“Spring Training,” by Philip Raisor

There’s a lot of great imagery in this poem. It’s also quite nostalgic, full of memories expressed by the narrator. This piece was published in Philip Raisor’s poetry collection, Headhunting and Other Sports Poems.

*

I carry my spikes and step on the field an hour
ahead of the others. Last day of March with April
offering tickets for the new season. I’m full of sun
on wet grass, in love with blistered benches.

A sparrow sits on the backstop, watching, ready
to dart if I catch its eye. I drop my bag on home plate
and swirl my foot in the dust the way my cousin does
with his fingers on the skin of a drum head. Next year

he’ll be released with the others who spent mornings
breaking windows and trashing vacation homes
like drunks in the right field bleachers. Here, I’m alone
with a sparrow and the smell of a baseball morning

settling around me like a comforter. I start trotting
to first base, the ankles loosening, then the knees,
as the dust begins to lift into the breaking light.
Around second and third I stretch my arms

in a rotary motion ready to fly. A hand waves back
from a passing car, someone who knows me
or remembers rising one morning when the game
of who you are is played out in your mind,

and around you a stadium full of fans begs you
to do what you usually do in the clutch. The bat I pull
from the bag for the first time is my father’s
Louisville Slugger, thirty-three inches, wood barrel.

I thought enough time had passed, the attic dust
hard in the grooves. I stroke it slowly like a weapon
you love to touch but would never use. He hit .304
at Omaha the season he was drafted, all-star

rookie-of-the-year. He said we’d join him soon.
Then that other draft. He would have been here.
I swear he would. The silence feels oppressive now.
I dig for a scuffed ball and throw it up, shoulder high,

but let it fall. A natural hitter, my father said, holding
my hands. I grip the tar-stained handle. Tears blur
the wall that’s so far away it looks warped. I aim
for marrow deep inside, April hungry for the kill.

Happy Valentine’s Day

From what I’ve seen and heard, not too many folks are going to be celebrating this year, but if you are, enjoy the day! If you are not celebrating Valentine’s Day, just remember, we’re only 3 days away from the start of Spring Training.

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8 days until pitchers and catchers report

With everything (*gestures to the world in general*) going on, I honestly haven’t given my usual level of attention to the upcoming MLB season. However, the NFL season is now over, ending on an unavoidably disappointing note (I was rooting for both teams to lose this year’s Super Bowl). That being the case, the sports world’s attention has started to revert its attention back to baseball.

I realized with a jolt that MLB teams begin their workouts in just over a week. For many teams, pitchers and catchers are scheduled to report for spring training on February 17th. Position players will report February 21st or 22nd. And spring exhibition games begin February 27th.

The temperature in my location currently stands at a miserable 9°F, though it feels like it is below zero out. I look out the window, and I see about 3 inches of snow accumulation blanketing the frozen ground. Maybe the promise of upcoming baseball will help to make the world feel a little bit warmer, yes?

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Baseball is coming back

Players, owners, teams, the league… all the moving parts of the MLB universe have finally come together, and we are, at last, going to see some baseball for the 2020 season!

Major League Baseball is having a second Spring Training (or should we call it “Summer Training” at this point?) to begin in about a week’s time, on July 1st.  Then, we will be looking at a 60-game regular season, to be played over the course of about 66 days, from about July 23rd or 24th until September 27th.  The postseason will begin on September 29th, with the World Series to begin on October 20th, and a potential Game 7 to be played on October 28th.

With the COVID-19 pandemic still in full swing, access to games is going to be limited, of course.  No fans in the stands is going to seem a bit weird, but so long as we can watch games from the comfort of our living rooms, that seems like a minor concession at this point.  There will be a regimen of temperature checks and symptom checks, as well routine tests for the virus, not just among players, but also coaches, trainers, staff, etc.  Players who are high-risk or who have family members at high risk have the option to opt out for the season and still get paid.  Media interactions with the teams, meanwhile, will all take place through Zoom, in order to adhere to social distancing recommendations.

On the field, spitting will be banned, which makes perfect sense given the nature of how the virus spreads.  Non-playing players in the dugout will be required to wear masks.  Pitchers will bring their own rosin bags and will even be permitted to carry a wet rag in their back pocket so they won’t need to lick their fingers (does anyone else sniff a potential for some doctoring on this one?).  Social distancing, in general, remains strongly encouraged.

How well will this all work?  Obviously, it’s difficult to tell until things really get underway.  The potential for a widespread outbreak remains very real — just look at what happened among the Phillies last week — and for all we know, the season might end abruptly after the first thirty days.

Information about this new development is still coming, even as I write this.  This strange, strange season just keeps getting stranger, and while I’m happy that we’re going to see some ballgames, half of me is intensely curious about how long it’s really going to last.

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“The Idea of Florida During a Winter Thaw,” by Gail Mazur

This piece makes me want to go back in time a few months — back to the last days of winter as Spring Training was just getting underway and the threat of the coronavirus still seemed too far away to be of any concern.

*sigh*

We’ll get it back next year.

*

Late February, and the air’s so balmy
snowdrops and crocuses might be fooled
into early blooming. Then, the inevitable blizzard
will come, blighting our harbingers of spring,
and the numbed yards will go back undercover.
In Florida, it’s strawberry season—
shortcake, waffles, berries and cream
will be penciled on the coffeeshop menus.

In Winter Haven, the ballplayers are stretching
and preening, dancing on the basepaths,
giddy as good kids playing hookey. Now,
for a few weeks, statistics won’t seem
to matter, for the flushed boys are muscular
and chaste, lovely as lakes to the retired men
watching calisthenics from the grandstands.
Escapees from the cold work of living,

the old men burnish stories of Yaz and the Babe
and the Splendid Splinter. For a few dreamy dollars,
they sit with their wives all day in the sun,
on their own little seat cushions, wearing soft caps
with visors. Their brave recreational vehicles
grow hot in the parking lot, though they’re
shaded by live oaks and bottlebrush trees
whose soft bristles graze the top-racks.

At four, the spectators leave in pairs, off
to restaurants for Early Bird Specials.
A salamander scuttles across the quiet
visitors’ dugout. The osprey whose nest is atop
the foul pole relaxes. She’s raged all afternoon
at balls hit again and again toward her offspring.
Although December’s frost killed the winter crop,
there’s a pulpy orange-y smell from juice factories….

Down the road, at Cypress Gardens, a woman
trainer flips young alligators over on their backs,
demonstrating their talent for comedy—stroke
their bellies, they’re out cold, instantaneously
snoozing. A schoolgirl on vacation gapes,
wonders if she’d ever be brave enough
to try that, to hold a terrifying beast
and turn it into something cartoon-funny.

She stretches a hand toward the toothy sleeper
then takes a step back, to be safe as she reaches.