This past Sunday, I found myself transported from the rains and dreary snows of late winter to the cloudless skies of Arizona—temperatures blazing in the mid-80s. For a moment, the bracket announcements of March Madness were put on hold as I had the opportunity to see the Cactus League in live action at last. The distinction was difficult to make; was it March or midsummer?
My first game was in the town of Surprise, the home of both the Texas Rangers and the Kansas City Royals. This game found the American League champions playing their World Series opponent and conquerors, the San Francisco Giants. The cozy stadium’s attendance record was broken with just over 12,000 people filling the stands.
As fans feasted on hot dogs, I noted the park’s dimensions of 350 feet down the foul lines and 400 feet to dead center; the field was “regulation” size, but seemed quite small without the towering grandstands found in regular season stadiums across the country.
Orange shirts were everywhere, and the crowd was smiling and good-natured. “What part of the Bay Area are you from?” was heard with great frequency, together with “howdy” and handshakes with newfound friends (well, acquaintances at least) from the Lone Star State.
The game began with a trumpet solo of the Star-Spangled Banner, followed by a fly-by of a helicopter and a hot-air balloon, sponsored by a local auto dealer. The latter rose majestically in the clear sky from just beyond center field.
The Giants looked relaxed and confident, not so easy to distinguish from midseason form. They presented themselves to the Rangers and fans with a certain swagger that had carried over from last year's World Series title, determined to begin their encore performance on the spring fields of Arizona.
The game itself was an opportunity to see mostly regulars play for four or five innings, followed by prospects with increasingly higher jersey numbers taking the field as the game progressed. Even the sewn player names on the back of the uniforms were gone by the time the game reached the final innings.
I could only imagine the pressure on any one of these young “nameless” players as they dug into the batter’s box, ready to face some of the game’s best setup men or closers standing on the mound. Could they somehow get a hit and impress the club enough to get another shot at making the roster?
How many of them would make The Show in a few weeks, or ever? Would they end up in Triple-A with a call-up midseason, or would they find themselves on a minor league bus, shuttling between small towns in rural America?
Could I be witnessing a future Rookie of the Year (a certain Mr. Belt, perhaps), or indeed a future member of the Hall of Fame?
Only time will tell.
Yes, the Giants did defeat the Rangers 11-8. Yes, starter Ryan Vogelsong made a surprisingly solid case for making the Opening Day squad.
But there was more—the excitement of the beginning of another year of baseball. Or was it just a continuation of last year's excitement? After all, as a wise man once said, the celebration never ends.
This was just one of many games played and yet to be played in baseball’s preseason. But for me, it was the signal of something vitally important: The boys of spring had arrived.