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Pitchers and catchers have reported and shorts and tulips are on the way

  • Written by Bob Rakow

We’ve endured freezing cold temperatures for several days and continue to look at the snow that fell on Super Bowl Sunday. Face it; winter is getting old real fast. But four magical words help me cope and realize that the frozen tundra won’t last forever: “pitchers and catchers report.”

 

Cubs and White Sox pitchers and catchers reported last Thursday and Friday, respectively. The rest of the players arrived in camp on Tuesday.

 

Warm, sunny days in Mesa, Ariz. Plenty of people make vacation plans to attend spring training, but just watching the games on television can take your mind off winter.

 

If you’re not a big baseball fan, the fact that pitchers and catchers reported to spring training might not mean much. It should, however, because spring training is about much more than just baseball.

 

The start of spring training signals a new beginning. Spring is around the corner. The temperature may not have reached double digits for a week, but don’t worry, that first warm day will be here soon enough. The snow will melt, there will be long lines at the car wash and you’re bound to see someone wearing shorts.

 

Sooner or later a tulip will pop out of the ground. If you have young children, it won’t be long before they have their first baseball or softball practice. Have fun with that. It won’t be winter any longer, but standing outside for an hour or two watching kids play baseball takes endurance. Dress like it’s still winter.

 

I am not a big spring training guy. Wake me up when the regular season begins and the games count.

 

My dad, on the other hand, loved spring training. He’d watch the televised games not for the outcome, he’d say, but to keep an eye on player development and find out which players were coming north as part of the part of the 25-man roster.

 

It’s fitting, I suppose, that the Cubs first spring training game will be played on his birthday. He’d be 90 years old. I know he’d be excited about this season more so than most. And with good reason. All Cubs fans are excited.

 

Still, opening day is not until April 5—38 days away. We can talk spring training story lines all we want, the nationally televised, Sunday night game against the rival St. Louis Cardinals is still a ways off.

 

So what to do in the meantime?

 

If you’re a sports fan, there’s plenty on your plate. For instance, there are only 24 games left in the Blackhawks schedule. Half of those contests are on home ice, including tilts with the defending champion L.A. Kings, the surprisingly hot N.Y. Islanders and the rival Vancouver Canucks and St. Louis Blues. The Hawks will make the playoffs, but there’s still a lot to play for. Plus, I love watching all the NHL teams jockey for playoff spots as the season comes to a close.

 

I’m not a huge Bulls fan, but I follow the team. The storyline for them is much the same as the Blackhawks. They’re all but in the playoffs in a very weak conference, but where they finish will determine whether or not they have home-court advantage in the first round. Again, I love the NBA storylines as teams battle for playoff spots.

 

Of course, the mega sports event each spring is March Madness—the NCAA college basketball tournament. The tourney is sports at its best because it has all of the elements sports fan love: endless games, drama, upsets and a Cinderella team. Oh how we love the upsets.

 

Selection Sunday is March 15. Is there anything cooler than watching players from a team that’s on the bubble leap from their chairs in delight when they learn they’ve been selected for the Big Dance? Of course, the selections are immediately followed by debate about which teams got screwed.

 

Sixty-eight teams make the tournament—there are four play-in games before we arrive at the 64 teams that have been norm since 1985. I remember the tournament having only 32 teams when I started high school and slowly expanding over the years as the networks and the NCAA realized that it was money machine.

 

Still, it’s widely popular, everyone fills out a bracket and there are often stories about man hours lost at companies as employees spend more time paying attention to scores than doing their jobs.

 

The Masters begins April 6. I’ll admit there’s real drama on the final day when two or three golfers are battling for the Green Jacket. As far watching the rest of the tournament—or any golf tournament—not interested. But golf fan or not, Augusta National is one of the most beautiful venues in sports with stunning Azaleas blooming everywhere.

 

You may never get your own backyard to look so good, but you’ll get a chance real soon because spring is on its way.