In mid-March you’re struck by your annual worry: that this year’s Mets don’t seem to hold the same power over you as all the previous years’ did.
In late March I’m struck by my annual grumble: that spring training is just too long.
Oh, spring training. You wait for it forever, the first spark of anticipation appearing with the first significant free-agent signing, then heating up through the winter holidays, then bursting into open flame in January, then becoming a five-alarm blaze that makes early, baseball-free February unbearable. Then it arrives, and pretty soon you can’t wait for it to just go away already.
And this is the worst period, the week during which the novelty is long gone and yet nothing has been decided. There are still guys hanging around whose mannerisms you know you don’t need to memorize. (Todd Self, Tim Lavigne and Endy Chavez — beware the Tides of March.) There are still old guys hanging around who are overdue for that closed-door talk that “you’ve done everything we asked of you, so it’s only fair we give you a chance to hook on somewhere else.” (Jeremi Gonzalez? Why?) Starters are going five and even six innings, but it’s too early to figure out who the LOOGY or the extra outfielder will be. It’s even too early to figure out which couple of guys are the finalists. That always-unforseen roster-scrambling trade isn’t even a rumor. And so you wait, and wonder why the hell it can’t hurry up and get to really be spring, with leaves and grass and games without veterans pretending to run on the warning track.
But then you find some things to occupy you, after all.
You can make your peace — or realize you haven’t — with last year’s roster, with the acceptance that those guys no longer matter. Last night I was flipping idly through the TiVo and saw Joshua’s babysitter had taped (recorded? DVRed? TiVoed?) Real Sports With Bryant Gumbel, a show she loves that I’ve never watched, more because there’s already plenty of sports in my life than because I have some objection to it. The lead story was about Danny Graves’s trip to Vietnam, and I decided I’d like to see that. I admit that part of it was curiosity about the story and part of it was a less-admirable impulse: The photos of Graves from Vietnam suggested he’d taken up the Lolich Diet, and I wanted to see just how thoroughly he’d let himself go. A bit of spite there? Guilty as charged.
Well, Graves did indeed appear large, but I also found his story pretty compelling, from his still-wounded fury at the Reds fan who told him to “go back to fucking Vietnam” to how he turned that into a challenge to make sense of his Vietnamese heritage. And his mother’s reluctant return to a home she hadn’t seen in three decades was riveting: His mom’s a pistol, and her reunion with her long-lost little sister…well, it got a little dusty in the Fry living room for a moment there, and I found myself clapping when Graves remembered that rude fan and said, smiling, “so I did go back to fucking Vietnam.” When it was over I went downstairs, fired up Google and saw Graves has a chance to make the Indians, and I was happy for him. I’m still not sure why he got as much time on our roster as he did, but I’m happy for him.
On the other hand, earlier today I was reading an article by Tom Singer that noted that Braden Looper “was one of only two relievers with 28-plus saves to allow more than a hit an inning”. And I found myself grinding my teeth at one of the more damning statistics I’ve read in years. More than a hit an inning? Goddamn Looper! And then came the blessed, blessed clarity: Braden Looper is now the Cardinals’ problem.
Fortunately, there are happy adjustments of the two-weeks-to-go variety as well. Like watching SNY and finding it free of technical hiccups, with Gary and Keith and Ron Darling all in fine form. Darling and Keith had an interesting conversation about pitching to defense, Darling dissected the difference between Gary Carter, Mike Fitzgerald and Junior Ortiz as catchers (Carter’s target was much higher than the other guys’), and Sid Fernandez came on TV and was even funny, cracking a decent joke about having clogged up the basepaths. (Even though he did look hurt when Keith brought it up.)
Another happy adjustment: Feeling the teeth bare a bit at the thought of The Enemy, whatever The Enemy might be at a particular given second. Like the Dodgers wearing their proper road uniforms for a stupid spring-training game in the middle of nowhere in March, which sent me into some Homer Simpsonesque muttering. Stupid Dodgers. Always playing the swells. And what’s with them still being in Florida anyway? Why don’t they train in Arizona like a sensible West Coast team? Oh, because they invented spring training. Stupid Dodgertown. They lost the right to be all high and mighty about their great traditions when they abandoned Brooklyn. If I saw them enough times a year I would totally hate the Dodgers.
Then, just when I thought I was insane and should really investigate some kind of boring anger-management regime, this email arrives from the Human Fight, also watching an utterly meaningless March game: yankees appealing a missed bag in fucking spring training. god i hate them.
Oh, and then there was the final inning. John Jose Valentin at the plate, two out, tie game, and I noticed Lastings Milledge was on deck. And it just popped into my head: If Valentin can get on, Milledge will totally win this game. (It also popped into my head that Valentin was playing the entire inning with his batting helmet folding his ear almost completely over, indicating he’s either impervious to pain, kind of dumb, or possibly both. But never mind that.) So of course Valentin gets aboard on an error, Milledge works the count to 3-1, and uses those light-speed hands of his to tomahawk a high fastball to left-center for the game.
Lastings Milledge, already a legend in March.
OK, so spring training is good for something.