My brother (Rick) and I grew up in Philadelphia. Winters could be an endless series of sunless days. The amount of snow varied from year to year. One day, late in the last century, we got 31” of snow –a Philly record. The city stopped for 2 days while everyone shoveled in hope of finding the sidewalk in front of their home.
Many years ago, Rick and I decided Winters needed to be shorter. Had we grown up skiing in Vermont, we would have thought differently. But that ship had sailed. What to do?
We loved baseball and looked forward to each new season eagerly. That gave us an idea. Baseball starts its season with Spring Training, not Opening Day. So: for us, we agreed to begin Spring (and, more important, end Winter) when Pitchers and Catchers reported to Florida or Arizona to prepare for the coming season. Yes, an occasional late Winter snow attempted to spoil our outlook, but our focus was elsewhere: South and Southwest. This year, Spring started on Monday, February 13 and by the end of that week, position players joined the early arrivals and Winter ceased.
This year, my thoughts, in mid-February, turned away from local weather reports and considered other, more important, issues. 1) Have the Cubs started a dynasty? They are the reigning World Series Champions and I’m pretty sure no one in their daily starting lineup is 30 years old. 2) What will the Red Sox do without Big Papi for the first time in 15 years? 3) Who will rebuild their team into a winner in NYC first: Yankees or Mets? 4) Will Bryce Harper and Andrew McCutchen recover from their severe and unexplained slumps of last season? 5) Will the Rockies ever get quality pitching to supplement their hitting? 6) Will Clayton Kershaw continue to be baseball’s finest pitcher –but, this year, for a complete season? 7) Who will be the National League’s best hitter: Joey Votto, Nolan Arenado, or Freddie Freeman? 8) Who will be the American League’s finest hitter: Jose Altuve, Miguel Cabrera (I think he came out of the womb hitting .300 with 30 home runs), or Mookie Betts? 9) Will Mike Trout continue his seemingly inevitable path to become the G.O.A.T. (the Greatest of All Time)? The questions seem endless. So, too, the discussion of them. And they are a better use of time than waiting for 31” of snow.
Best of all, baseball fans can once again daydream their favorite quotations from baseball’s most famous wordsmith: Yogi Berra. A Hall of Fame catcher and 14 time participant in Yankee World Series (winning 10 of them), his words of wisdom are quoted (though not always accurately) near and far. And his observations/advice were always made WITHOUT benefit of a college degree. No Spring can be complete without, once again, contemplating his verbiage. For example: 1) “Baseball is 90% mental. The other half is physical.” 2) “Little league baseball is a very good thing because it keeps the parents off the streets.” 3) “Why buy good luggage? You only use it when you travel.” 4) After attending a White House dinner, Yogi observed: “It was hard to have a conversation with anyone. There were so many people talking.” 5) Once, when asked if he wanted his pizza cut into 4 or 6 pieces, he replied: “You’d better make it 4. I don’t think I can eat 6 pieces.”
And no pre-season discussion would be complete without repeating at least one story about Yogi’s baseball observations. In 1963, Yogi’s New York Yankees played the Dodgers in the World Series. Sandy Koufax had completed a magnificent season. Compared to all other National League pitchers, he won more games (25 –losing only 5 times), had a better ERA (1.88), more shutouts (11), more strikeouts (306), the best strikeout to walk ratio (5.28), the finest WHIP (0.875), plus he was the National League’s MVP and Cy Young Award winner. A sportswriter saw Yogi watching Koufax warm up and asked: “What do you think of him?” Yogi replied: “I don’t believe it.” “You don’t believe he won 25 games?” “No. I don’t understand how he lost 5.”
PS = In the 1963 World Series, The Dodgers defeated the Yankees 4 games to none. Koufax pitched 2 complete games, won both, and had an ERA of 1.50.