My entire life, I've lived in climates where winter was like that distant relative that always stayed a day (or seven) too long after Christmas. It's not that I dislike winter, necessarily. Snow is pretty, skiing is fun, and really, what is the holiday season without a little extra sparkle? But I can only take so much.
Especially when winter, in all it's bone-chilling glory, deprives me of baseball.
There is, however, something magical about a baseball stadium snuggled up under a blanket of snow. The stark contrast of the bright white glaze against the rust red bricks, the vacant seats almost shivering along with you as they rest, temporarily hidden from the blazing heat of the summer sun. There's a peculiar calm found in the eerie silence of a stadium in that state. It's as if, when you remove everything that fills that space with energy and noise each summer, you're left with only the faintest hint of nostalgia toward the past, and anticipation for the future. You can feel it. You can almost hear it, if you're quiet enough.
Baseball is coming.
But eventually, even everyone's favorite uncle can overstay his welcome.
Forgive me for waxing poetic as you're waiting for news about pitchers and catchers. I can't help it... baseball does this to me.
My baseball story is, in some ways just like everyone else's - I'm a fan because my dad was a fan, and his dad was a fan before that. I was a Cardinals fan before I even knew what that meant. But my love of the game wasn't instant. Not really, anyway. See, I grew up 1,300 miles from St. Louis, long before MLBtv or AtBat could provide constant contact with any team from anywhere. My access to the game was (as I mentioned earlier) limited by the uniquely winter climate of a mountain resort town. And my interest, at least initially, was somewhat superficial.
But you see, not all great love stories begin and end at first sight. Baseball and I took the more, shall we say, scenic route.
From the mountains to the midwest; from baseball as a foreign language to baseball as a right of passage. With time, proximity, and exposure to this addicting game, I realized what had been missing in my life.
Okay, okay. I'll stop with the hyperbole. But the point remains: I fell deeper and deeper in love with the sights, sounds, stories, and strategies of the game, seemingly every day through high school, college, and beyond.
In my first Busch Stadium experience, I watched an Albert Pujols homer destroy one of the letters in the Big Mac Land sign. (I also watched Todd Wellemeyer get the start, and hold his own. So, there's that.)
My first World Series viewing experience left me crushed in a way I'd never known possible. That 2004 team was JUST SO GOOD. How could they lose?!?
Then came 2006, and soon after, 2011. Those moments, shared with my dad whose own love of the game had inspired my own, still bring tears to my eyes and goosebumps to my entire body. Baseball will do that to a person, before they even realize what is happening. It's a feeling I wouldn't trade for the world.
And every year, "Pitchers and Catchers Report" reignites that spark once again.
The next few weeks mean very little, as far as how the regular season will play out. We'll see more names we DON'T recognize than names we do. Players will be in the "best shape of their lives," when they struggle at the plate it'll be because they're "working on stuff," and the first rounds of cuts won't surprise any of us. But it doesn't matter. Because in this case, absence really does make the heart grow fonder.
I miss baseball and the emotional contortionist I become in season. I always do.
So, early each year, when pitchers and catchers report to sunny Florida, while every midwestern ballpark is still hidden under a coat of snow, I think about that beautiful juxtaposition - the frigid air of winter, embedded with the blazing anticipation of spring - and it reminds me how hopelessly in love I am with this game.
Baseball is coming, friends.
And it's a reunion I feel like I've been waiting a lifetime for.