Baseball's spring training -- which starts Thursday, with pitchers and catchers officially reporting -- stands unique in the world of sports. Unlike, say, football, basketball, hockey, soccer, or team jai alai, fans actually enjoy the preseason, and in many cases, as much (if not more) than the regular season itself.
A part of baseball lore, the common descriptors of spring training ambiance are as old as the game itself. The smell of the grass. The cracks of the bats. The sight of pitchers and catchers reporting for duty like kindergartners on their first day of school. No, really, they even have backpacks.
But what about all the other things that spring training brings us that no one ever talks about? The now yearly reminder of time's unrelenting march that washes over you as yet another 20-year-old flamethrower mows down the side in an intrasquad scrimmage. Or the joy that comes from watching grown men get paid to adjust themselves while wearing the ugliest uniforms in the history of organized sport every single year.
And how could anyone want to forget about watching your fantasy baseball team -- and accompanying investment -- be set on fire before the season even starts because humans are just fragile bone bags who shouldn't be running into walls or, presumably, throwing overhand so hard?
There are just so many terrible things that can happen when bodies are pushed to their physical limits while playing a child's game. And even where the weather can help you keep limber, awful things seem to happen every year to at least one future world beater or post-prime-prime veteran looking to help lead his team to that season's inevitable World Series championship (while he cheers them on from the clubhouse). This doesn't even take into account the level to which arm injuries have entered the same emotional space for baseball fans as concussions do for their football counterparts, as every one watching lives in constant fear of a single pitch shifting the course of a kid's entire career without warning.
And seriously, that mesh on those uniforms. It's so so so so bad
Yet we love it -- meaning spring training, not those awful vented hats -- so. There's relatively little complaining about, say, the rate of injuries in spring training, and there's minimal mention of shortening it. Why? It's not just that we're idiots -- though we are, for different reasons -- but are we gluttons for punishment?
I mean, yes, of course, we're baseball fans. We're basically masochists with box scores. But there's something else, and it's not hope. It's promise.
Hope can be dangerous. It deprives us of agency and meshes poorly with the nuances of reality. Promise is potential, but it's also inherently more secure than hope. It goes beyond the parts of belief where hope resides, pushing past faith to sit on the border of analysis and conjecture.
It's the promise that, for at least this next month and a half, the Red Sox do have one of the best farm systems in baseball. And they can finish with at least the wild card. That it's entirely possible, and altogether probable, that this is the year that David Price should stop losing control of his left arm during the postseason.
Promise gives us, for the lack of a better term as it relates to obsessing over children's games, control. It allows us to dictate -- at least on some level -- the level of engagement we'll have and how far we are willing to care. And in a sport that require so much out of its fans, a nigh-daily commitment really only rivaled by family members and the best of friends, that's crucial.
We lose much of the promise, and thereby the control, when the season starts. When the games begin to count, as we begin to hurtle towards October, the variances of life and the whims of the Baseball Gods dictate much of what happens to us going forward.
But like having children in your home as a parent -- an aside: I also assume there's also equal amount of self-inflicted crotch grabbing, loogy spitting, and meaningless fights in child rearing as there is in baseball -- spring training provides a sanctuary for us to not have to worry about our baseball teams. Without the pressure of "the real world", we can watch over those 20-year-old flamethrowers in their ugly jerseys and not worry about inevitable Tommy John surgery. We can avoid those awkward conversations over what to do with an aging star heading towards the end of their contract, just for a few days in sunny Florida.
We're allowed to be baseball fans during this time, and not all of the other roles that come attached to being a baseball fan. We're not secretaries or scorekeepers, stock analysts or injury experts: just fans.
And that's not a bad place to be, no matter what time of year.