The sweetest words a baseball fan can hear in the dead of a seemingly endless winter are the words…
“Pitchers and Catchers.”
“Pitchers and Catchers” means the opening of baseball training camp – pitchers and catchers being the first to arrive. That’s the literal interpretation. To me, the phrase has a deeper and greater significance.
“Pitchers and Catchers” means the beginning of baseball.
The beginning of baseball means spring.
I grew up in a very cold place with punishingly long winters. If you didn’t like skating or sledding, or just going outside, your only option had to sit in your house…and wait. Of course, sometimes you had to go outside, like to go to school. For me, that was agony, the stinging snow whipping against my face, my glasses caked with ice. During blizzards, my friends and I would walk to school in pairs; we’d take thirty-second shifts, one of us walking forward to guide the way, while the other walked backwards, protected from the lacerating barrage.
Just thinking about winter, with its blistering winds and blinding sleet makes my toes curl up. Like right now. They’re curled right under. And they’re numb. Can you believe it? And I’m only thinking about it.
“Pitchers and Catchers” is the baseball equivalent of Groundhog’s Day, only unlike Groundhog’s Day, this one is definitely real. I don’t know scientifically that the groundhog’s appearance means there are six weeks left of winter. But I’m certain that five weeks to the day after “Pitchers and Catchers”, the baseball season will return.
And so will spring.
Baseball means the arrival of weather that’s your friend. And though I can’t prove this, I honestly believe baseball doesn’t just mean spring, baseball actually brings spring.
This really happened, I’m almost certain of it. Don’t bother looking it up, just trust me. In Toronto, where I grew up, we had a minor league baseball team until 1967, when it went out of business. Ten years later, in 1977, Toronto was awarded a Major League franchise. What I’m here to tell you, that, during those intervening ten years, the years when Toronto didn’t have a baseball team, spring actually came later. Like in June. I couldn’t believe it! The season came late! It was almost like spring itself was saying, “The place doesn’t have baseball. What’s the rush?”
The year baseball returned to Toronto? Right on time.
I don’t live in that cold place anymore, but I still have the memory. The minute I hear that the pitchers and catchers are reporting for spring training, a smile of contentment flashes across my face.
Suddenly, I’m ten years old again. And I’m putting away my long underwear.
You want to know how important spring is to people from cold places? My wife, who’s from Chicago, and I scheduled our wedding for March the twenty-first.
I delivered a different version of “Baseball Means Spring” as a commentary on NPR’s All Things Considered. I did half a dozen commentaries on that show. If you’d like to hear them, go to npr.org, click on All Things Considered, click on “Archives”, and type in my name. I’d sure like to do more commentaries somewhere. They were a lot of fun, and people seemed to like them.