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The Spring Training Doldrums

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SARASOTA, FL - MARCH 05:  The Boston Red Sox stretch just before the start of the Grapefruit League Spring Training Game against the Baltimore Orioles at Ed Smith Stadium on March 5, 2011 in Sarasota, Florida.  (Photo by J. Meric/Getty Images)
SARASOTA, FL - MARCH 05: The Boston Red Sox stretch just before the start of the Grapefruit League Spring Training Game against the Baltimore Orioles at Ed Smith Stadium on March 5, 2011 in Sarasota, Florida. (Photo by J. Meric/Getty Images)
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I make the same mistake every year.

Sometime in January, after the post holiday season funk has lifted, I start counting days. "Baseball is returning," I tell myself, "it's almost back." This year it was January 17. I remember this because it was in O'Hare airport, during a particularly difficult return trip to Madison that I decided to make a mark on my calendar for February 14--the day pitchers and catchers would report to camp.

"Four weeks to go!" I told myself.

Cut ahead to the second week in March, and I am, once again, smack dab in the middle of the spring training doldrums.

There's something crushingly soulless about spring training baseball. It's not just that it doesn't matter in the standings, but that it doesn't really seem to matter at all. At least not for the Red Sox. For the most part, our roster is set. Those positions that we would hope are variable, in all likelihood, will not be decided by spring training. The individual performances, while nice enough to follow, rarely seem to have too much of an impact on regular season performances. And God knows we can only make so many jokes about the importance of the Mayor's Cup.

It's not just us, though. There's an all-pervading sense of casualness to be found in the players and coaches. Stars skip out on road games to avoid bus rides. Managers leave struggling pitchers in regardless of the situation of the game. And said pitchers throw whatever they need to work on instead of whatever will get them outs. Somehow, even the performances of the minor leaguers, who are many of them getting their first chances to showcase themselves to the general fanbase, do not seem to carry the weight of those they put up in everyday mid-season games.

There are thrills, to be sure. Pitchers and Catchers Day is somewhat diminished thanks to the steady arrival of players ahead of the date, but listening to that first radio broadcast is refreshing and even, somehow, comfortable. I wouldn't miss that for the world. Same with the first television broadcast, listening to Don and Remy we get our first looks at this year's team. Today, too, was one of those days. Two gray envelopes showed up in my mailbox, with my first tickets of the season. For a moment, I can look ahead to (hopefully) cool summer nights in Fenway.

But then I'm back in March. Spring is technically still two weeks away, there's snow on the ground outside, and the news isn't about standings or trades, but simulated games and batting practice in some faraway Florida park.

It's probably not good business to knock the only product I have to sell, as it were, for the rest of the month. But if you're like me--an addict--seeing all this here won't make a difference. Being stuck in the doldrums won't make a difference. Sure enough, you'll be watching, listening to, or tracking a game, be it by television, radio, computer, or phone. We just can't stop.

Three weeks to go.