To a baseball fan, the sweetest five words in sports might be ‘ pitchers and catchers have reported,’ because it signals the start of another glorious season of Major League Baseball.
Yes, it’s already Spring Training for 30 big league ball clubs, and whether you’re following Cactus League play in Arizona or the Grapefruit circuit in Florida, it’s only a matter of time before you’re having a dog and a drink and root root rooting for the home team. It’s a time when careers are launched, underdogs can become champions and, for fans on both sides of the border, hope definitely springs eternal. However, this season, like every season, there will be only be one winner and 29 also-rans, which perhaps is a harsh way of putting it but, really, does anybody remember who came second?
Gazing into the crystal curve ball, what will the 2016 MLB season bring? For one thing, we’ll be saying goodbye to one of the game’s biggest hitters and even bigger personalities, as David Ortiz, Big Papi to you and me, will take one final lap before retiring at season’s end. Wade Boggs (#26 Boston), Pete Rose (# 14 Cincinnati), Mike Piazza (#31 NY Mets) and Ken Griffey Jr. (#24 Seattle) will all have their uniforms retired, befitting the status of a trio of Baseball Hall Of Famers and a fourth that should be. (Pete Rose’s 4256 hits are the most of all time, but he still has to buy a ticket to get into the HOF). The Atlanta Braves will say goodbye to Turner Field while the Chicago Cubs celebrate their 100th Anniversary playing at Wrigley, where they last won the World Series in 1908. Can this be the year, Cubbie fans? Hold on to your hats.
The great thing about dissecting a baseball season isn’t what you know, it’s what you don’t know that spawns all the water cooler arguments. Like will the Kansas City Royals and New York Mets keep the momentum going and make it all the way back to the World Series, and can KC kick-start the dynasty talk by winning again? Has time caught up to Miggy Cabrera, or can the Tigers slugger win yet another batting crown, or even triple crown? Will Washington’s Bryce Harper continue to just get better and better and chase down a triple crown of his own? Does David Price in the American League outduel Zack Greinke in the National League in a head-to-head statistical battle of free agent hurlers? And for fans in Canada, will the Toronto Blue Jays return to post-season play under the guidance of a new management regime? Questions, questions, questions, and we’ll only find the answers somewhere between the chalked white lines during the upcoming 162 game schedule.
No other sport treats pre-season with the reverence and passion of Major League Baseball. For all fans, not just those in Florida and Arizona, Spring Training is both a rite and a right; as much a part of the necessary MLB ritual as tobacco stains and pine tar.
Spring Training means that there’s a chance! A chance that the kid you’ve been watching in the minors will somehow crack the roster. A chance that a pitcher will win 20, a speedster will swipe 40, a slugger will hit 60. A chance that your team will finally go all the way. At this time of year, there’s always a chance, isn’t there?
As the man says, “Let’s Play Ball.”