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Rites of Spring: Sneaking a look ahead to Spring Training and Opening Day

Great American Ballpark concourse - from the perspective of an inveterate day-drinker.
Great American Ballpark concourse - from the perspective of an inveterate day-drinker.

Opening Day is a mere 52 days away. With the annual football championship match safely behind us, we can permit ourselves to look ahead to some of the key dates that ease us back into baseball season:

  • February 16: Pitchers and catchers officially report to Goodyear, AZ
  • February 17: First workout
  • February 19: Position players report
  • February 20: First full workout
  • February 26: Mandatory Spring Training report for all players
  • February 27: Spring opener @ CLE
  • February 28: Goodyear Ballpark opener vs. CLE
  • March 2-11: "Contracts of unsigned players may be renewed." March 11 is the latest date for the team to renew contracts with pre-arbitration players like Drew Stubbs (and assign them a salary somewhere around league-minimum). Most teams try to get this out of the way before spring training starts.

From there, it's a short hop to Opening Day on March 31 against the Milwaukee Brewers. So let's continue to think of childish names to call the Milwaukee Brewers. Here's what I have so far: P.U.-ers, Spew Crew, Mil-crock-ee Blew-cruds and the North Chicago Yellowcubs.

Thoughts of late March also got me to thinking about the fabled opener in Cincinnati and how much that Opening Day tradition has changed, especially in the past 10 years (the Great American Ballpark Era). Sparky Anderson put it simply: "It’s a holiday—a baseball holiday! Ain’t no other place in America got that!" This attitude of self-celebration and reverence for the history of the occasion remains largely intact. And I would wager to guess the enthusiasm gap that existed over the last ten years has eroded significantly. We may be back to Griffey Homecoming levels (or better). The most notable change this year is that Opening Day is in the month of March - and on a Thursday. This restores the Season Opener to Cincinnati, though they will share it with five other teams. In scheduling and team success, tradition is momentarily on the rise.

As for the Day itself, what's your procedure? Some diehards catch the Findlay Market parade (this year is the 92nd annual), a pre-game restaurant/bar special near the park and get to the game by first pitch. Other poor saps are forced to follow at their desks the sad procession of play-by-play readouts over generic isometric baseball field on GameDay or GameCast, with a trigger finger on the "fake work" button.

Me personally - I sleep a restless sleep and rise with the sun - which is scheduled to come up at 6:42 am on March 31, according to the Poor Baseballfan's Almanac. I practice clapping, moving my head back and forth between two points in space and reciting the numbers, birthdates and career slashlines of everyone on the 25-man roster. I then eat an envirogating breakfast of goetta milk, coarse grains and Christian Moerlein. After putting on my costume as unofficial/officially-unwelcome mascot, Pete Rosie Red the Riveter, I head downtown. After having my float denied access to the official parade and being almost arrested, I usually turn to "Plan B" - which is offering parade commentary over a pirate radio signal. The adrenaline from flouting the FCC really gets me cranked up and ready for the game. Then I have to go to work and follow the game on a version of NPR's All Games Considered jury-rigged to look like an Excel spreadsheet. Except, I don't use Excel in my work, so I'll probably get fired. Again.

Only seven weeks to go. I recommend getting on a pretty rigorous program of yelling and concession line-jumping. And hitting reload on this site all the time.