By Darrell Gwaltney
It is that time of year again. The pitchers and catchers have reported. The Spring Training games have begun.
Baseball is back.
Rogers Hornsby, the St. Louis Cardinals Hall of Famer, once said: “People ask me what I do in winter when there’s no baseball. I stare out the window and wait for spring.”
Well, it’s spring, baseball is back and Spring Training makes me feel like a child again!
I have been a St. Louis Cardinals Spring Training season ticket holder since they first moved to their Roger Dean Stadium facility in Jupiter, Fla., in 1998. Before they finished the stadium, a friend and I were allowed to go into the empty shell to choose our seats.
We asked where home plate would be, walked around a bit, and said, “We’d like to sit right here.” Field Box section 110, Row 10, seats 5, 6, 7, and 8 were ours — 10 rows behind home plate. Even though I moved away from south Florida in 2004, each spring I make my pilgrimage to Section 110, Row 10, seats 7 and 8.
This annual pilgrimage helps me rediscover childhood wonder. It awakens in me the hope of childhood.
Spring Training always connects with my inner child in three ways.
1. We all want to get picked for the team.
In Spring Training there are players with “92″ or “89” on their backs and no names. They show up for the first few weeks and then disappear. They are years away from sticking with the big club, if ever.
There are players like Oscar Taveras who wears “87″ this spring. He has his name on his back. He is the hottest prospect, and he may make it to the bigs this year. Already, a swing of his bat excites the crowd.
There was the time in 2000 when I saw this guy step into the batting circle for the first time. I thought, “Man, he is huge!” He stepped up and ripped a ball down the third base line. He wore “5.” The rest is history with Albert Pujols.
Spring Training reminds me if I show up for work, give it my best shot, good opportunities just might come my way. I learned that first as a child, and it is still true.
2. We all want our team to win it all.
Every year in Florida and Arizona the teams show up, work hard for a month and then start the season together. On opening day, everyone sits at the same record and the playoffs are the same distance away.
In Spring Training, I sit and watch my Cardinals and try to imagine them playing in October. The team changes from year to year, but there is always hope they can put together a great season.
Spring Training reignites that childish hope that everything will turn out all right. Somehow, injuries and free-agent defections aside, the Cardinals are going to show up and they are going to win. I believe that each spring.
3. We all should live in the moment.
After Spring Training games I stay in my seat and watch the stadium empty. The ushers stand around and talk to fans. The groundskeepers come out and start grooming the field for the next game. It is only one game among many.
I turn my face toward the sky and feel the warm Florida spring sun on my face. I feel the breeze. I breathe deeply.
I remember there is more to life than deadlines and enrollment goals, more than satisfying the many demands of people with whom I work. I remember sitting in those stands with my elementary school children who have now grown into young adults.
In the deep richness of the moment, I am a child again and I think: “I really could play second base for the Cardinals. They need one this year. Where’s my old glove?”
Be a child again, if you can. Find a place to get picked for the team and believe that you can win it all!