Mom, Apple Pie and Baseball
One of the sure signs that winter’s icy-cold grip will soon give way to warmer temperatures and spring flowers is the opening of Baltimore Orioles’ spring training.
Although some of my best childhood memories growing up in Carroll County came from listening to Orioles baseball on WTTR radio in Westminster – I’m not a rabid sports fan. In my family that job is held firmly by my wife. The only occasions in which I have ever heard my otherwise mild-mannered quiet wife, the child of generations of pastors, raise her voice, is when she watches sports.
As a matter of fact, my renewed interest in following the Baltimore sports teams, golf or other more esoteric sporting events such as the Le Tour de France, is a result of the entertaining thrill of watching my wife watch sports.
So, as you may now understand, no winter snowbird hiatus in Florida is complete without the obligatory stopover at the Ed Smith Stadium and sports complex in Sarasota.
And you may already be aware, there is something affirming, if not wonderfully distracting about baseball, especially when you put the national pastime into the context of our nation continuing to strike out with a malingering economic malaise that has been prolonged and exacerbated by the faltering economic errors and parade of foul balls emanating from Washington.
Baseball has always been a favorite topic for many history buffs. It has everything to warm the keyboard of a writer including summertime, arcane statistics, intrigue, and colorful characters and events.
Over the years I have often noticed an uncanny interest in baseball by otherwise scholarly, if not downright bookish, historian friends – especially those preoccupied with American history and presidents…
Writing for the website, Presidential Baseball, Paul Manna and Jerry Goldman observe that “Presidents are frequently considered windows into the personalities and values of their times. The same could be said of baseball, which, despite recurring contract and labor disputes, greedy players and miserly owners, remains the nation's pastime.”
According to a Florida publication, Spring Training Online, “Spring training is almost as old as baseball itself. The best evidence points to spring training first taking place in 1870, when the Cincinnati Red Stockings and the Chicago White Stockings held organized baseball camps in New Orleans. Other baseball historians argue that the Washington Capitals of the National League pioneered spring training in 1888, holding a four-day camp in Jacksonville.”
The Florida Grapefruit League Association says: “In Central Florida the tradition began in October 1908 with a single exhibition game between the Cincinnati Reds and the semi-pro St. Petersburg Saints, and resumed in February 1913, when the Chicago Cubs arrived in Tampa for the region's first spring training.”
On Sunday, February 13, the Oriole pitchers and catchers reported to the annual two-month spring training ritual called the Florida Grapefruit League. They arrived at the Ed Smith Stadium Complex the day before the first workout in Sarasota on February 14.
Of course, nothing beats Florida’s weather in the middle of winter, but it warms a businessman’s heart to actually witness a state collectively welcome and encourage business and enterprise.
According to various media reports, over 1.5 million visitors come to Florida to watch spring training.
A recent article in the Sarasota Herald-Tribune, headlined “Orioles' fans flee cold for dose of spring training,” Kevin McQuaid wrote: “…tourism officials have been targeting the Baltimore-Washington area with special marketing and promotions aimed at drumming up interest.”
Meanwhile the 7,500-seat Ed Smith Stadium is in the final stages of a $30 million renovation. A swarm of workers were witnessed working fast and furiously last week putting the finishing touches on the grounds and stadium in anticipation of the first of 16 spring training games at the beautifully renovated stadium on March 1 against the Tampa Bay Rays.
Last Thursday, my wife and I scored a couple of extra base hits as we shared a play-by-play broadcast on the cellphone with friends and family in the frozen north as we entered Ed Smith Stadium.
We enjoyed temperatures in the 80s and were greeted by a slight southern breeze that swayed palm trees in a welcoming gesture as we casually strolled into the stadium.
Local Oriole fans are certainly hopeful for a better year this season, especially after how well the new manager, Buck Showalter, performed at the end of last year. After 13 consecutive losing seasons, things can only go up for the Birds.
If you will recall “Showalter took over an Orioles team last August that was flirting with historical ineptitude and guided it to a 34-23 record, a turnaround nearly as shocking as the first four months were demoralizing…,” according to an article by Baltimore Sun writer, Jeff Zrebiec.
The phrase ‘hope springs eternal’ was found in multiple news and opinion pieces about spring training – and the prospects for 2011.
Words like optimism and hope are certainly not over-used in the rest of the media these days, especially in the context of the worry and concern as to just what our august legislators will do to us next in the Maryland General Assembly, political turmoil in the Middle East and two seemingly endless wars.
For those who simply hate winter, the crack of a bat is a welcome relief just about the time you worry that you are going to ‘crack-up’ at the prospect of fighting the vagaries and wanton cruelty of yet another snowstorm.
Forget about turning lemons into lemonade, perhaps the greatest contribution of the game of baseball is the way it turns snowballs into grapefruits and baseballs at a time of the year when everything seems frozen in hopelessness.
“Let’s play ball…”