Stan Musial

Living Vicariously Through Spring Training

You step outside, onto your doorstep, and instantly a biting chill hits. The small amount of exposed flesh between toque and scarf takes the blow and tenses up. It is definitely below zero, most likely snowing — tearing tends to impede vision. There is snow. It is not only falling down from the clouds, but a thick layer blankets everything. Though Christmas is over and the new year is in full swing, winter feels like it will never end, its tight grasp stifling all living things.

You 180 and go back inside, the elements too much to handle this early in the day. The bus to work will probably be delayed anyway, so no need to rush. "When will this cold, dark nightmare ever end?" you think to yourself. You are frozen, almost literally, to the spot. On the counter at the end of the hallway, in the kitchen, is a small 2017 calendar which catches your eye as you stare off blankly. The calendar is baseball themed.

Baseball, summer’s game… Then it clicks: yes, baseball may be at its most glorious, sun-drenched peak in July and August, but each new season is born in winter. “Spring” Training has a deceivingly early February 23rd start date (March 20th officially marks the changing of the seasons). It is mid-February now, which means baseball, and therefore warm weather, is not far away!

These facts stir a strange feeling within: Joy, unabashed. But just as quickly as this happy sensation comes, another, distinctively melancholy, takes its place. Baseball gets going in late-winter, though for most northerly North Americans the year’s second and third months still bring cold and/or snowy weather. How cruel. Not only must we continue to trudge through slush, but do it while Major Leaguers stretch their limbs amongst the palms of Florida and cacti of Arizona.

Though it seems impossible, the key is to step away from jealous thinking and remember that spring training ball is now widely available. Back when the game’s earlier legends were migrating south, spring training was not an event. Big names like Stan Musial (pictured) would have been sought after only by the locals and just for a quick autograph. Now the Cactus and Grapefruit Leagues have hordes of devotees come down to escape the cold and cheer on their club’s exhibition play. And, sport being the media behemoth it now is, most games are shown live via cable or online streaming.

So, even if you can’t get away to Florida or Arizona, find a broadcast and live vicariously through it. Take in enough innings and you will start to feel that little bit warmer, as if the sun’s southern rays have breached the screen and entered your living room. You may become so absorbed by the tropical or desert scenery and the imaginary sensation of warmth that a rude shock hits when your eyes inevitably flit towards the window. Close the blinds if you must. Stay calm and focus on baseball.

Imagine you are there, in the stands, the condensation from a cold beer running onto your hand. The sun beats down upon your face, which is protected by a smattering of sunscreen. Or, maybe you are on the field, some new prospect showing off his skills. You dive into the channel between right and centre field, snatching the ball just as it is about to hit the ground. The crowd cheers a relaxed Spring Training cheer. The truly adventurous will not only find themselves in sunny clime, but back in time as well. In a coarse flannel uniform you practice fielding grounders while the odd swimsuit-clad beach-goer watches on their way home.

It takes some work and careful meditation to feel happy for, and not jealous of, baseball’s existence this early in the year. But find that happy place and spring training becomes a false, yet healthy shelter in which to hide from winter’s final days. Watch enough games and before you know it opening day and warm, pleasant weather will have truly become a reality. Then you can fling open the door and, after surveying the green, lush surroundings confidently, run out into the world. Winter, no matter how powerful it seems, is defeated eventually. Play ball.

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