The Wisdom of the Wizard

JUPITER, Fla. — For the first time in 16 years, Hall of Fame shortstop Ozzie Smith returned to the fields of Roger Dean Stadium in a St. Louis Cardinals uniform, and it took him less than four hours and all of seven words to capture what keeps so many of us coming back year after year after year to spring training and the game that captivates us.

He took a deep sniff and told a few of us, “It is nice breathing good baseball air.”

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‘Twas the Night Before Spring Training

JUPITER, Fla. — This afternoon, on the eve of report day for St. Louis Cardinals pitchers and catchers, the clubbies continued setting up the clubhouse by hanging jerseys at each locker … with, um, care.

I snapped a picture of the corner awaiting position players when they arrive:

Jerseys hanging at lockers in the Cardinals' clubhouse in the spring training complex at Jupiter, Fla., on Feb. 17, 2012, two days before the team's first official workout.

The unopened bags, the anticipation of spring training’s opening, the jerseys hung ever so carefully — why that phrase kept clinking around in my skull all afternoon and the obvious result was — what else? — a poem, starring the local nine and even some of the journalists who cover the club. Here goes.

‘Twas the Night Before Spring Training

‘Twas the night before spring training, when all through the clubhouse

Not a reliever was warming, not even a Motte

The jerseys were hung by their lockers with care,

in hopes that the Cardinals soon would be there.

 

The baseballs are nestled, all rubbed up with mud,

eager for that whack that smears the signature from Bud.

And Hummel at his keyboard, and I on the blog,

had just sent our stories to beat a deadline slog.

 

When out on Field 1, there arose such a clatter Continue reading

That Tender Spot Behind the Knee

JUPITER, Fla. — We are all familiar with that stereotypical picture of a lifeguard, what with the rakish spin of his whistle and that universally accepted symbol of smart, outdoor health — the white stripe of sunscreen on his nose. It’s not a fashion statement. It’s there because it’s needed. Through many years as a lifeguard I’ve peeled off more noses than I care to admit, and I’ve got the freckles seven layers deep to prove that I should have been more vigilant with my white stripe. I imagine that every profession or pursuit that puts in the line of (sun) fire has that same soft spot that the rays find and punish. When I coached swimming, we were constantly reminded to put a swipe of sunscreen on top of our ears where our sunglasses rest. That’s where coaches are vulnerable, we were told, and skin cancer can nest. Snorkeling can leave your back exposed to the sun’s raw brutality as I learned last month in Curacao. Construction workers have to be wary of their necks. Golfers have to be mindful of their foreheads. Skiers have to remember the sun can ricochet off the glistening snow to double-blast their cheeks and even when you can’t see the sun its rays can still seer you. Drivers have to take special care of that left elbow, poking out into the sun as it does while they’re cheerfully rocking out to AC/DC on a road trip. (I’m thinking Emilio Estevez in Maximum Overdrive.) And baseball writers must always remember the Continue reading

The Nine Stages of Spring Training Day 1

JUPITER, Fla. — The first act of spring actually occurs back where it’s winter. It involves rolling up T-shirts, identifying books that are worthy of the trip south, stacking yellow legal pads, making sure there’s a raincoat handy, and otherwise packing for the longest road trip of any baseball season. The goal is to fit all that stuff, snugly, into as few pieces of luggage as possible, while also making sure all of the essentials fit into one of two carry-ons. Can’t have that Skype-ready webcam lost in transit.

The days before arriving at spring training involve feats of geometry.

The first day on the ground at spring training is an experiment in trigonometry.

It’s all about the tangents. Continue reading

Fore Below: Paying Our Greens Freeze

ST. LOUIS — One of the few drawbacks of disappearing for spring training ever February is that all of those coupons and gifts certificates that stack up around Christmas with March 31 expiration dates have to be used before Valentine’s Day. That includes golf. Even in this weather. And so it was this afternoon that I found myself looking down Normandie Golf Club’s No. 15 looking for the best liver spot of mud to stick my tee — sploorch! — and watching as my breath became a cloud. Temps were dipping below 40. My score was rising toward 100. But historic Normandie, the oldest course west of the Mississippi River still on its original footprint, was the place to be on a January afternoon with rain in the evening forecast. After all, we had a coupon. Golf is not my game. In the family sports lottery, my dad claimed this 18 holes of torture. I got swimming, grandpa got basketball, my eldest cousin took cycling, his son grabbed hockey, and so on. The boy wonder is on the clock. We all share baseball. With my vacation days dwindling and spring training wiping out my March, this was the day my dad and I could hit the course and use a coupon that expires sometime during spring training. The weather … Continue reading