It's February, and that means baseball! Let's take a look at baseball's four distinct seasons to discover why this month is such a joyful time for fans.
- Play-off season: Fall is the time for World Series heroes to step up. Fall is also the time for the goats of the Series to don the horns of shame as they are driven into Azazel to atone for the team's sins, as is written in Leviticus 16:21-22.
- The Hot Stove League: Throughout the winter, fans vent their collective spleens about what went wrong last season and share their collective wisdom for the upcoming season.
- Spring Training: For the gardener, February means crocuses. For baseball fans, February means spring training. For all, spring means hope. No one has more hope than the baseball fan. In February, there is the hope that winter will soon pass.
- OPENING DAY! In April, it's game on!
If you're not a baseball fan, you stopped reading about 175 words back. If you are a fan, you saw the word "baseball"and those eight letters stopped you for a moment. You saw a white leather spheroid, hand-stitched with red seams. You flashed back to your first catch with Dad and your kid's first catch with you. You recalled your first embroidered cap. You saw green fields and white lines. You even heard bad biblical baseball jokes. ("How do we know God loved baseball? Well, the first lines of Genesis are "In the big inning," Cain struck out Abel, and the Prodigal Son came home.")
Baseball means re-birth. In Detroit, for 40 years spring meant sportscaster Ernie Harwell reading to us from Song of Solomon (2:11-12) before the start of the season's first spring training game:
"For lo, the winter is past, the rain is over and gone; the flowers appear on the earth; the time of the singing of birds is come, and the voice of the turtle is heard in our land."
Take 15 seconds to listen to Ernie. Please.
Disclaimer: I love winter. I love skiing, skating, snow angels, and seeing my breath on a subzero morning. There is absolutely nothing quite as pretty as a rolling, snow-covered field. I love gazing skyward at hawks as they soar in a bluebird sky, searching for mice under the puffs of virgin powder.
But spring? Spring means that this, too, shall pass. Winter makes a few serious attempts every season to kick our collective keisters. Spring training means we made it, ice storms, blizzards, and glazed-over roads be damned. Spring training means a Tiger pitcher running sprints on the outfield grass at Joker Marchant Stadium in Lakeland, FL, or a rookie Cubs catcher digging in for some BP in HoHoKam Park in Mesa, AZ. Spring training baseball means the fields will be plowed, seeds will be sown, and there is indeed a season - turn, turn, turn.
(Of course, being a new season and all, there are always trades during winter's League meetings. It can be tough to keep track of new players. Whenever the Tigers make a trade, I can never remember who's on first.)
Spring training is the fan's version of Leviticus 16:23-28. It is the ritual cleansing of all that went poorly the season before: the strikeouts, the errors, wild pitches. As pitchers and catchers gather every February, and the rest of the team follows 10 days later, we have our ritual cleansing - "The man who burns them must wash his clothes and bathe himself with water; afterward he may come into the camp" (Lev. 16:28) - and we all start spring cleansed and fresh.