Now that one of the other major sports has ended (American football, I believe), the clock has officially began for baseball season. While I love hockey, it is a sport that is much better to play than watch professionals play. Why? Because investing myself in a sport that begins when the MLB playoffs are in full swing only to have it end in June – yes, JUNE!! for a winter sport – is a bit ridiculous. Sure, baseball season, when factoring in Spring Training, is February through October (sometimes a couple days in November) and a guaranteed 162 meaningful games per team, but at least it is played with appropriate weather outside.
I will concede that February is a bit early for baseball, but if you do not want to care about (or even count) spring training, then take nearly two months off and join us in April. But if you choose to join in the early celebration of “practice ball” or “clearing off the rust from the ol’ arm”, then why not cherish the opportunity to travel and escape the cold that cripples most of us fans north of the Mason-Dixon line? Tell me that Florida or Arizona in February or March doesn’t sound wonderful? If you can still say that with a straight face, then baseball is probably not your sport anyway.
The first 27 years of my life: Never been to Florida, let alone Spring Training. I remember watching the highlights during the sports portion of the local news and seeing the Fort Myers training facility, meaningless games recapped, and the relaxed interviews with players (some known, some never heard of and lost to time). I especially remember seeing the green uniforms used on St. Patrick’s Day and thinking to myself, “I want to go there!” I think it was a combination of school, hockey, baseball, money, and time that prevented my family from ever going; but as I am 29 when I write this, the math is simple – 27 years does not equal my entire life…
Weeks before my 28th (Golden) birthday: Now a married man, employed, not tied down to outside commitments, and having in-laws that live in Florida, the conditions were perfect to snap the streak. I was Florida-bound! The longest-road trip of my life stood between me and baseball in a month normally reserved to pining for baseball and shoveling snow. With over 24 hours of driving under our belts, my wife and I finally crossed the state line of Georgia and breathed in the first gasps of Florida air that either of us had ever breathed. It was already late at night, so our “view” of Florida was mainly headlights shining on about a 5-degree slice of what was ahead of our rental car, but it was sure better than a 5-degree night back home in MN. We arrived at her grandparents’ place sometime after 3am and spent the first half of the long week in Daytona before losing my Spring Training virginity in Clearwater, FL (home of the Phillies).
Days before my 29th birthday: Still married, still employed, and again without hard commitments, I wanted to find a place to escape while my wife was overseas. This recipe meant that a tradition was born – my 2nd trip to Florida for Spring Training was in the bag. Feeling like I had information under my belt and more like an intermediate-level Spring Training fan than a rookie, I took advantage of the sun, warmth, and abundance of baseball. I took many cool pictures, experienced many new things, and added to my growing baseball collection. I even did something crazy – kinda proud, but also dangerous thinking back on it – I drove non-stop from Tampa back to the Twin Cities.
Four weeks before my 30th birthday: As much as it sounds scary and gross admitting that I will be in my 30s soon, the saving grace is that I still haven’t grown up and I’m going to Florida for a 3rd year in a row as a way to bring in my 30th year (a little pre-birthday present). My baseball collection now bordering on 200 balls (189 to be exact, but 4 games planned should make it attainable), I have a sneaking suspicion that this will be a great appetizer for the 2014 year. My attention towards baseball in 2014 is the highest it’s been – Spring Training, All-Star Game, Wrigley Field 100th ball, and a better looking Twins squad are the highlights as of right now. My wife will be accompanying me again, we’ll be spending the second half of the trip with her grandparents, but I will also be meeting a familiar face down there – Paul Kom.
So as I write this, with all of the past, present, and future Spring Training moments flooding my mind, I can’t help but feel
slightly massively excited. I may have 20 days until embarking on the “Glen Perkins Land Cruise” to our Florida destination, and 1,700 miles of tar to navigate, my heart is already in Florida.
I’ll see you soon, friends, family, and memories; I’ll see you soon.
For further reading on the adventures noted above, please consult the following entries:
- 2012/3/8 – Hammond Stadium (Twins) – My first Spring Training snags.
- 2013/3/17 – Ed Smith Stadium (Orioles) – The first snags of 2013.
- 2013/3/18 – Hammond Stadium (Twins) – First commemorative of 2013.
- 2013/3/19 – Hammond Stadium (Twins) – First MiLB balls… ever.
- 2013/3/20 – Hammond Stadium (Twins) – First rainout of 2013. Last time at Hammond until 3/3/2014.
- 2013/3/21 – George M. Steinbrenner Field (Yankees) – Last Spring Training game of 2013.
- 2013 Road Trip Recap – Behind the scenes look at everything NOT baseball from my road-trip.