Fall was when the leaves fell and you had to go back to school.
Winter was when it was cold and snowy and you were still in school.
Spring was when it got warm again and you were still in school.
Summer was hot and sunny and lasted about fifteen minutes.
—Brendan C. Boyd and Fred Harris, The Great American Baseball Card Flipping, Trading and Bubble Gum Book
Spring began nearly a week ago. It was 26 degrees this morning anyway. We convince ourselves that Pitchers & Catchers means spring. But then it’s still as likely to be 26 degrees as it is anything else. We ratchet up our excitement incrementally when position players report; when full-squad workouts commence; when Sandy Koufax alights from the heavens and lays his immortal left paw on this year’s southpaw reclamation project; when an intrasquad scrimmage ensues; when the inevitable pros vs. college boys score filters northward; and when, at last, the Mets play another major league team in a game that counts for absolutely nothing.
And it’s still 26 degrees. The Mets play the Marlins. They play the Nationals. They play the Braves. They play the Cardinals. They mix in a few other teams just to say they have, but mostly they play the Marlins and the Nationals, the Braves and the Cardinals. The Mets who we’re sure will be Mets play for two innings, three innings, five innings at most. By the sixth inning, No. 79 is pitching and No. 97 is around in right. We sort of pay attention to what’s going on but we sort of don’t, because we know No. 79 and No. 97 will probably never have names on their backs where we can see them.
And it’s still 26 degrees. The regulars play longer. There are fewer higher numbers. There are fewer bodies in general. The feature stories about what the old vet did to get in shape over the winter and how the young phenom plans to prove he was no fluke fade. Now everything is about Getting Ready and Getting This Over and paring down the roster that once brimmed with possibilities but is now coming into focus. Twenty, twenty-one, twenty-two spots are set. Now it’s just a matter of who’s that eleventh or twelfth pitcher; who’s that extra infielder who can maybe fill in in left; who’s got an option; who’s got an out; who’s fully healthy; and who, heaven forbid, needs to start the season on the DL.
And it’s still 26 degrees.
Spring Training began more than a month before spring. Spring has been actual spring for nearly a week but you couldn’t tell from stepping outside. It couldn’t be staler, the whole thing. Yet you also have this: In less than a week — six days! — the kabuki is over. The Mets will still be playing the Marlins, except there will be no Digital Domain and you won’t hear of anyone named Roger Dean. You don’t know what the stadium will be called by the time you tune in, but the Mets will be playing at the actual home of the Florida Marlins. And it will count. They’ll play on Friday night and again on Saturday night and then on Sunday afternoon. They’ll all count. Come the following Tuesday, the Mets will be in Philadelphia, which usually sounds gruesome but right now sounds glorious. Three games there and then it’s the Mets’ turn to be home, first of 81 times.
It’s coming. It really is. It’s still 26 degrees, but it won’t be forever.