Spring Training: The Promise of a Brand New Season

Baseball on TV is a glorious thing. Even if it’s a Spring Training game between the Nationals and the Mets or the Yankees and the Pirates, you can’t go wrong on a cold afternoon in the northeast watching baseball.

Every year, it’s been like that for me. When the first week in March rolls around and snow still covers the ground here, somewhere down south — in Florida, in Arizona — baseball teams are taking the field for the start of another season. And it’s great.

It’s great because no one knows what happens next. In any baseball season, anything can happen. If you told a Red Sox fan 12 months ago that Boston would be the reigning World Champions come March of 2005, this fan would probably have just signed and said, “In my dreams.? But here we are, and the Red Sox, on the way down to Florida, were treated as World Champs at the White House.

So what surprises does the 2005 season hold? I don’t know, and that’s what makes baseball great. Can the Red Sox win again after going 86 years without a World Championship? (I hope not!) Can Ichiro reach that nearly unattainable .400 plateau? How many games does it take before Barry Bonds becomes the number two home run hitter of all time? What about number one? Bonds has hit more than 53 home runs in a season before.

Who’s going to be that surprise team this year? Can the Twins finally get past the Divisional Series? Can the Cubs shake off nine decades of ghosts, miffed groundballs, fan interference, and a goat? Can the upstart Marlins led by a feared lefty slugger unseat the Braves from atop the NL East? And how about those Tigers? Or Dodgers? Or Mariners? Or Diamondbacks? The Tigers are eyeing .500 and beyond this year after nearly setting a new record for futility in 2003. The Dodgers made it to the playoffs for the first team in 10 years and have completely retooled this year. The Mariners and the D-backs are just looking to make up for subpar seasons.

And then there are the stories of personal triumph. Can Javier Vazquez shake the demons of a few rough starts in New York? Can Rich Ankiel finally come back from wildness and arm injury to fulfill his promise? Will Jason Giambi show the world that he’s better than steroids? How will David Wells fare pitching for his (former?) favorite team’s bitter rivals? And how does Pedro Martinez respond to the home town of the “Who’s your daddy?? chant.

Who will be that great fantasy pick? How about the surprise choice for rookie of the year? Will Tim Hudson win a Cy Young under Leo Mazzone and the Braves? Will Randy and Curt, two weathered veterans at the twilight of their careers, battle it out for supremacy in the AL or will age, ever just around the corner, finally catch up? And what about The Rocket?

And then there are the off-field dramas. Will Jose Canseco, Mark McGwire, and many other players testify in Senate? In court? Who will get caught using steroids under the new policy? Will this be the issue that drives a deep wedge between the Players Union and the owners or will both groups address the issue in a way that puts it out the minds of the fans, the media, the players?

This is what makes baseball great. Every season, every game, offers something new. New dramas, new first-time all stars, new veterans to be that clutch player, new counts, new standings. And it all begins in Spring Training. So while I sat watching some guys with high numbers and no recognizable names battle on a rainy day in Tampa, I knew that baseball had returned, and all was once again good.

For spring break this week, I am driving down to Florida with three of my friends. We’re a Yankee fan, a Red Sox fan, a Phillies fan, and a Braves fan, and we’re seeing four games this week. I’ll be writing a little something about each game. So check back regularly next week.

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