Posted by: Mike Cornelius | February 13, 2014

At The Beginning, The Beginning Of An Ending

Here in New England, life remains locked in the dread grip of an unusually hard and harsh winter. It began in mid-December with two significant storms before the calendar even turned officially to the dead season. Those were followed by recurrent snow and, but for a week-long thaw in mid-January, bitter and biting cold; a cold that penetrates even the multiple layers of clothing, the ski caps and wool scarves and oversize gloves that pass for style during a northern winter. As these words are written, yet another Nor’easter is busy adding to the snowfall totals. This current storm turned the just completed drive home from work, normally a 45 minute run mostly up the four broad lanes of I-95, into a two-hour long white-knuckle thrill ride. And the calendar displays the immutable truth that forty percent of winter has yet to unfold.

Yet that same calendar reassures us that this impossibly hard season will end, to be replaced by something more than just springtime’s flowers. Against Mother Nature’s annual onslaught of cold and ice this magic mid-February date shines with the brilliance of a light in dark places. For the grand moment of renewal has arrived, the moment that sparks a brilliant new flame in the heart of every true fan. At more than a dozen Grapefruit League sites all across Florida the players are gathering; as they are at the ten Cactus League complexes that tightly circumscribe Phoenix. Out there in the Sonoran desert the Diamondbacks have already begun full squad workouts, and the Dodgers follow suit on Friday; for those two teams will begin the regular season more than a week ahead of all other franchises, with a two-game set at the Sydney Cricket Ground.

The MLB season officially opens in the southern hemisphere for the first time ever with a Saturday night game on March 22nd followed by a Sunday afternoon tilt on the 23rd. Or at least that is how the schedule appears in Australia. Because of the time difference the games will look like a split admission twin bill on that Saturday for fans following the two teams in L.A. or Phoenix; with the first pitch in game one slated for 1 a.m. and the nightcap scheduled to start at 7 p.m. local time.

Hopes are high among fans of both teams. Last year, after an injury-riddled spring that saw them sink to eleven games under .500 in late June, the Dodgers stormed through the remainder of their schedule. They were crowned NL West champions on September 19th, the earliest clinching date in franchise history. L.A. then dispatched Atlanta in the Division Series before falling to St. Louis in six games in the NLCS. Now the team hopes to replicate its great success with Yasiel Puig by signing another Cuban defector, infielder Alexander Guerrero. The Dodgers also made additions to an already strong starting rotation and added more depth to the bullpen. With a record contract extension for two-time Cy Young Award winner Clayton Kershaw and three years of job security for manager Don Mattingly, the Dodgers and their fans believe they have everything in place for a run deep into October.

While Arizona managed just a .500 record last year, that was good enough for a runner-up spot in the division behind Los Angeles. Now three years removed from a spot in the postseason, owner Ken Kendrick believes the D-backs are ready to once again be a competitive force. He points to the fact that the team has finally paid off more than $250 million in deferred salary deals owed to players from the World Series winning club of 2001. As a sign of his new financial freedom, Kendrick’s 2014 franchise will have its highest payroll in club history. Arizona strived mightily to win the services of Japan’s Masahiro Tanaka, and while in the end Kendrick’s offer couldn’t compete with that of Hal Steinbrenner and the Yankees, the effort proved he is willing to open his checkbook to improve his team. After coming up short in the Tanaka sweepstakes, the Diamondbacks inked veteran innings-eater Bronson Arroyo to a two-year deal. So there is optimism among Arizona fans as well.

But then hope bubbles over in all thirty home cities, as the players assemble in Florida and Arizona and the work of preparing for a new season gets underway. Unbridled hope is what this grand day on the calendar is all about. In the end of course, many of those hopes will be dashed. But the magic of the Great Game, with its deliberate unfolding over the longest season, from chilly beginnings in earliest spring through the heat of high summer and on into brisk autumn evenings, is that anything is possible. Neither money nor the big markets that most often make it available ensure championships. Seeming sure things often disappoint, and every season yields unexpected surprises.

One need only look to last season to know that this campaign will be no different. Puig fueled the Dodgers’ rise from mediocrity last summer; but on Opening Day he was playing for the AA Chattanooga Lookouts. On February’s grand day in 2013, the Washington Nationals assembled in Viera, Florida with a rallying cry of “World Series or bust.” Against that absurdly high standard last season must be considered a bust, for the Nats failed to make the postseason, finishing a distant second to Atlanta in the NL East and four games back of Cincinnati for the second Wild Card slot. Meanwhile on Florida’s other coast the Red Sox gathered with more modest hopes. Boston was coming off a late season collapse in 2011 and a disastrous 2012, when the ill-conceived decision to entrust Bobby Valentine with the managerial job led to a 93-loss season. But when all the outs of the longest season had finally been recorded, the Red Sox paraded in duckboats through the streets of Boston.

We cannot know which sure hopes will be dashed this year, and which seemingly silly ones will be realized. We can only know that both will happen. And now, even as the moment of renewal arrives, all fans of the Great Game but especially those of us whose home park is in the Bronx are suddenly reminded that nothing lasts forever. There will be plenty of time, over the weeks of preparation, 162 regular season games, and hopefully beyond into October, to consider the career of our captain. In the annual moment of hope and renewal, this much is sufficient. He grew up dreaming of playing shortstop for the Yankees. That is what he has done, and he has always done it with a smile that told anyone watching that he fully realized just how lucky he was to be living his dream. Through five championships (and counting), and 3,316 hits (and counting), he has been a Yankee that even Yankee-haters couldn’t hate.

The flame of hope sparks anew for every fan of every franchise. Under the deep snow just out the window there is green grass, and brown dirt, and a pure white line of chalk. The Great Game returns. Pitchers and catchers, and for one last time Derek Jeter, report.

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Responses

  1. Really nice. And I couldn’t agree more-in this house we are unanimous that the Captain embodies the best that is baseball.

    • Thanks! With the last of the Core Four about to depart, and with Cano having decamped for the West Coast, I’m not sure who becomes the face of the franchise come next season. Of course as a Red Sox fan I’m sure you won’t mind if there isn’t one! Thanks again,

      Mike

      http://www.onsportsandlife.com


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