It's often said that love is fleeting, a feeling or state of being that is difficult to maintain, always slipping through our fingers just when we think we have a firm grasp on it.
In our relationships, we often struggle to keep this feeling alive, making immense sacrifices and even turning our backs on our better judgment at times, all in an effort to capture the elusive treasure that all people crave.
Throughout our lives, so often we'll experience a string of relationships, some great, others forgettable, and a few utterly disastrous. We persevere however, because we know the payoff can be so rewarding.
Love is undoubtedly hard work. When it sours, we may have to endure deceit, betrayal, jealousy and a vast range of excruciatingly unpleasant emotions.
There is a love however, that in my life has never caused me the pain and heartache that so often accompanies the quest for romantic affection.
That is—my lifelong love affair with baseball.
Sure, the heartbreak and agony that I feel when my team doesn't triumph is very real and can have a detrimental effect on my mood, occasionally inducing symptoms mimicking full blown depression.
The fantastic thing about baseball though, is that there is always tomorrow. No matter how bitter the taste of defeat from the previous night, the next day always brings another opportunity for redemption.
Of course, once the season ends, whether you're a cellar dweller or a contender eliminated from the playoffs, the heartbreak returns, albeit only temporarily. We know that after the winter chill departs, a fresh, new spring brings with it the dawning of a new baseball season and the promise of a renewed sense of hope no matter where your rooting allegiance lies.
While writing this ode to the perfect sport, one of mankind's greatest creations, I can feel the winter melting away, being swept aside by the triumphant return of springtime. I know it's not 75 degrees today where everyone lives, but it's more a state of mind than the actual climate that I'm referring to.
As pitchers and catchers prepare to report to Spring Training in the next few days, to be joined by their teammates shortly thereafter, Florida and Arizona will be the birth places of that new hope, a sensation that will soon spread to 27 American cities and one in Canada. Though the 30 Major League teams reside in only 28 cities across North America, the rise of spring means baseball in sandlots, on little league fields, high school and college diamonds, as well as minor league stadiums around the continent.
No matter the location, nor the level of competition, there is a magic about baseball that cannot come close to being matched by any other sport on earth. I have yet to experience any intergalactic sporting events, but I'd be willing to put baseball up against any of those as well.
Whether you're watching from your $2,000 seats amidst the grandeur of the new Yankee Stadium or from rickety bleachers just beyond the backstop of your kid's little league game, the joys of baseball remain the same.
The simple aspects like the crack of the bat when someone laces a single through the infield, or the aroma of the freshly cut outfield grass on a crisp, spring morning all contribute greatly to the everlasting love that so many of us know.
A sport that the uninformed may know as slow or boring, is to baseball fans, a sport laden with thorough analysis and sophisticated strategy. Pitchers and catchers develop intricate patterns of signs to relay pitch selection, base coaches flash an array of signals littered with decoys to give batters and base runners instructions, while attempting to confuse would-be sign-stealing opponents.
It was once said that "chicks dig the long-ball," and while that may be true for the casual fan, those of us who can be considered true devotees of the game know that baseball is so much more than just hulking sluggers and booming home runs.
Even the simple, fundamental facets of the game warm the hearts of the baseball lovers amongst us. Pitchers painting the corners of the plate, catchers framing pitches off the edge in an attempt to win favorable calls, batters working the count. While minute details to some, just more aspects that contribute to our undying love of the sport.
We love batters sacrificing themselves in order to hit behind a runner, moving him into scoring position. Sac bunts, drag bunts, squeeze plays, all seemingly simple tasks that are increasingly rare in our modern game, elicit joy from baseball fans when executed with skillful aplomb. Hit-and-running, the combination of two fundamental skills, an early start from a base runner and a well-placed ground-ball, seemingly mundane when viewed separately, become an incredibly valuable tool of the game when performed in conjunction.
As crucial as the hitting components of the game are the defenders plying their trade and flashing the leather to deny their offensive counterparts. A catcher nimbly throwing himself to the ground to block a wayward pitch in the dirt. The third baseman charging hard on a bouncer in front of him, bare handing the ball and making the off-balance, sidearm throw to first, just in the nick of time. An outfielder positioning himself ahead of time, skillfully utilizing proper footwork to fire a laser toward home as the runner on third tags up in hope of scoring.
The running game provides other seemingly insignificant, yet wondrous facets of the game to behold. We are thrilled by a base stealer going into the bag headfirst, a runner going first to third, a doomed man on the base paths sliding hard at second to break up a potential double play.
We may be obsessed, but I call it love. Please, please don't tell my girlfriend, she may become jealous.
This February 14, Saint Valentine's Day, a day that has become a celebration of love, I couldn't think of a more appropriate day to hear the phrase, "pitchers and catchers report to Spring Training."
Baseball, I love you...will you be my Valentine?