynn taking swings off a tee. I saw Trevor Hoffman playing long-toss. I saw players like Wally Joyner and Steve Finley long before I knew who they were. 15 years ago, I didn’t care about things like who autographed what ball or hat or glove. All I cared about was getting as many signatures as I could. And I did. Now, as an adult, I struggle to find Trevor Hoffman’s autograph mixed in on a ball including about 12 other signatures. But the memories never fade.
Beyond the players, those heroes always just beyond reach when watching the games who were now close enough to touch, spring training was a time for fathers and sons or daughters to bond over simple things. Hot dogs and ice cream so overpriced you may think you’ve been robbed were the delicacies shared in the moments that seemed so simple, but were truly so complex. Not long removed from a mother and father divorced, these spring training moments were the perfect father-son bonding moments, the perfect medicine, the perfect cure proving that all could be right in the world again. As simple as a stroll through the complex and a conversation about baseball history that time erased any of the pain, any of the sadness felt after the divorce. The moments were not plentiful at that time, but they were strong. They were capitalized. That’s what fathers do. They make sure these moments they have with their children are lived to the fullest. Spring ball made that possible.
I’m sure for most out there, the stories have different variations. Yet, the meaning is the same. The start of spring training brings about something more than baseball. It brings about a chance. For each person that chance is for something different. However, the fleeting moments of spring training, those games in which the score mattered less than the experience, gave rise to something more. And once again the cycle continues today with the start of spring training for the Padres.
Whether it be a game, a week, the entire spring, or whatever you choose, there is nothing more special than the start of baseball. It’s a time in which the rigors of work fade away, a time in which focus slowly shifts from college basketball and the NBA to baseball, a time in which Baseball Tonight reminds of of the sport we love so much, and a time in which fathers are given a chance to connect to their children in a way not replicable anywhere else in life.
Now, 15 years after I discovered baseball with my father (rather late in life I’ll add), I’ll be taking my son to spring training baseball. His first experience will not be one he will remember, but I will. I will remember a tradition that started when baseball became America’s Pastime. I will remember a tradition of baseball that can be shared by my father, myself, and my son one day. And it will have all began with the start of spring training this year. I, indeed, have spring fever.