By George Ofman-
(CBS) It’s time to put football in the rear view mirror for a while. The lights have gone out on the season. Someone cue my friend and football fanatic Jeff Joniak: “Fade… to….black”!
Take a hike pigskin boys. Leave us alone. Let football go hide at something called a combine.
The baseball season is here, resplendent in its yearly arrival just after the Superbowl put the final exclamation point on its season despite the big game blowing a big fuse. Spring training is upon us even if our shovels remain at the ready and pot holes spring up like weeds.
It doesn’t matter. Pitchers and catchers are reporting in the desert. Position players will follow. It sounds so much better than mini-camp or pad-less practices in Bourbonnais. This is baseball, where you hear the sweet sounds of balls plopping into leather gloves and getting struck by bats made of maple (when the bat isn’t shattering, of course). It’s where players are shouting, “I got it, I got it” as opposed to a bunch of overweight lineman simply grunting like swine at a feeding trough.
Baseball’s reawakening has been an annual right for over a century. We crave the sight of athletes clad in uniforms adorned with the identifiable caps running through endless drills, whether it’s a pitcher lumbering to cover first or an outfielder making a pinpoint throw to the cutoff man. There are a slew of pitching mounds, each occupied with someone trying to impress. They’re all there, laboring on numerous practice fields while the morning dew still glistens.
It massages the soul.
This is still America’s pastime. Always has been, always will be.
Don’t get me wrong. I like football, at least the regular season and playoffs. But training camp is held in the dead of summer when sweat isn’t earned as much as it lingers like gum on your sneakers. You look for refuge under a gangly tree or by the nearest air conditioner. If it isn’t hotter than a radiator on full blast, then storms threaten you to think twice. Spring training is refreshing. You just can’t beat the mountains towering in the background as you enter the complex. The denizens seek the heat, not hide from it. While Arizona can be fickle in February or March, the sun is as genuine as the desire to watch the next great star emerge from a gaggle of players, some of whom you readily recognize, others you strain to decipher. You don’t care because its baseball. It’s where hope springs eternal — unless you’re a Cubs fan. Then you’re sentenced to be eternally hopeful.
The snow birds are arriving from points all over the map. The trek, for many, is a ritual. They are to here to bathe themselves in baseball, hope, UV rays and a variety of beverages.
This is spring training, not training camp.
Instructors here are not equipped with whistles, tackling dummies or dummies making tackles. There are no fog horns to signal the end of one drill and the start of another. There is leisure to spring training unmatched by any other sport. Fans can mosey about and check out the newest arrivals or call out their favorite veterans. I’m not certain how one can leisurely mosey about the confines of a football field. It feels like restrained joy, if you love football.
The arrival of baseball replenishes the sports soul. It brings out the child in many of us, when we used to wait for the first real thaw to run out to the backyard or neighborhood school or baseball field to toss the first ball of the season. It signals spring is in site, warmer weather is near and an umpire is prepared to shot those famous words, “PLAY BALL.”
Good bye football. Leave me to my vice. As one time White Sox baseball announcer Bob Elson used to say, “Its baseball time again.”
George Ofman is a sports anchor and reporter for WBBM Newsradio 780 & 105.9FM.