A glimmer of good news for all baseball fans in Seminole County and Central Florida: spring training and regular-season baseball are back.
Dare I say it... Play ball!
In the 30 years I’ve lived in Florida, I’ve been a regular at spring-training games. Some of my fondest memories are of taking my son to spring games when he was young.
I remember a perfect March day at the Yankees spring-training facility in Tampa. We got there early to get a good spot by the fence at the players’ practice fields. There was an opening in the chain link that was belt high for the players. A fan could pass a baseball through the fence to the player’s side and, if lucky, get an autographed ball back in return.
My son must have been feeling lucky on this day because at that moment Hall of Famer Reggie Jackson came out of the clubhouse and was walking right toward my son.
“Please, Mr. Jackson, will you sign my ball?” he asked.
Reggie, who has a reputation for gruffness, took the ball and pen from the 10-year old’s outstretched hand and signed.
“Thank you,“ said my beaming son.
I remember closer Mariano Rivera signing autographs under a shady tree for what seemed like hours. I remember Cleveland pitcher Bob Feller holding court at a picnic table near the bleachers in Winter Haven.
I remember “Mr. Tiger,” Al Kaline, riding a golf cart around the Tiger complex in Lakeland and then stopping in front of us to sign a baseball. I remember Tiger star Miguel Cabrera about to drive off, then rolling down his window and gesturing to my son and other kids that he would sign some baseballs. He didn’t stop ‘til every kid’s ball was signed.
As of this writing, MLB is set to open the regular season on April 1. A percentage of ticket holders will be able to attend games, but social distancing and mask-wearing will still be required as a precaution against spreading COVID-19.
Spring training will also have a full slate of games from the end of February through March, but they will be lacking in the thing that makes spring training special – accessibility. There will be no interaction between players and fans. No selfies with your favorite player. Fans will not be able to view workouts or ask for autographs, according to SpringTrainingOnline.com.
Some see the bases half empty. I see them half full, and I see Yankee slugger Aaron Judge coming to the plate.
I’m betting on spring training to eventually return to what it once was – a chance to see your baseball heroes up close and maybe take home a souvenir. Perhaps not in 2021, but 2022, for sure.
James Earl Jones sums up the resilience of our uniquely American sport in his climactic speech from the classic baseball flick, Field of Dreams.
“The one constant through all the years, Ray, has been baseball,” says Jones, trying to convince Kevin Costner’s character, Ray, not to sell the baseball diamond he built in a cornfield. “America has rolled by like an army of steamrollers. It’s been erased like a blackboard, rebuilt, and erased again. Baseball has marked the time. This field, this game, it’s a part of our past, Ray. It reminds us of all that once was good and could be again.”
...and WILL be again.
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