The Rite of Spring Letting you in on baseball's dirty little secret
Any fan making the incidental foray down to Spring Training will bore you near to death with fabulous exciting wondrous stories about the experience. Especially Giants fans.
Hey sports fans. Welcome to 2013’s version of the Big Empty. That short barren window in the yearly calendar where absolutely nothing is going on. Football has finally finished. Basketball doesn’t get interesting until the playoffs, which start somewhere around the 4th of July. Hockey has been locked out by the owners, or maybe they’re playing again, who knows? NASCAR shot out of the gate but blew their proverbial wad hosting the biggest race of the season on opening weekend. The hell is that? Rumors have it that golf is nibbling around the edges but nobody pays attention until the Masters, first full week of April.
Thus, beleaguered fans desperately turn their lonely eyes to baseball, currently in the process of unwinding from its long winter’s nap. All 30 teams are now assembled and settling to the business at hand; taking a hard look at the human clay that will make up their 25-man roster this season.
Forget the robin. The return of baseball is the true harbinger of spring. A rebirth. Back to zero. Each and every team has the very same theoretic chance to win it all. Last year’s results are a boring statistic lodged in the annals of ancient history. Not even the Cubbies have been mathematically eliminated yet. Okay, the Astros, maybe.
The tradition of practicing in warm weather prior to competitive play began in the late 19th century. Hot Springs, Arkansas. New Orleans, Louisiana. Tulsa, Oklahoma. By 1914, four teams had congregated in Florida, eventually becoming known as the Grapefruit League. Then in 1947, the Cleveland Indians moved to Tucson in tandem with the New York Giants relocating to Phoenix and the seeds of the Cactus League were planted. Since 2010, it’s been an even split: 15 teams Cactus, 15 Grapefruit.
In the beginning, it was primarily locals streaming into small bandboxes that held a few thousand. But as air travel became more affordable, snowbirds flocked south to the warm weather practices like lemmings following a siren song over a cliff in the fog of war. For one brief peek at the new Boys of Summer they would follow religiously over the long grind of a 162-game season. The teams responded with updated facilities and the towns chipped in with halfway decent hotels and restaurants and it even stopped raining as much. That’s how deep this collusion runs.
Any fan making the incidental foray down to Spring Training will bore you near to death with fabulous exciting wondrous stories about the experience. Especially Giants fans. WARNING! Do Not Believe Them. They are sad victims of a bizarre form of mass hypnosis. Quite simply put, Spring Training in Scottsdale, Arizona is hell in a hand basket. It is Baseball’s Dirty Secret.
The naïve accounts of happy-go-lucky baseball fans are a grim conspiracy foisted upon an unsuspecting public by combined forces of local chambers of commerce, Major League Baseball and bottled water conglomerates taking advantage of a frozen populace that just wants to see green grass. The primitive Cactus League conditions would sap the strength of the best of us. Those glowing reports: the product of a feverish imagination. Surely, psychiatrists have a name for it. No idea what it is.
The sun beats so relentlessly, visitors are compelled to wear dark glasses to block out the dangerous UV rays. Many are driven to seek relief by stripping to shorts and t- shirts in a desperate effort to avoid heat prostration. Some bodies are so dangerously pale upon arrival, the reflection cast from their skin has been known to blind unlucky drivers who casually glance in their direction.
Most hotels feature pools but exhausted guests do little more than lie about on chaise lounges occasionally dipping into the lapping water for a brief cool down. Some frolicking has been known to occur.
Restaurants customers are often forced to spend up to a half hour in air-conditioned bars waiting to be seated. Inside the stadiums beer is kept ice cold to entice the susceptible to hydrate in desert conditions. Hot dogs and hamburgers are grilled over an open flame plainly within the sight of patrons. Children included. Who will protect the children?
A 32-year-old restaurant called Don & Charlie’s, dead smack in the center of Scottsdale on Camelback Road, may very well be the brains behind this malevolent movement. Calls itself a baseball bar featuring thousands, yes, thousands of pieces of memorabilia but sneaks other sports onto its walls: would someone please tell me which baseball teams Joe Montana, Michael Jordan and Mohammed Ali played for? Oh wait, Jordan played for the Durham Bulls but I’m pretty sure his jersey had sleeves.
You can tell D & C is the kingpin in this nasty business because of the extreme amount of baseball illuminati who call it home for the month of March. Managers. Players. Broadcasters. Mascots. Ushers. In order to attract gullible bystanders, prices are kept fiendishly low, with imported beers topping out at $5.25. When leaving, soft breezes carry the oppressive scent of orange blossoms. The nightmare continues.
All in all, it’s a brutal draining experience and it is with unmitigated dread I anticipate my return this year having made the trip 25 out of the last 27 years. Unless you are like me, a glutton for punishment seeking an assortment of indignities, best stay home. Take a tip from the great Yogi Berra, who said: “Nobody goes there anymore, it’s too crowded.”