Reflections after a long offseason

“What a team. What a ride. The Cardinals are world champs in 2011.”

And that was that. Eight months of projections, pontification and paying attention for a criminal number of hours boiled down to the St. Louis Cardinals and that damn squirrel taking a world championship.

For most of us, the chase ended well before then. We bid farewell to those who share our cheers and jeers in our favorite section of the diamond, those who haul beer around for the thirstiest of fans, those who bring the game into our homes with their play-by-play and compelling (or otherwise) insights. Our little baseball families dispersed for another long, lonely winter spent staring at coutndowns that remind of us the exhausting wait until we’re reunited once again.

Sure, there were little glimmers of hope. A round of winter meeting rumors sparked a phone conversation about whether or not you would fill that elusive leadoff spot. A division rival bolsters its rotation in exchange for a bevy of prospects. Sure, you say, they may have the edge on us this year, but just wait until The Kid makes the leap. They won’t have a prayer. Those damn Yankees have been so quiet. They just have to be up to something, right?

It’s natural, really. We can try to fill the void with football all we want, but it’s just not the same. The weather, for one, is no fun at all. You can’t settle into a spot in the stands underneath the sun the way you want to. Not to mention there is no majesty in a bowl stadium. Where are the towering walls, waterfalls and patterns cut in to the grass? The peanut vendors? Well, they just have it all wrong.

And don’t even try watching on television, unless you’re a fan of people simultaneously yelling at each other and laughing. It only makes you want the summer to return that much more.

Now we’ve reached that part of the year where the resolutions begin. This will be the year where you get out to the park more. You’re planning the weekend road trips to the Wrigley Fields and Fenway Parks of the world. A picture next to the Babe Ruth monument would make a nice little mantlepiece. Maybe you’ll head out west and occupy a kayak in the middle of McCovey Cove. Perhaps it’ll be that trip to Cooperstown you’ve always wanted to take.

At the very least you know you could do just about whatever you want with any two teams and be just fine. It may not have the familiar feel of your home park with your seats and your friends and your colors, but it doesn’t take away from how badly you would love to check it off your list.

It’s simply a matter of counting down the days. The lure of the Grapefruit League and the Cactus League is slowly building. Sure, those of us not lucky enough to make it down in person won’t be as enamored as those who are, but it will be refreshing to see a pitcher’s windup on television or hear the crack of the bat on the radio after so much waiting.

I know I’m looking forward to that walk up to the box office on Opening Day, standing amongst all of those people I’ve stood with for so many years now and waiting to get into the ballpark. I’ll go in with my premeditated refusal to give in to the money pit that is criminally overpriced beer and popcorn, but I’ll likely crack under the pressure of being asked whether or not I would like some.

From there I will no doubt be enamored with this season’s carefully selected theme song and exhilarating video, and for a moment I’ll think, “This feels like the year.” Then the teams will take the field, and I’ll be thrust back into the throngs of reason. Scoring games, pitch counts, and bullpen matchups once again become my daily thought process, and all will be right once again.

Until that day, my countdown reads: 18 days until pitchers and catchers report. The longest 18 days of the year.

References & Resources
Thanks to Joe Buck for the call that ended 2011 and started this story.
It should be noted that the Oakland Athletics and Seattle Mariners will report in 11 days, not 18.

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Great piece.  Love it.