Sunday, February 15, 2009

Pitchers and Catchers? Bah, humbug..

I heard a radio announcer excitedly declare the other day that pitchers and catchers were reporting south for spring training.

I didn't share his enthusiasm. Now, don't get me wrong -- I still love sports almost as much as I did when I was a kid growing up.

I love the pure athleticism of *the* Troy Polamalu interception this season (y'know, the one where he scooped the ball from an impossibly low height). I loved the Ben Rothliesberger quick kick against the Ravens (and the Matt Cassell kick against the Bills that I blogged about). I love the strategy that goes into the Lowell Devils' decision to yank their goalie when down 5-4 late in the 3rd, keep the goalie pulled even after giving up another goal, and then using their de facto power play to score two goals with less than 30 seconds left in regulation today against the Portland Pirates today at Tsongas.

But I'm also noticing that as more years go by, my perspective on what a Super Bowl or a World Series really means changes.

When I was seven years old, the Mets were playing the Dodgers in the NLCS. Growing up a Mets fan in northern New Jersey (remember, I'm a New Englander by conscious choice, though not by birthright), I thought this series to be among the most important things in the world at the time.

An older and wiser family friend counseled me pre-emptively (the Mets would go on to lose that Series to the eventual World Series champs) by telling me this: "The World Series really isn't that big of a deal. If it were, they wouldn't play it every year."

When I was seven, with two whole years' professional sports rooting under my belt, this made no sense to me.

Now, I'd like to go back to that guy and shake his hand. I finally get it.

Every year, someone will win the World Series. Al Michaels will call it a monumental, historical achievement. Champagne bottles will be sprayed around a locker room amidst cries of "We're the greatest," and "No one said we could do it."

And then players will retreat to their winter homes, a few months will go by, and then all of a sudden pitchers and catchers will be reporting while someone un-originally laments where all the time has gone and can-you-believe-it's-already-February? The Grapefruit and Cactus Leagues will come and go, and then will come Opening Day and equally un-original observations about can-you-believe-it's-already-April?

When I started watching sports, I didn't really know the difference between a 21 year-old and a 41 year-old. I just knew all the players (college and pro) were a lot bigger and older than I was. Then, when I came out of a four-year cocoon of non-sport-following, I realized that I was probably older than most collegiate athletes, and even some of the professional ones. Now, at 28, another important miletone has hit -- I'm now older than most of the guys playing all four of the major professional sports. By geographical accident of placement in the late 1990s and early 2000s, I even got to bump into a few before they were pros. A mystique which once existed -- and an importance placed on the playing field wins and losses of people who neither know me or care about me -- has faded with time.

I can still marvel at the great plays, I can still love the strategy of double steals, quick kicks, and pulled goals. I can still have a great time going to Tsongas and LeLacheur with neighbors, girlfriend, and cousins.

But I'm not too piqued one way or the other about pitchers and catchers reporting. In fact, at the exact moment I heard that, I was on my to pick up someone who actually matters to me from work on Bridge Street so we could head to Boston and have actual dinner in an actual restaurant.

I'll probably catch some of this year's World Series. If I've got good company to watch it with, it might make a fun, interesting backdrop to shared times together over good food, good drink, and good conversation. Either way, I'll probably pick my *horse* to root for, though it won't mean a thing 10 minutes, let alone 10 years, after the game.

But that's only if I've got nothing better to do.


kad barma said...

Careful, you'll lose your New England credentials if you go on too loudly with the bah humbugging. People will suspect you're still a closet Mets fan.

The New Englander said...


Credentials be damned! If a Bangalore- or Karachi-born man can drive a cab in Manhattan, live in Queens, and be a "New Yorker," then I hope that a New Jersey-born man can fall in love with a bordering region, embrace it, and call it his own. No need for "street cred" here..


C R Krieger said...

Lowell is "Panama on the Merrimack."

Being in Lowell from birth just means your parents or grandparents were economic immigrants. The rest of us were just acting like mature adults when we moved here--like the native born's parents or grandparents.

Regards  --  Cliff

The New Englander said...


Well said...and while there are very, very, very (did I mention very?) few Universal Lessons to be gleaned from reading History, one of them is this: When a society (or any segment thereof) starts to *blame* people for accidents of birthright, things can start to spiral for the worse pretty quickly from there.

All gallows humor about the Lubyanka aside, that sort of mentality went into the 20th-Century's "L" column -- not just in 1945, but also in 1989 and lot of years in between.

And for a more local example, I wonder how Lawrence feels about having told Emerson U. to pound sand years ago...


Chris said...

I think you raise some interesting points here.

1- Like any distraction, sports CAN inspire real emotions, but these emotions are fleeting. After the TV cuts to commercials following the championship trophy presentation, we are abruptly jolted back into reality, and it’s almost always less euphoric. Even in the best case scenario (i.e. you’re surrounded by loved ones in your beautiful, debt-free abode), the day-to-day stressors creep back in, for example, “better start cleaning up this food,” or “did I remember to pay my Comcast bill last month?” Only a person’s “actual” life (as you put it) can engender lasting happiness.

2-Since you claim to still enjoy baseball, your ambivalence to spring training betrays you as a non-die-hard fan of any particular team. If you were a blood-and-guts Bo-Soawks fan, like many of your neighbors, you might be very excited about the beginning of spring training, ergo, the beginning of another season and another chance to capture glory.

3-Do non-annual sports competitions deserve more attention? What about more symbolic ones like the The Olympic Games, or the World Cup where competition take on a National identity?

The New Englander said...


As for things like the Olympics and the World Cup, I'd say sure from a pure-sports-loving perspective. If you enjoy watching sports to be able to marvel at amazing athleticism and the purity of the competition between two people seeing who is fastest or strongest, Olympics are hard to beat. World Cup also benefits from the rarity thing -- every four years just makes it that much bigger of a deal.

And good catch on the equal opportunity of the feeling. Yes, pitchers and catchers are reporting. Barely moving a muscle in response is a league-wide phenomenon, which applies equally to the Mariners as it does, to, say, the Marlins (two rosters for which I'd have to admit I couldn't name a single pitcher or catcher...and don't care..though I'd still watch if they went to Game 7 in the Series!)

thanks for your post,