Saturday, February 23, 2013

The Royals Are in First Place!

A friend wrote this week: "Pitchers and catchers report. Nothing sounds better than that!"

February is the most optimistic month of the year. Valentine's Day does occur, which is the day to indulge in guilt-free chocolate with loved ones. It's also the month that the Super Bowl ends, so the airwaves are free of that clutter for at least six months. And, of course, batteries report. Every team is in first place and the Yankees are in last. Somehow, all seems right with the world.

Before we confine the recent orgy of advertising, hype and blather to the dustbin of history, a few musings:

While the Ravens' run to the title was a compelling story, there were a few details I could not quite get past. All their players wore a patch for their late owner on their jerseys, thus celebrating the life of the person who moved the team to their city. I am old enough to remember that post-midnight escapade when moving vans spirited the beloved Colts from their home city to Indianapolis. Baltimoreans were crushed at the loss of their home team, so much so that they did the same to another city (Cleveland) a decade later. Sorry, two wrongs do not make a right.

For my second notion, allow me to paraphrase Stephen Colbert: Ray Lewis now has as many Super Bowl rings as indictments for murder. I never liked him as a player, feeling particularly appalled at the events that surrounded his last appearance at a Super Bowl. I was surprised to hear the spate of adulatory comments from all the media about the end of his glorious career, with little mention of that dark chapter from years ago. They did spend a great deal of time remarking on his faith. I do find his conversion convenient. But then, I have never liked the outbursts where athletes thank their lord and savior for their victory; the logical conclusion to such a statement is that the losing team must surely be allied with the devil.

I also read that the unfortunate blackout proved that the American populace will stare at a television set for at least a half hour with absolutely nothing on.

February is also the month when college basketball is in its purest form, full of teams jousting for consideration for the postseason. We also get to see ordinary teams knock off heavily-favored ones, which happens with more frequency in this than in any other sport. Now, if we could just put an end to that annual pledge drive for alumni contributions known as the conference tournament, I would feel even better about the sport.

Enough of that; on to happier thoughts.

February 15 is the date when pitchers and catchers begin their official workouts. The news is full of reports of who has changed teams, how some are recovering from off-season surgeries and last season's injuries, expected reporting dates for others and team-by-team breakdowns on Sports Center. Years ago, this was the time of year when my subscription to the Sporting News kicked in. There was a page on each team, followed by a heading of clever alliteration: Mets Musings, Royals Rambles, Nats Notes and so on throughout the Bigs.

When I was a youngster, I used to listen to my hometown Tulsa Oilers (AA, Texas League) on the radio. They were a farm team of the Cardinals, so I also used to dial in my AM radio to their broadcasts. I followed the rise of some to the Big Club and the rehab stints in the minors of others. The Cards were my team. Imagine my excitement when my father announced that we would drive to St. Louis for a couple of games one summer. We saw the Giants in one game and the Dodgers in another. I remember Sportsman's Park as being old and full of people dressed in red. I also recall my father telling me about Stan the Man, that I could, someday, tell my own children that I had seen the immortal Stan Musial in his prime. He had the most unusual batting stance, one that was never duplicated; I don't know that it was ever even imitated. I also don't recall if we ate at Musial's Restaurant in St. Louis, but I did have an autographed picture of him, which I assume that I got at his restaurant.

Mr. Musial recently passed away. To the end, he was regarded as a man who thoroughly enjoyed life. He apparently regarded each day he spent in the uniform of his beloved Cardinals as a gift, one he enjoyed for over 20 years. He was also considered one of the toughest outs in the game. The story was retold after his death, in which the manager of the Dodgers once asked his pitcher, Preacher Roe, how he intended to get Musial out that day. Roe is alleged to have responded: I'll throw him four wide ones, then hope to pick him off first base.

No other sport contributes such colorful tales to our language. Baseball is full of them. Isn't it grand to hear them once again? February is the most optimistic month of the year. And, the Royals are in first place.