This column was the featured commentary on UPI’s Religion and Spirituality Forum on February 18th, 2008. It also was linked on UPI’s main website.
In Northern California spring is a confusing thing. Just the other day I drove three and a half hours from my home in San Jose to eat lunch with my brothers and our dad at an old saloon in the small town of Upper Lake, a journey that took me across the wine country and deep into the hills of California’s Coastal Range. It was a beautiful day, warm enough that we ate our lunch outside. Mustard was blooming in the vineyards—carpets of astonishing gold floating between the rows of bare grapevines and the delicate green of new grass—this blooming in stubborn defiance of the snow that still covered the ridgelines above the lake.
We don’t have groundhogs in California. There is no meteorological prognostication in the beauty of a single day. The next several weeks could belong to the wildflowers or to the snow. We won’t know if spring is coming until it’s already well under way.
This is why we need baseball in Northern California.
On the same day I was driving through the vineyards of Mendocino County, the San Francisco Giants’ pitchers and catchers were reporting to spring training somewhere down in the Arizona desert, and while in Northern California it may be true that no promise of a vernal resurrection is articulated in a few hours of pleasant February weather, once spring training starts, we can be assured that there will be trips to the ball park. There will be long, lazy summer nights with baseball on the radio while the kids are bathed and put to bed. There will be glasses of zinfandel poured and shared on the back patio in the bottom of the eighth while the children sleep.
Spring training has started, winter will end, and it’s a good thing. Baseball has had a long, difficult off-season with the unveiling of the Mitchell Report. Baseball’s torrid affair with performance enhancing drugs has removed from the sport a patina of All-American wholesomeness.
It was an ugly winter in baseball, but spring training is here and winter is in the past. Not even the embarrassment of Roger Clemens at a congressional hearing can stand in the way of the optimism I feel as the season begins. Come August I may be jaded and pissed, but in February everything seems possible. Every team is in first place. Dreams of World Series glory are shared by everyone, and everyone—even the youngest rookie—has a shot at the Big Time. I am hopeful, and I doubt I am alone among baseball fans.
After so many years of war, and so many more years in which American governance has been dominated by political ambition and corporate greed; in a season of mortgage foreclosures and of officially sanctioned torture, I’d like for America’s best minds to figure out how to institute a national spring training each year, a time when the slate can be wiped clean, when the American people hone their game, when dreaming is necessary work and the future looks bright despite the haze of the past and the darkness of the present. I confess that the candidacy of Barack Obama has given me some spring training like emotions, but such a candidacy is too rare an event. Spring training must happen more than once in a generation.
I don’t know what such a national spring training might look like, but for now, I have Baseball’s annual ritual in the desert of Arizona and in Florida’s swamp, and I’m grateful.
Spring is on its way. Play ball.