Everything old is new again: The hope of Spring Training

I never liked American Idol, but I learned to love seeing the first commercials for the upcoming season.

You see, American Idol would start in January, along with the NFL playoffs, so we’d slog with horrible auditions, mediocre football and, after that, the four best words any seamhead can long for in the dead of winter:

Pitchers and catchers report.

It’s not about an eyerolling Simon Cowell, the walking wounded bashing in each others’ brains while we help ourselves to another beer and some more chips and guac only to be underwhelmed by $5 million 30 second ads we’ll forget by the Tuesday after. It’s about brilliant green grass (the grass is always that much greener when you can’t see it in February), sunshine, cacti and grapefruit and the hope that, eventually, these damned Wisconsin snowbanks will give way once again to curbs and budding trees.

Spring is coming. Baseball is coming. In no particular order.

The crack of the bat. The din of the more-intimate Spring Training crowd. Bob Uecker on the radio: AM, preferably; baseball always sounds better with a *hint* of static, like listening in on the past. That’s what baseball is: an annual rite of passage, linking generations of fans, letting the play-by-play paint the picture in your mind while you tend to a grill full of your preferred meats and/or a cold beverage.

Better yet, it’s making the trip to the ballpark, the smell of freshly-cut grass, joining thousands of others in pilgrimage. Hardball hajj, if you will.

My children are all not yet of school age, so they haven’t been to a game yet. They’ve been to Miller Park; part of our seasonal rite is to go to the Pro Shop the final week of Spring Training and feel the anticipation. Yes, even buildings can feel. This year, I’ve picked up my girls’ first ball gloves. They’re pink-trimmed, and I can’t wait to play catch with them. And they’ll learn to throw like girls.

Football is polarizing for its violence; its quasi-abuse of its labor. Basketball is still polarized for social and cultural reasons (with which reasonable people can and should disagree, to be sure.) Hockey decimated itself with labor strife and it still remains a niche sport with fervid, yet niche, fans. In contrast, one finds passionate baseball fans in all walks of American life: scientists, academics, actors, musicians of all kinds, politicians, from the city to the country to all parts of social strata, one can connect with another baseball fan and everything else becomes window dressing.

My wife is from central Missouri and comes from a family of sun tea-steeped Cardinals fans. We arrived at her grandmother’s house in late summer 2011, I in a Brewers shirt, and immediately got booed. By the whole family. Then, and only then, was I given the warm welcome for which Southerners are well-known. Her cousin and I sat on a couch last season flipping between games. With a son leaned into me fast asleep, we talked ball deep into the night, gawked at highlights and watched the Houston Astros make the leap toward contention. The Brewers-Cardinals rivalry faded to the background because the game mattered more. We’re hoping to do a home-and-home series between Busch Stadium and Miller Park.

He’ll have my back in St. Louis; I’ll have his in Milwaukee. Barbecue and bratwurst and baseball. Always baseball.

Baseball has that ability to bridge the divide. If I can talk about the game with an intelligent, passionate fan, the rest just doesn’t matter.

Of course, everything that makes baseball great happens in the summer and fall, but it starts with spring, the reward for four months’ patience being another month and a half of anticipation: the start is but a start. And Spring Training is the start to one of the best sports stretches of the year: after Spring Training starts, we have March Madness, the NBA and NHL ramp up toward their postseasons, then, The Masters and the NFL Draft.

After a long winter of particular discontent, it’s about time we started to look ahead to the good things.

Baseball is back. Let’s go.

Brent Sirvio is a co-founder of Bronx to Bushville.

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