If you’re a baseball fan, Spring Training is one of the grand times of the year, maybe even the grandest. Hope grows in the warm Florida (or Arizona) sun and it becomes easy to construct scenarios by which even your bad team might just pull off a miracle. After all, you just boarded a jet that had been sitting on a frosty runway and two hours later you land in bright warm (or at least warmer) sunshine. That is a miracle to me, so I’m primed to conjure another one by the time I arrive at the ballpark.
Ah, the Spring Training ballpark: Small, intimate, minor-league affairs which means the players are that much closer and that much more accessible. There is a comradery in the stands born of the recognition that if you’re at a Spring Training game, then you are a true believer in the Magic of Baseball. Wins and losses don’t matter and so, we can all sit back together and just enjoy the game without the anxiety of counting how many games out of first place our team will be when we lose.
We recently attended a game in Lakeland, the long-time home of the Detroit Tigers on our recent trip to Florida. We ran into a young couple in Tigers’ gear who commented on our Orioles gear. It turns out that Camden Yards is their favorite major league ballpark and so, they named one of their children Camden. True believers, indeed.
Some 4,000 of us gathered together to see the Tigers play the Houston Astros. Houston brought many of their starters, each of whom was booed lustily. Two female Tiger fans sported shirts that read, Steal bases, not signs in an obvious reference to the Astros cheating scandal.
Besides those Tiger fans and Houston fans, we saw folks sporting jerseys, hats, or t-shirts representing the Cubs, Phillies, Yankees, Indians, Royals, Reds, Pirates, Giants, Rangers, Rays, Dodgers, Braves, Brewers, Red Sox, Cardinals, Twins, and Nationals. We were sporting our Oriole shirts and hats, of course, which meant that 20 out of the 30 major league teams were represented in the stands. Oh, and the minor league Toledo Mud Hens and Fayetteville Woodpeckers each had at least one fan in attendance as well. This plethora of rooting interests is a perfect example of Spring Training comradery.
There was a rather large contingent of Astros fans who had made their way to Lakeland from West Palm Beach, including a pair of older ladies who styled themselves the “Play ball Bunnies,” and were decked out head to toe—quite literally—in Astros gear. Cheaters or not, the Astros are their team, and they love ‘em no matter what. Kind of a hate the sin, but love the sinner proposition.
I’ve been to two different World Series and those games are thrilling, but they are the final salute to a summer past. I think I actually prefer Spring Training games and the hope of the summer to come.