By Scott Lindholm-
(CBS) I'm not sure what it is -- a long winter, the absence of football or a relative lack of interest in the NBA, NHL or collegiate basketball -- but right around now, for me the sweetest of words are spoken.
Pitchers and catchers report.
In 2014, this doesn't necessarily mean better baseball, as most signs point to trying seasons for both the Cubs and White Sox with glimmers of hope for the future. Even with dampened expectations, there's a tingling in every baseball fan that grips and fascinates us. I heard the Twitter audience en masse as Koji Uehara struck out Matt Carpenter in the last pitch of the 2013 World Series --"Oh no, 6 months without baseball, what am I going to do?" The sport we love is returning -- we'll worry about how well our teams will do later.
For every sport, the beginning of the season is a time of anticipation because it's been some time since we last saw it, but baseball seems different. Perhaps it's the natural flow with the calendar signaling winter is nearly over, especially this winter. Maybe it's the tradition or the worst-to-first possibilities, but whatever the reason, at least for me, it's the season I anticipate the most. Like any emotion, a fever pitch can't be sustained. I collect data daily during the season that takes me about an hour, and while I find it useful and an excellent review of what happened in the prior day's games, it can become tedious. The early bloom of April baseball inevitably fades to jaded ennui by summer. But that's a July problem; we're still in February now.
In the past couple of weeks, my Twitter feed has been filled with people (like me) posting pictures of their newly arrived Baseball Prospectus 2014 and watching the Caribbean World Series. As Florence + The Machine informed us, "It's always darkest before the dawn," and our long baseball night is almost over. The new day of 2014 baseball is less than two months away, right around the same time the snow will melt in Wrigley Field and U.S. Cellular Field. I don't have high hopes for this year and am fully prepared to go into "Wait 'til next year" mode as early as May, but this doesn't decrease my anticipation for the Cubs and Sox to return. Just hearing Len Kasper, Jim Deshaies and Steve Stone will be enough. We set our sights low after so much deprivation.
Baseball isn't back yet, but we can see it coming. That's what spring training tells us. Much like the swallows returning to Capistrano every March 19, we return from baseball hibernation to revel in the sport we love and obsess over. Spring training gives us the tease that the season just might not turn out the way we expect -- it probably will, but there's a reason why hope springs eternal. Like everyone, I have my coping mechanisms to deal with the no baseball during winter, but I've just about exhausted all of them. I've done most of the offseason research I wanted to do, written most of the arcane (and generally unread) analysis in other venues I wanted to explore and prepared for the new season. I've gotten through without baseball, but it doesn't mean I liked it. I'm ready for its return.
That's what spring training means to me, the end of something I don't like combined with the imminent return of something I love. Thank you, spring training, for extending that lifeline to me just when I needed it. I suspect my hopes will be dashed soon enough, but that's an issue for another day.
Follow Scott on Twitter @ScottLindholm.
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