Anyone who tells you to live in the here and now doesn't live here (in the Northeast), at least not now (in February).
Even before three feet of snow fell like an easy metaphor last weekend—a wet blanket, after the groundhog promised a short winter—Northerners were trying to spring ahead to baseball season. On Feb. 5, three days before the "Super Bowl of Weather," as The Weather Channel called it—and two days after the Super Bowl of Football—a few hundred fans turned up at frigid Fenway Park in Boston to watch Red Sox employees load a tractor trailer bound for Fort Myers, Fla., with its eternal payload: more than 20,000 baseballs, 1,100 bats, 20 cases of bubblegum and 60 cases of sunflowers seeds, all of it perp-walked past a mob of rubberneckers eager to see anything that resembled summer.
It was a quintessential baseball scene, supervised by a man named Pookie (Sox equipment manager Pookie Jackson), which rhymes with Mookie (Wilson), which looks like Cookie (Rojas), which rhymes with hooky—something plenty of onlookers were playing at 11 o'clock on this Tuesday morning in February, as if it were a Getaway Day in July.
But then any sign of sun, any hint of baseball, is welcome in winter, when reports of PED-peddling out of a "Miami anti-aging clinic" leave the snowbound Northerner to drool like Homer Simpson: Mmmm ... Miami.
February 18, 2013
It's true in Detroit and Cleveland, Philadelphia and Pittsburgh and anywhere else that a tarp is drawn across a baseball field like a coroner's sheet. In Chicago the Cubs chose the dead of winter to trot out plans for a Wrigley Field renovation, with artistic renderings of what the 99-year-old doyenne would look like after a $300 million face-lift, possibly from a Miami anti-aging clinic. (Gorgeous, it turns out.) Farther north, in Minnesota, the Target Field grounds crew does its winterlong striptease of snow removal before revealing—at a glacial pace, one day at a time, perhaps by late March—the full monty of a green field. In the manner of most modern stripteases, you can watch them take it all off on the Internet, as the groundskeepers post captioned photos of their favorite snowblowers—"Purrs like a Siberian tiger at lunch time"—on Twitter, whose bluebird logo is, for the baseball desperado staring at snowblower porn, the first sign of spring.
Our February longing for baseball—Waiting for Cano—has a meager payoff: spring training, with its triple-digit jersey numbers, bush-league caps and endless split-squad games that numb the mind and buttocks simultaneously. (Take the 55-win Astros of 2012, cut their power in half, and enjoy!)
But the anticipation for all this is in our DNA. "It is February and there is snow on the ground and the minds of the followers of sports are generally turned towards the opening of the baseball season," The Boston Globe noted on Feb. 3, 1905, the same month—and in the same city—that America's first Esperanto Club opened to promote a "universal language" then in vogue.
Of course sports turned out to be our universal language—Esperanto became ESPN—leaving this long February dead spot for many of us, bereft of outdoor entertainment. The stir-crazy fan can run out for a pack of baseball cards, as his father once did for a pack of Winstons. February means those jump-the-gun Topps Series 1 issues, in stores before all the players on them have exchanged uniforms. There's a perverse delight in peeling back the foil on that first pack to reveal ... Delmon Young, now of the Phillies but still in his Tigers uniform, as if the rustling of the wrapper awakened him from a long winter's nap and he had to dress quickly in the dark.
Another Tiger, in another February, so badly injured his back while shoveling the sidewalk in front of the Detroit house where he lived with his mother that he—Hall of Famer Charlie Gehringer—contemplated retirement in 1940. When even shoveling isn't an option and snow leaves a Northerner housebound, there is little to do but look forward. Hey, did you hear MLB has finally done away with that timeless time-waster, the fake-to-third-and-throw-to-first pickoff attempt? It's now a balk, which will disappoint those of us who like to watch paint dry.
And some of us do like to watch paint dry, gaping online last week as the Twins' grounds crew hunkered down indoors and painted the on-deck circles. And isn't that what February is—one big on-deck circle, a place to wait in anticipation of good things, whether you're Jimmy Wynn or Winnie-the-Pooh?
Winnie-the-Pooh was once asked by Christopher Robin what he liked doing best in the world: " 'Well,' said Pooh, 'what I like best—' and then he had to stop and think. Because although eating honey was a very good thing to do, there was a moment just before you began to eat it which was better than when you were, but he didn't know what it was called."
It's called February, when pitchers and catchers have just reported, and green fields, garishly lit, are about to blaze on TV, and the Cubs are momentarily unbeaten, and the Mets might yet find three outfielders. And every day spent dreaming of all this is a kind of Getaway Day.
When the Super Bowl of weather strikes, there is little to do but search for signs of sun and any hint of baseball.