Posted by: Mike Cornelius | February 16, 2017

A Suddenly Hard Winter Meets Its Match

This winter was slow to get started in New England, but now that the calendar has turned to February Mother Nature seems intent on making up for lost time. A sizable snow storm late last week brought Boston to a halt while leaving points further north covered under lesser but still significant amounts of fluffy white powder. Scarcely more than seventy-two hours later another low pressure system reversed the onslaught, dropping a good amount of snow in the southern part of the region before attacking New Hampshire and Maine Sunday night with blizzard conditions and accumulations in excess of a foot. Municipal crews in big cities and small towns alike raced to clean up streets and sidewalks before yet another storm moved in late on Wednesday.

So now the landscape has gone white, and the sky above on most days is an unremitting gray. Between them in the distance are bare trees, shorn of their foliage so that they become little more than a brownish smudge on the horizon. Deep winter north of the 42nd parallel is a monochromatic season, devoid of both color and life. Short, cold days give way to frozen nights, a bone-chilling wind the common element in both.

Yet trapped as we are in the season’s icy grip, this week brings the certain knowledge that it will not last. It is fourteen hundred miles or more from northern New England to central and southern Florida; nearly twice that from here to the Sonoran Desert. It was in those distant and far more temperate climes that the annual moment of renewal arrived this week, sparking hope in the hearts of fans everywhere.

Equipment trucks completed their journeys from thirty home stadiums to the twenty-three minor league parks that serve as Spring Training homes. Thirteen are scattered up and down the two coasts of Florida, while ten more are grouped in proximity to one another in the Valley of the Sun. Five facilities in Arizona and two in Florida, including the newly opened Ballpark of the Palm Beaches, do double duty, hosting two teams each for the next seven weeks. Right behind the moving vans loaded with everything from bats and balls to uniforms and even packages of bubble gum and sunflower seeds came the appointed day for the first players to arrive. Moundsmen and their battery mates led the way as always, with position players filing in shortly thereafter.

By the end of next week initial workouts and inter-squad games will give way to the first Spring Training contests. Next Friday afternoon the Red Sox host the Mets in Fort Myers, the Orioles visit the Tigers in Lakeland, and the Phillies make the short trip from Clearwater to Tampa to play the Yankees, all scheduled to start at 1:05 p.m. Fans in the stands for those games early in the schedule will see many unknown faces wearing unfamiliar numbers, as the prospects who comprise the future of each franchise are given a chance show their stuff. Eventually, as February gives way to March and Opening Day begins to draw near, the lineups will become increasingly set. Most of the hopefuls will be reassigned to minor league camp, but here and there a few young men will play their way onto a big league roster.

The first predictions of the pundits are already starting to grace the sports pages. Some still do it the old-fashioned way, mixing personal observation, experience and guesswork. Increasingly though, weight is given to the high-powered computer algorithms that run thousands of simulations of each team’s schedule to produce a projection of wins and losses. Whatever the method, the question of the moment is, can the Cubs repeat? Many like their chances, though no team has won back-to-back World Series since the three-peat Yankees of 1998-2000. The early consensus has the Dodgers and Nationals challenging Chicago in the National League, with perhaps the Giants and Mets having something to say about the outcome.

In the junior circuit most see the Red Sox, a team that will send three legitimate Cy Young candidates to the mound on successive days, as the class of the East. Cleveland, the team that came ever so close to continuing the Cubs’ century-plus of misery last fall, is thought to be a large step ahead of the rest of the Central Division; while opinions are divided between the Astros, Rangers and Mariners as to which squad is the class of the West.

But here in the early days the only thing even the experts truly know is that they don’t know. The longest season awaits. Two thousand four hundred and thirty games played over half the calendar, from the cool days of spring through the heat of summer to the chill of another autumn. Along the way there will be breakout performances and disappointing slumps, untimely injuries and bounce back years, veterans who will show they stayed a year too long and phenoms who announce their arrival with a flourish.

In the end of course, only one team and its fans can claim the ultimate prize of another season of baseball. One other franchise will be there until the final out of the final game. All the rest will fall by the wayside earlier; some will be done by the All-Star break. But all of that lies ahead and despite this spring’s predictions, whether the product of shrewdness or software, there will be surprises.

It is that promise of uncertainty that allows fans of every team to feel their heartbeat quicken this week. It is that knowledge that the slow unraveling of the longest season awaits that allows each of the faithful to imagine the glorious possibilities.

The Great Game returns. The familiar edict reassures us that the snow will melt, revealing chalky white foul lines, a verdant green outfield and the rich brown dirt of the base paths. In Florida and Arizona the players gather, summoned as always by the initial imperative that heralds the start of every new season and rekindles hope all across the land – pitchers and catchers report!

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Responses

  1. A very well-written story, Mike. I am looking forward to news about something other than D.C. in the coming weeks.
    Ω

    • Thanks Allan, and yes I agree. Any distraction from all that nonsense will be most welcome.

      M-

      http://www.onsportsandlife.com

      Michael Cornelius
      603.498.5527


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