I dedicate the following column to Frank Robinson, the Hall of Fame player. He was the only player to win MVP awards in the American League and the National League. He was the first black manager in Major League Baseball history. He died at 83 on Feb. 7. I tip my cap to him.
Groundhog Day always left me cold. And the calendar, tacked on kitchen walls, stood as a book of empty pages. For me, spring begins when the Major League Baseball catchers and pitchers report to spring training.
And for the Seattle Mariners and their fans spring begins today. By the end of the week, catchers and pitchers are slated to report in all of the major league baseball spring training cities.
Oh, to be sure, Major League Baseball isn’t what it was. It is the national pastime in name only, especially among younger fans who prefer football or other sports.
Still, Major League Baseball was the first of the year-round professional team sports in America. Until the early 1960s, Major League Baseball stood alone and majestic, like Babe Ruth or Josh Gibson admiring the flight of one of their home runs.
For 154 and then 162 regular-season games, baseball held its fans in the palm of a gloved hand that let us go after a new World Series champion was crowned in the fall.
And then the fans, from the black barbershops to the white prairies, settled into the serious business of talking about the game: The Hot Stove League, the delicious conversation about the season that had just ended and the one about to begin.
But that was long ago.
Now, we talk about most major team sports year-round, especially on sports talk radio and television.
We talk about LeBron James, the king of the NBA, until there is little more to say about the star forward of the Los Angeles Lakers. And we talk some more. We talk about the NBA, James’ league: a place where James is leading elite players to unprecedented power, profits and privilege no matter where they take their talents. We talk all the time about the NFL, too.
Indeed, even when Major League Baseball has two of its most talented players (infielder Manny Machado and outfielder Bryce Harper) as free agents, we talk more about the NBA, its drafts, feuds and its trades and its All-Star Game.
Even when MLB ponders major changes in how the game is played, we talk more about the NFL and its drafts, Super Bowls and potential trades.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m grateful for all the talk about all the games, even if the paid gabbers are too often disdainful of the athletes. After all, without all the talk about major team pro sports, we’d have expanded coverage on television of the cornhole (throwing sacks into holes), and we don’t want that, do we?
What I want is spring. I want it now, no matter what the groundhog or the calendar say. Through Major League Baseball, and the reporting pitchers and catchers, I and other baseball fans will have it. Winter is going, going, gone.
Summer is on deck. And that’s something to talk about.
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