Everyone's slate is wiped clean, renewal is in the air. The Brewers have the same record as the Astros, the Tigers are even with the Yankees, and Pat Burrell has as many home runs as Barry Bonds. It can't stay that way, of course, but for the next six weeks it is all peaches and cream. And it all starts with the phrase, "pitchers and catchers report."
It means that spring isn't far behind. It means that summer is closing in. Memorial Day, the Fourth of July, and Labor Day are all spent at baseball parks. Fans go to see their favorite teams at Spring Training in Florida and Arizona, where it's summer year-round and the mood is laid back and carefree.
My wife, a patient woman if ever there was one, was raised a fan of football and basketball. She was among the cheering throng that met the 1977 Sixers at the airport during the finals against the Portland Trail Blazers. She was among a group of finalists trying out to be an Eagles cheerleader in 1979. She had no room in her life for the boring sport of baseball.
Her curse is that she ended up marrying a man tied to the sport. She has bore two sons that may, in fact, be baseball prodigies (allow a father to dream.) Her springs and summers are now filled with the crack of the bat and the pop of the mitt. The "boring" sport has become her livelihood, and even she has come to understand the magnitude of the phrase "pitchers and catchers report."
Baseball is still the American pastime. Football may have surpassed baseball in popularity, but not in what it means to the country. After 9/11, it was baseball, and President Bush throwing out the first pitch in Yankee stadium, that framed the U.S. response to the Al Qaida attacks. "We will not falter, we will not fail…" Indeed.
Take any of the other sports. When do they start? Sure you've got a general idea, but there's no description. Training camp? Whatever that means. But say the words "pitchers and catchers report" and everyone knows what you are talking about. Do they talk about the arrival of quarterbacks and receivers in football? No. Do they talk about point guards and centers in basketball? No. But everyone understands "pitchers and catchers report."
When it comes to nailing down seasons on a calendar, there is nothing as descriptive as "pitchers and catchers report." Even if you have never experienced the thrill of that first rusty throw after a winter of inactivity. Even if you have never been close enough to a major league field to hear the "zzzzz" of the stitching as a 90-mile-per-hour fastball is released from a phenom's grip. Even if you have never heard the pop of the mitt, the chatter from the dugout, or the sweet "thwack" of a batting practice pitch driven into the gap. If you are a baseball fan you understand the magnitude, the meaning, the hope and the promise of the phrase. Today is the day; say it with me in unison: "pitchers and catchers report." Hallelujah!
Columnist's Note: I welcome your feedback. Please send any comments to firstname.lastname@example.org. Look for my column "Out Of Left Field" every Thursday beginning February 26th.