A Baseball Valentine

To every sport there is a season. Batter up!

Technically, baseball’s heroes are the boys of summer. But it can’t be mere coincidence that the countdown to Opening Day is also the countdown to springtime, so that the prospect of warm weather gets inextricably mixed up with the prospect of Roy Halladay and Cliff Lee. Among the cabin-fevered, impatience to glimpse the first daffodils in the garden exactly parallels impatience to glimpse how Ryan Howard looks in his first at-bats; will he come out tentative or slugging? We’ve had months to get over our grief at the loss of Jayson Werth and his beard, and this makes us gracious as we mull over his replacement: Has Domonic Brown’s time come? We fret over Jimmy’s legs and Polly’s elbow and Charlie’s contract even as we fret over the notion of more snow.

But today’s the day. It’s here, at last: baseball, somewhere down there in Clearwater, and video clips and the TV news let us catch whiffs of it the same way this week’s weather is set to tease us with tastes of the glory to come. Everyone is warming up at once, on the mound and at the plate and on the lawn and the still-snowbound sidewalks, starting the slow thaw that, as the days grow longer, will quicken, gathering momentum, drawing life from the strengthening sun until—on April Fool’s Day, this year—the umpire cries “Play ball!”

Surely our anticipation wouldn’t build this way through, say, the lengthening twilight of autumn. Nor would we be so anxious, so ready, if Opening Day fell in June. It’s the joint course of season and sport, the pressure-cooker of the Earth’s pent-up energy added to our own, that makes springtime so special for those of us who adore the intricate kabuki of baseball. All through the winter, while we shoveled snow and chipped at ice, we’ve followed football, become habituated to hockey, buoyed ourselves with basketball. But now the time has come. Our gutters and our hearts are melting, and we can’t wait to see what the season brings. What a Valentine!