North & South – What Spring Training Means to Us All

**this post was originally published over at Bless You Boys on March 19, 2015. I’m revisiting some of my older work as I start my book, and wanted to share this piece as we approach another spring training season**

This morning I scraped ice off my windshield and wondered if the geese had flown overhead last week just to mock me. I ruminated on winter boots and whether it was too early to pack up hats, gloves and parkas in exchange for lighter coats.

Meanwhile in Florida, Justin Verlander wore a t-shirt in his Instagram photos. Jose Altuve posted photos of himself in Miami wearing shorts. They don’t call them the Boys of Summer for nothing.

When Dan and Jim discuss how beautiful it is in Lakeland, I look out my window and see melting snow and streets coated with a thick layer of sand from the winter. I’m as excited about baseball as everyone else, but it feels like a distant, foreign place. Jupiter, FL might as well be the real planet.

Therein lies the beauty of spring training, though. It’s like the process of slowly waking from a dream. We won’t remember the win-loss record by next month (though we might remember this as the beginning of the end of Joe Nathan with the Tigers). We, the northern fans, are emerging from our winter shells and hesitantly realizing that winter is really over. Spring training marks that season change for a baseball fan. We watch the games (the few they air) and listen to the radio broadcasts with a mild interest, but really we’re only paying attention because training games are better than no games.

What we fail to realize most of the time, is that these games are our own form of training, our version of a warm up to the season. After months without baseball, our team has changed. Gone are beloved pitchers and outfielders; benched are our powerhouse duo, struggling to get well before the first day. We see rosters where half the names might as well be question marks. These games don’t matter. That’s the mantra of spring training. It’s a chance for prospects to move from Double-A to Triple-A, perhaps get themselves noticed for a mid-season call up. For the first string elite, they’re shaking off the dust of winter and preparing for when it will really count.

What does that mean for us, the fans? We are being given a chance to acclimatize. We’re learning about the James McCanns and Steven Moyas who we’ll likely see more of throughout 2015. This isn’t about winning and losing. It’s about remembering why we loved Jose Iglesias, and seeing what Greene and Simon can deliver. We’re still mourning Porcello and Scherzer, but this is the time for moving on, feeling the fresh grass beneath our toes as the new line-up takes to the mound and we learn about eephus pitches and observe new stances.

Spring training, in years past, was a time for Rod and Mario to practice saying “Tuiasosopo”, and we, too, let it tangle on our lips like a Hawaiian tongue twister. Spring has been when our sure-things become big what-ifs thanks to injuries. It’s a beautiful, brutal, uncertain time.

So when you hear someone say, “Spring training doesn’t matter” you can smile and nod politely, but you’ll know better.

Spring training is the fans’ time to come back to life. It’s our chance to become experts again. And in April, when the outfield has been planted and groomed, and the boys have brought their t-shirts and shorts back North, we’ll be ready. Because we woke up. We watched and listened, and collectively we shook off winter to welcome spring in with open arms.

Ignore the snow. Disregard the temperature. In our hearts and souls we’re all down South this month.

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