Bandini warms up

People ask me what I do in winter when there’s no baseball.  I’ll tell you what I do.  I stare out the window and wait for spring.

Rogers Hornsby

Tiny cloudbursts of expiration,  numb-blue fingers, mist-slick grass,  47 blustery degrees: a perfect scene for the first catch of the year. The hell with Madness and the Final Four; the initiated know that March really means grabbing your glove, tossing the ball around the yard, and dreaming about legging out a gapper into a double.

Saturday afternoon, ED, AD, and I (SD being on injured reserve and awaiting her second hip surgery) ignored the three inches of mud caked on our shoes, formed a wide triangle, and played catch for a solid hour. The light, chilly rain impacted our grip on the ball, of course, resulting in some interesting spin and a few errant throws, some of which ran down the hill into a six-inch puddle. Mainly, though, we threw on target, ball snapping pocket, bodies barely needing to adjust a centimeter. Glorious.

Our first toss of spring recalls John Fante’s Arturo Bandini, a baseball nut who longed for the solace of the infield forsaken under  frozen white mounds:

He hated the winter. He could picture the baseball diamond behind the school, buried in snow, the backstop behind home plate cluttered with fantastic heaviness—the whole scene so lonely, so sad. (51)

While the Winter Olympics certainly offered some rousing moments, their mixture of ice and sweat and catastrophe fail to match the optimistic spray of soggy turf as cleats inadvisably dig past third base, point toward the unmasked behemoth towering over the plate as a whitish blur hurtles through space: a simple physics experiment revisited each March with varying results. Force, meet immovable object. Only sometimes the ball whimpers itself to sleep; sometimes it explodes off-line and ricochets against the backstop; sometimes it squirms out of its leather nest and falls harmlessly to the ground; sometimes the bramble patch of limbs and leather and sanitary socks confuses the umpire just enough that he boots the call; sometimes the slide—so, so perfect—defies the odds and a bruised pinkie barely scrapes the edge of the plate before glove thwacks the contortionist on the ass, face, arm. Sometimes that foolhardy runner with the arthritic knees and the Thome-like speed looks up and hears “SAFE!” Try looking for THAT on a curling sheet . . .

March thaws the frost within and heralds the sanguine melody of fresh beginnings, 0-0 records, and a shot at the title. Play ball!

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~ by Moldorf on March 16, 2010.

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