Baseball fans love their countdowns.
If you hang out with fans of the game or frequent the same social media circles as them, you undoubtedly hear there are so many days until pitchers and catchers report to spring training. Then there are so many days until Grapefruit League play begins. After that, it’s a countdown until Opening Day of the regular season.
For me, the only thing that counts is the number of days left until I head to spring training. For the record, the magic number is one.
Don’t get me wrong. I love October baseball. I love baseball on Sunday afternoons in June. But nothing compares to formally declaring an end to my recognition of winter by settling into a seat at Roger Dean Stadium in southeast Florida to watch my Cardinals favorites team up with a bunch of kids wearing uniform numbers in the 70s, 80s and 90s to play a little ball.
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It’s an optimistic look at the short-term future that is the rapidly approaching season – and the long view of catching our first glimpse of the gems of the farm system. It’s also beautiful to be able to watch games for the sake of enjoying the art of baseball without needing to worry about who wins or loses.
You know you’re at a spring-training game when the score is tied in the bottom of the ninth and the managers agree that it’s time to call it a day. No sudden death. No hurt feelings. Just nine innings, win or lose, then off to the beach or the golf course.
It’s much more interesting to watch kids battle veterans for roster spots and playing time or seeing how much prospects have developed since the year before than it is to see who wins or loses.
I’ve made the trek to spring training every year but one (due to circumstances beyond my control) since 1994. And if there is anything I can do to avoid missing it again, I certainly would. If I could go to just one game a year, it wouldn’t be Opening Day in St. Louis, the Fourth of July or even Mother’s Day. It would be an 80-degree mid-March afternoon in spring training.
Baseball has grown so big that it’s very difficult to get close to the players at the major-league parks the clubs call home the rest of the year. At most spring-training facilities, you can walk right up to players around the practice fields or the parking lots to shake their hands or maybe even get a photo or an autograph.
If you’ve never been to spring training, you haven’t experienced one of the best parts of America’s Game. I highly recommend it. It’s not only a lot of fun but, after a long and cold winter, it’s good for the soul.
Winter bums me out. I can’t take the days when it gets dark by 5 p.m. and you have to bundle up like you’re on an expedition to the South Pole just to run to the grocery store. But mostly, I don’t like the winter because there’s no baseball.
If you’re not going to make the trip, please join me over the coming week as I get back into the swing of baseball with a trip to Palm Beach, Fla. I’ll update this site frequently and you can join me for updates and photos on Twitter @scottwuerz.