Volume 2, Number 3 -- March, 1997
In the Spring...
It has begun again. Spring Training has gotten underway as players, non-roster invitees and general hangers-on have reported to various sites around Florida and Arizona. They are caretakers of one of the most hallowed traditions in all of sport, the annual rebirth of hope that is baseball's spring training.
Baseball is unique among the major sports leagues in that it's version of preseason is practically part of the season itself. Nobody makes a pilgrimage to see the Lions work out twice a day in July or the Nuggets run passing drills in September. In football, basketball, and hockey, the exhibition season is nothing more than a way for the fans to mark time until the regular season. Not baseball, though. For baseball fans, the season begins the minute the first catcher's mitt pops in February.
Like no other sport, baseball has managed to create and maintain an almost spiritual atmosphere around it's pre-season festivities that has, thus far, remained virtually unspoiled by the greed and glitz that has nearly brought the game to its knees. Spring training camp is still a place where a fan can go sit in the stands with a beer and a dog, take in a double-header, and even mingle with a few ballplayers without it rupturing his bank account. It's a place to go where winning and losing comes secondary to appreciating a diving catch, a well-executed bunt, or a crisp double-play. A place where little if any interest is paid to whether San Diego is beating Colorado and more is given to whether or not the kid has learned to hit a curve or the old guy can still leg out the double.
In other words, it's still a place for baseball fans. Fans of baseball, not fans of winning or fans of superstars. If baseball is ever going to truly heal the deep wounds that were inflicted by the (now thankfully ended) labor strife, this is where it needs to turn. Like any troubled franchise, baseball needs to go back to the basics, back to where the fans are still the fans. Baseball's true core of fans aren't the ones who were upset that the World Series was canceled in 1994, they're the ones who were upset that spring training was pushed back in 1995.
Baseball is entering a critical phase in its recovery. The fans are starting to come back, grudgingly. But the game is still troubled by the tirades of Albert Belle and Barry Bonds, the ever-rising player salaries and corresponding increase in ticket prices, the juiced-ball theory, and the diluted pitching problem which will only get worse as the league expands by two more teams next season. Right now is a time that baseball can either right itself and reclaim its place atop the sporting world or falter and set back its recover by five years or more.
The place to start, the number one area to try to focus the attention of the fans is at the spring training sites in Arizona and Florida. If Major League Baseball can win back the fans in March, it will certainly spill over into April, May, and beyond.