In Search of Spring

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Baseball devotees are known to anticipate the onset of spring with a special fervor. In February 1971, John Hutchens wrote in The Times, “He is beginning to emerge from his cotton‐wool haze, the hopelessly addicted baseball fan for whom life — if that’s the word for it — has amounted to nothing much since the last play of the 1970 World Series.” This is the kind of hyperbolic perspective on the seasons I identify with. I’m not a die-hard baseball fan, but I know the agony of which Hutchens writes, the way life seems to be on hold during the winter months.

Jerry Kraus, a snowbird from Utica, N.Y., who works at Clover Park during spring training, seemed to have the right idea, leaving the Northeast for Florida when the weather gets dicey. He was so in sync with the springtime vibe that he caught a foul ball right in his hand. (Baseball’s not Jerry’s only sport; he runs a Wordle league in which participants are given rules for letters they’re not allowed to use for their first word. On the day I met him, the rule was “No worries,” so your first guess couldn’t contain the letters W, O, R, I, E or S.)

In his 1990 book “Men at Work: The Craft of Baseball,” George Will tsk-tsked descriptions of the game as “unhurried” or “leisurely,” calling such observations “nonsense on stilts.” For the players, he writes, “there is barely enough time between pitches for all the thinking that is required.” But for this casual spectator, “no worries” could be baseball’s official motto. Being outdoors in the sunshine and fresh air, things do feel slower and easier. The fretting slows down. I love that baseball has long been considered America’s national pastime. A pastime is something that makes the passing of time pleasant. Isn’t that what we’re longing for in the winter months? Something that makes time not just tolerable but enjoyable?

By the time I left Florida, it was pouring rain and even a little chilly. How was I supposed to take springtime home with me, I wondered petulantly. It was still raining in New York when I landed. Spring isn’t just weather, of course, and it certainly makes no promises about rain. I’m trying to resist cliché, to keep from saying something akin to “spring is a state of mind,” even though I wish it were.

I went looking for spring and I found it where spring breakers find it every year, already in full, exuberant swing in the Sunshine State. My own official shedding of woolen garments and denunciation of seasonal funk will occur on Tuesday, when spring finally arrives. But having experienced 24 hours of spring’s full pageant, my own little preseason, I feel slightly pacified. Perhaps I can be patient as spring establishes itself, offer the season a little grace as it clicks into place. (N.Y.C. temperature as I write this: 36 degrees, but there’s definite blue among the clouds.)

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