That Time of Year

Some of you maybe wondering why I haven’t said anything about baseball for a while.

There’s a very simple explanation for that. Those of you who are fans know we’re currently in the deadest part of the year for baseball. Most teams don’t do anything newsworthy in January, and if something does happen, it’s usually so minor that even the teams’ own fans have trouble getting excited about it.

Most of the news this time of year involves teams bringing in players on minor league contracts: older players or players coming off injuries. They come to Spring Training to show what they can do, and in most cases, unfortunately, that’s not much*. Most of them won’t make the major league club; they’ll either stay with the team’s AAA affiliate and hope that an injury or trade results in an opening with the parent club, or they’ll be released. Even the most passionate fan has trouble getting excited about the competition to be the team’s fourth catcher or tenth outfielder.

* By the standards of major league teams, of course. All but a very few of them play at a level 99% of fans can only dream about reaching themselves.

The other common news item this time of year involves salary arbitration. Arbitration has nothing to do with whether a player will be on the team, or how much playing time they’ll get. It’s strictly about how much they’ll be payed.

As a fan, sure, you want to see your favorites get paid well. If nothing else, you can tell yourself it will improve the odds of them sticking around when they become free agents*. But really, it makes no difference to you. It’s not your money and it says nothing about how good or poor the player’s season will be.

* It doesn’t, but you can tell yourself it does. Why not? You have to do something to keep yourself awake this time of year.

In reality, the best most fans can do this time of year for baseball joy is to keep marking days off the calendar. Players begin reporting to Spring Training on February 19. That’s three weeks from today. The first exhibition games are at 10:05 Pacific Time on March 3. (There are a few games before 3/3, but they feature major league teams–and mostly the players expected to start the season in the minors–against college teams. From the fans’ perspective, that’s the equivalent of getting methadone when you were hoping for heroin*.) Close enough to smell the peanuts and Cracker Jack, but too far away to dig the toy out of the box.

* OK, that’s a slight exaggeration, but any fan will tell you that baseball is at least as addictive as heroin.

So we wait. We order tickets, rub oil into our gloves, and stock up on sunscreen. We dig for loose change in the sofa to pay for our MLB.TV subscriptions. We apply for loans to cover the cost of World Series tickets*.

* And airfare and hotels, because, of course, the Series will go to seven games, and we have to attend all of them.

Delayed gratification sucks.