This is the time of year when the warmth of the sun hits your skin and the cracks of the bat begin to fill the air with a noise so sweet. The smell of hot dogs and (for those drinkers out there) beer on your breath permeates the atmosphere.
After a long winter and myriad free agent signings, fans look forward to seeing the changes to their teams' rosters put into practice. And the only way of having an inkling of how things are going to work out (before the actual campaign begins, of course) is Spring Training.
It's not just the time in which players get ready for the start of the season; it's when chemistry is formed!
No, I have not ever been to a Spring Training game. Yet I understand the importance of the period and what it means to me as a fan (of the World Champion Phillies, of course).
As far back as I can remember, and probably since baseball was first considered America's pasttime, I have always anticipated summer with hope, faith, belief, passion, and unwavering support for my team. I know most preseason action isn't televised, and that it's the regular season that counts, but stick with me here.
I have heard stories of how things are "different" in spring.
Not so much the game, as it's always played the same: There are nine innings, players get pulled, pitchers get yanked, and strategy is employed.
And it's not so much that pitchers only get about three innings to begin with, or that our everyday players play only enough to get ready and largely just try to avoid injury.
I think Spring Training is different because, for a fan, it's is more about watching, having fun, and evaluating. It's about watching the talent the team is going to go to war with during the regular season, assessing the spring surprises that might make the team, and scouting the young and upcoming talent.
During the regular season, all of us feel the ups and downs; it's like a roller coaster when the teams we root for win or lose.
But in spring, we get to enjoy the full experience of the game without distractions, like those of being in a pennant race, snapping out of losing streaks, or maintaining long winning streak. That's all certainly enjoyable, but I think that as fans we have become more demanding and take each win or loss just as hard as the players themselves.
It's not about the statistics, the players themselves, or your surroundings. It's about the feeling a person gets enjoying a game of baseball in those most perfect of conditions.
It's not too hot, not too cold...it's just right. That's the right way of enjoying one's self!