February 28, 2014

MLB 2014: Spring Has Almost Sprung

By - Keith Smith

I'm not alone in saying that spring is my favorite time of year. Probably 90% of Americans live for the end of winter, with bright, warm, sunshine beating down on their face, melting the mounds of snow that have piled up during the doldrums of the colder months.

But while the weather is certainly a plus of the upcoming season, it isn't what lures me to it. It's the crack of the bat, the smell of freshly oiled leather and newly mown fields, popcorn and hot dog aromas wafting through the warmth of the sunshine. In short, it's spring training for Major League Baseball.

And it's here!

Photo by: Getty Images
Spring training games began earlier this week in Arizona and Florida, as the start of the 2014 baseball season is just over a month away. And I'm like a kid with a...well, a new baseball glove.

Every spring brings renewed hope for teams from California to New York and everywhere in between; even in the heartland of Chicago. Yes, the Cubs are actually tied for first right now. We'll check on that again two weeks into the season and see what the magic number for elimination is down to by then, but for now, there is at least hope for the hapless Cubbies.

It's too early to predict who will win each division and who will claim the wild card slots. Granted, plenty of people do preseason predictions, and I could do that, too, strictly based on the talent on the field, but I'll leave that to others. The only prediction that I'll make is that, come March 30th (opening night with ESPN's Sunday Night Baseball), there will be a huge smile on my face.

Oh, I know that baseball is no longer a perfect sport, as I had romanticized it to be in my youth. The influx of overblown salaries, strikes and lockouts, steroids, etc., long ago shed the illusion of perfection for me. And now with the new rule that removes home plate collisions further proving that we are trying as hard as we possibly can to make all sports non-contact events, I'm convinced there is no going back to the game I loved for so long.

Even so, there is still nothing as wonderful as a warm summer's night at the ballpark, relaxing with friends or family (or both), watching guys struggle to make a round bat contact a round ball that's being thrown first at 97 mph painting the outside corner, followed by a ball thrown at 90 mph breaking eight inches a mere two feet in front of the plate, followed by yet another pitch that looks exactly like the one that was at 97, but is only 85 and sinking rapidly.

Perhaps my love for the game is fueled by my intense desire to watch the greatest players in the world struggle to do something that I struggled to do for 20+ years?

No matter. In its purest form (which doesn't really exist anymore), the game of baseball, especially this time of year, represents hope, renewed opportunity, and a fresh start. Much like spring.


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