Spring Has Sprung

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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?

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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.

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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.

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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.”

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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.

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About rcarmean

Two things... First, why have I decided to establish this blog? I like to put essays together. I research an idea or topic looking for information, statistics, stories, quotes, pictures, etc. I enjoy the process and seeing a finished product. I’m told that as I get older, new activities can help maintain energy and keep my brain alert. In other words, I am not doing this for money or fame. Second, regarding the gentleman in the collage of pictures above...it's not me. Those are photos of Christy Mathewson. Why him? When I was young, my primary activity was being sick. It took up much of my time. Eczema (a case so bad I was written up in a medical journal showing doctors what their patients COULD look like), asthma, and allergies. You know allergies: don’t eat this, don’t wear that, and, for Heaven’s sake, don’t touch any of these things (eg, dogs, cats, horses --I only saw horses in cowboy movies and TV shows, dust, swimming pools, my brother --OK, that’s an exaggeration, Rick was a fine brother). In my spare time between doctors' appointments, pills, and ointments, baseball kept me sane. In the 1940s and 1950s, when I grew up, pro footballI and basketball had not yet become extremely popular. Baseball truly was “the national pastime.” I listened to games on the radio (remember it? TV without the picture). I read magazines, books, and newspaper accounts of games. I collected baseball cards. I learned about the game’s history, as well as present. The same with its stars. One man stood out: Christy Mathewson. He was a great pitcher for the New York Giants in the early 20th century. But there was much more to him. At a time when professional athletes made little money (yes, there was such a time) and ball players were considered on the same level as actors, artists, and prostitutes, Mathewson stood out. One of his nicknames was: “The Christian Gentleman.” Most men is baseball drank, smoked, cursed, and fought —with other players, umpires, and fans. The fights were physical, not just verbal. Mathewson did none of these things. But he earned the respect of other players who did them all. Even Ty Cobb and John McGraw. There’s more. He was a college graduate (Bucknell University) when most men were lucky to have a high school diploma. He played other sports, including pro football which you wouldn’t recognize. He was handsome. He played in New York City, then as now, the largest city in the country. Excellence and popularity there meant fame and money. He dressed well. Today, his commercials would rival LeBron’s. And, finally, a hero’s life must have tragedy. After his playing career ended, WWI arrived. He suffered from influenza and was exposed to mustard gas. Chemical warfare. His lungs were damaged and he required treatment for the rest of his life. (Like my Grandfather who also fought in The Great War.) He died in 1925. He was 45 years old. I have his picture here because you need to know more about him than me. He was what an athlete could be. Players like him and their accomplishments got me through a sickly, painful childhood and can still sustain me in difficult times. *****
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