Two years ago this week, a neighbor stopped me on our block and pulled out a piece of paper, on which was printed a quotation:
“It breaks your heart. It is designed to break your heart. The game begins in the spring, when everything else begins again, and it blossoms in the summer, filling the afternoons and evenings, and then as soon as the chill rains come, it stops and leaves you to face the fall alone.”
The quotation came from Bart Giamatti, the only person to serve both as commissioner of Major League Baseball and as president of Yale University. Giamatti, a scholar of Renaissance literature, was equal parts Yale man and baseball fan. He received his undergraduate and graduate degrees at Yale, taught at Yale for nearly 15 years, served as the Master of Ezra Stiles and became the youngest president in University history in 1978, at age 40. In 1986 he left Yale to pursue his other passion, becoming president of the National League. Three years later, he was appointed commissioner of baseball. But he served only 154 days as commissioner — a heart attack killed him in the summer of 1989, at age 51.
I had no connection to Yale when my neighbor presented me with the quotation — she shared it with me as one baseball fan to another, bringing a third fan into our seasonal lovefest. The calendar may have read “February,” but she knew that February is spring in the most important way.
Spring training starts this week. For the more poetic baseball fans (like my neighbor and Dr. Giamatti), spring training is all that is right with the world. It is rebirth, a new day, fresh leaves on trees and every glorious breath of crisp springtime air. It is when life returns. It is when baseball is back.
In my native New York, February weather is no different from January and March weather. Winter doesn’t end until mid-April, and spring is unimaginable this time of year. But down in Florida, athletes are playing ball again, and that brings baseball fans hope, even through the cold of the Northeast.
This time of year, people start talking baseball again. Stories begin to come out of training camp, sometimes the first baseball news in months. Pitchers and catchers show up, position players follow and games begin again before you know it. As we remain bundled away from the cold, we can still enjoy the warmth of spring in Florida and the shared experience of rebirth.
Last week a high-school friend sent me an e-mail: “Screw Valentine’s Day. Screw the fact that it’s below freezing outside. It’s pitchers and catchers, baby.”
“Dude, I feel you,” I responded, knowing he wasn’t bitter, but elated. Pitchers and catchers, the first sign of spring, overwhelmed all else.
Being away from home, I don’t bump into neighbors ready to pull out hyperbolic quotations on sight. I don’t see the local tabloids, eager to splash sports news onto the front pages. I don’t have sports talk radio, nor the paper outside my door every morning. I can follow the news as easily from a distance, but I’m no longer surrounded by the buzz of local sports. Back home, it’s inescapable.
Away from my hometown, I’m frustrated by the lack of enthusiasm for the teams I used to live with. For this there is no solution. I acknowledge that there are already too many of us New Yorkers here; admitting more could be dangerous. And I don’t want students from across the country to embrace my city’s teams. There’s little I respect less in sports than a fan with allegiances across the country. You’ve got to root for the home team, I say, along with your neighbors.
Ultimately, I miss the neighbors. I miss the people around me who root for the same teams I do. (Except Yankee fans. College has provided a beautiful respite from the regular pain they supply.) Sports fan-dom lacks the excitement I once knew when it is removed from that environment and the buzz it creates.
A few weeks ago, I watched the New York Giants win the Super Bowl in a house on Lynwood with a couple dozen friends. In the group were some passive Patriots fans and a few serious Giants fans. The rest of us were there for the food. As a weak fan of football, I rooted for my home team, but I didn’t expect to get worked up.
When the Giants miraculously came from behind with seconds remaining, I was surprised to feel true happiness. The screaming, jumping and overall hysterics of the Giants fans around me rubbed off, and soon I was making noise with them.
A couple hours later, I got a call from another friend back home in the city. He was in Times Square, and I could barely hear him, for thousands of fans drowned him out. He’s no football fan, but he was celebrating with the city. He was feeding off the championship energy around him. The Giants fans around me in New Haven pumped me up by the end of the game, but back home, hundreds of thousands were going crazy. I could feel only a fraction of that energy over the phone.
Spring training isn’t as intense as a championship, but it’s a lot of fun when everyone around you is waiting for it. Even in the cold of February up north, you can feel the Florida warmth. Baseball hits the newspapers, games come back on TV, and everyone’s talking again. The energy is all around. And you can feel summer blossoming again, along with the game Giamatti loved.
Pete Martin is a sophomore in Morse College. His column runs on Thursdays.