The Gang’s All Here

The Mets tweeted out a picture today that almost made me cry.

“David Wright’s smile means it’s officially baseball season,” read the caption.  It was accompanied by a photo of the captain in all his glory, presumably taken today.  Through all he’s been through, David Wright has retained the face of an upstart kid.  In the picture, he’s stretching, limbering up.  All evidence of the debilitation his body has suffered as he’s repeatedly put himself on the line for the good of the team is either concealed or simply not present.

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Or maybe it’s just that Spring Training began today, and everything looks that much better because of it.

People, or at least too many of them, claim that Spring Training doesn’t matter.  It’s boring, it’s meaningless, it doesn’t help predict the season, or, indeed, do much of anything.  It’s nothing more than an extended warm-up exercise, no fun to watch and little more to participate in.

Spring Training began becoming the norm in the 1890s, and ever since, has occupied a special place in the heart of the baseball fan who needs something, anything, to break the monotony of winter without baseball.  Christie Mathewson devoted an entire chapter of his 1912 book, Pitching in a Pinch, to explaining what happened when ballplayers congregated in Florida to prepare for the season.  Spring Training is nearly as old as the National League itself.

If it’s so meaningless, and so impossible to get excited about, you’d think the fans who keep getting excited about it would have figured that out by now.

How can Spring Training possibly fail to excite the truest fans among us?  It’s baseball, isn’t it?  The guys we’re all counting on to bring us home a championship, or at least a good time, are back on the field.  Our team, gone these last four months, is coming together again, although it will be 50 days before we see the finished product in competitive action.

It’s interesting; those who claim that Spring Training is meaningless often compare it to the regular season, which, in comparison, is just about the most important thing in the world – a view I usually agree with.  But they’re not mutually exclusive.  Beyond the statistical import of 162 games played from April to October, there’s room to get excited for the annual arrival of Spring.

None of us are baseball fans because of the trophies.  We watch because it’s the greatest game in the world, our national pastime.  We watched from 2009 to 2014 as the Mets played what could hardly have been called meaningful baseball.  We watched as they finished out the season after clinching the division – in terms of trophies won, that wasn’t particularly meaningful either.

So really, why not the Spring?  No, Spring games don’t count in the standings, but they’re still baseball, and better baseball than we’re going to have until after Spring Training is over.  They don’t count in the standings – Spring games, instead, count only in the hearts of the thousands of fans who, having watched a World Series run come up short, are hungrier than ever to see the summer game played once again.

But okay, absolutely.  Besides that, Spring Training is meaningless.

As I’ve said time and again, I’m not here for the championships; they’re just a bonus, if things happen to fall our way.  I’m here for the stories, the connections, the players we’ve watched over the years as they’ve developed into professionals.  I’m here to watch a baseball season, one that starts when Spring Training does and ends as late as possible.  Whether it ends with a trophy or not, I’ll be proud to have been there.

Or maybe that’s just naivety, brought on by Spring Training euphoria.  But I don’t think so; it’s happened before.  2009-2014 happened, and I couldn’t be prouder to have watched those seasons unfold, even the way they happened to do so.

So yes, I may be caught up in the thrill of Spring Training, making promises of happiness that I won’t cash in if or when the season turns downhill.  But if so, I’ve got good reason for it.  I’m a Mets fan, and a damn true fan at that.  And with that label, which I fully embrace, any occasion that brings a smile to David Wright’s face makes me happy as well.

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