Saturday, April 22, 2006

Spring giveaway

The grass out front won't stop growing, getting more out of control seemingly each hour. Then, one day, when you've finished with the excuses and you're ready to cut it - finally - it's raining.

Ahh, spring, a season so lovely that even the rainy days are beautiful.

After the drudgery of winter, where taking out the trash requires a heavy coat, it's rather liberating to kick winter while it's down and walk outside with T-shirt and shorts - raining or not.

The sunny days? Indescribably beautiful.

Summertime humidity has yet to set in. The flies and other pesky insects aren't yet pests. Rolling down the window in your car and enjoying the air is okay - no air conditioning required.

Baseball has become linked with springtime. "Spring" training happens when it's still winter for most of the country. But by the time the season kicks off, April 1 or thereabouts, spring is well under way. Or if it isn't, at least we've probably got a few hopeful glimpses of it by then.

But the parallels between spring and baseball are numerous and strong. When pitchers and catchers report to Florida or Arizona, they're 0-0, and theoretically anyone can win the World Series. In February, hope springs eternal.

Watching grown men field and bat and bunt brings out the kid in many of us - a sort of rejuvenation that spring is famous for.

Most of the highlights from spring training feature casually-dressed analysts working under a nearly cloudless sky against the backdrop of green fields. Funny that the grass on the baseball diamond never seems to become the jungle it has here.

Nothing makes you feel alive as catching your first warm baseball game of the season. (Baseball in cold weather is an experience in misery, and God bless the die-hard fans who attend such games.)

I caught mine the past two weeks, when the Washington Nationals held their home opener, complete with Vice President Dick Cheney sporting better accuracy during the first pitch ceremony than he did on that imfamous hunting trip.

A week later, the Nats' Class-A affiliate, the Potomac Nationals, opened their home slate as well. The players there are younger, less jaded and (mostly) a joy to be around. Even when the occasional Major Leaguer drops by for a rehab assignment, they seem to be at ease with the more relaxed surroundings. All-Star second baseman Jose Vidro, generally a good interview regardless of the circumstances, talked to the media with a smile when he came through last season.

Of course, maybe he was just happy to be back on the field and not in day-long physical therapy sessions.

Hearing the wooden bat strike the ball, watching a helpless batter get rung up, seeing a crisp throw from short to first - it all means spring to me and many others.

Let the cookout season begin. Welcome, spring.

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