While Philadelphia and the rest of the surrounding area are starting a slow unthaw, the Phillies are down in Clearwater, Florida once again to play long toss, take some BP and raise our spirits.
Obviously, there are a lot of questions surrounding the team. Who is your day-to-day centerfielder? Will Odubel Herrera make a return to the lineup, and does he deserve the chance at redemption here? Will losing 10 to 15 pounds help Scott Kingery become an MLB everyday player, or will he be the best-paid super-utility player in the league? Is this Scotty Jetpax 2.0? Will Alec Bohm continue to improve and finally be a prospect that works out? Can Rhys Hoskins rebound?
Then you get to the pitching staff. Who will round out the rotation? Does Vince Velasquez hang onto that final spot, or does Matt Moore or Chase Anderson win it outright? Will the Phillies go with 6 starters, an idea recently being bandied about in baseball circles? Who the hell is the closer? Are there really only going to be three left-handers on the whole staff?
In the end, though this spring training bears a different kind of importance and resonates beyond preparing for another MLB season, position battles, and player controversies.
The COVID era continues. The world remains far from normal. The death toll climbs higher, stimulus checks that were promised haven’t come, the vaccine waiting list is growing, and we’ve been dumped on with snow for the last few weeks. In the long battle that has been this last year for everyone, these past few weeks have been daunting.
Spring training isn’t a cure for that, but the city and for that matter, America will always need baseball. There is a reason that the sport is referred to as America’s pastime. It is part of the fabric of this country. It signals that changing of the seasons, the optimism of children and adults for a successful spring and summer, and the excitement of plans to be made.
Sure this year is different. We won’t all be able to go to a game this season. If we’re lucky some of us will have the chance. What we do have now though is the chance to reclaim what makes baseball great. We’re all mostly at home these days. Time is moving a little slower. You’ve binged every show imaginable over the last year. What else will be new and live every night, other than baseball?
Take your son or daughter, and sit them down to watch a game. Explain what the catcher’s signals mean, or the difference between a 2 seam fastball and a 4 seamer. Tell them stories about your favorite Phillies teams and players. Ask them if they’d like their own glove and to have a catch.
Call your mom and dad during the game, just to chat. Let the action fill in the background. Tune-up Franzke and LA on your radio dial, turn your grill on, and just be outdoors for a bit. Stuck in traffic? Roll down the window, take a deep breath and listen to a few pitches, see if it catches on.
I am a great believer in the emotional power of baseball. I’ve spent most of my life immersed in cards, catch, and Phillies fandom. The love of baseball has been passed down in my family and will continue to be. If I was more philosophical I could wax poetic on what it all means or sum it up appropriately. Even if I could, I’m not sure that I should. Instead, I’m differing to James Earl Jones, as Terrance Mann in Field of Dreams, who makes one of the most powerful and poignant statements on baseball ever.
“The one constant through all the years Ray, has been baseball. America has rolled by like an army of steamrollers, has been erased like a blackboard. Rebuilt, and erased again, but baseball has marked the time. This field, this game, is part of our past Ray. It reminds us of all that once was good, and could be again.”
Regardless of what the Phillies do, or what the ultimate results are from camp, this can be a great season. Make this a season to remember for yourself, and your family. Rediscover what baseball means to you.