The beginning of spring isn’t March 20th if you’re a baseball fan. Spring begins the day pitchers and catchers report to Sarasota. Hope springs eternal in March. Every team is tied for first and the true fan can find some rationale why their beloved is going to win the World Series.
OK, I realize that this year such a belief equates with a major break with reality but please allow my dream for a few weeks. I still prefer to think the O’s will have 10 rookies pick up their version of “Wonderboy” and hit 40 home runs. The pitchers will channel Jim Palmer and the defense will not even notice the defection of Manny Machado. Darn, if I could just remember the name of the new manager or GM.
A few years ago, I had the opportunity to hit batting practice at the Orioles’ spring training. The team had just vacated the field and the great Mike Bordick was pitching to a few of us. Stunningly, I hit the first five or six pitches straight up the middle. Beautiful line drives right over second base. I realized this result made absolutely no sense. I stunk at baseball as a kid. I never played Little League, I don’t recall ever hitting a fair ball in an elementary school game. I remember the debate as teams were picked — me or the blind kid. The blind kid always was picked ahead of me.
I tried to teach myself to hit as an adult. My middle son had become a pretty good player. Every Saturday morning, we would go to the local batting cages and he would take a lesson with former minor league players. I would get in the cage and soon mastered hitting a 54 mph fast ball.
So there I am, on a real freaking baseball field, hitting pitches from a real major league all-star shortstop. The sun is shining. There are even kids in the stands. I was so proud of myself. Even at 50 with a rotund physique and the running speed of a giant tortoise, I had developed into a major league prospect. There must be a scout somewhere watching. Maybe I’d have requests for autographs.
Alas, all good fantasies must come to an end. I suddenly realized the great truth. My shoulders slouched. My mood darkened. I wasn’t this good of a hitter. In fact, I wasn’t hitting the ball at all. I had nothing to do with the balls rocketing into center field. The pitcher, a man who played 14 major league seasons, should get all the credit for my apparent stardom. It wasn’t that I was hitting the pitched ball. Mike was hitting my moving bat. He was so accurate throwing batting practice that he had simply observed my feeble swing and was putting the ball there.
My time was up. I stumbled from the field. The last lines of “Casey at the Bat” kept repeating in my head:
Oh, somewhere in this favoured land the sun is shining bright,
The band is playing somewhere, and somewhere hearts are light;
And somewhere men are laughing, and somewhere children
But there is no joy in Mudville — mighty Casey has struck out.
Several years have passed. I’ve abandoned my baseball dreams. One must eventually face reality. But hope springs eternal. Maybe, just maybe, I could learn to play golf and challenge Tiger? Shouldn’t take longer than a year or two.
To our wonderful readers — enjoy the spring with your family and friends. Time is all we own. Make the most of it and enjoy a good spring fantasy.
Scott Rifkin, MD, Publisher