With all apologies to those with February birthdays, the second month of the calendar year can be pretty dreary. Following the Super Bowl and the end of football, fans are still knee deep in snow in many cities, along with whipping winds and invincible black ice. While hockey and basketball are great, we still have another month before March Madness and two months before April, which yields spring, Opening Day in baseball and the Masters.
What February does bring (besides myriad Subway promotions) is the first hopes for warmer weather and sunshine. No, it is not the groundhogs doing, but February yields the celebrated day on the calendar when pitchers and catchers report for spring training.
This renowned date, which varies among every Major League Baseball organization, is when the first players finally arrive at spring training complexes in Arizona and Florida, officially beginning their preparations for the new baseball season.
In principle, the date on the calendar is incredibly meaningful. It is the day when players take their physicals and have their first exchanges with new coaches and teammates. However, in today’s baseball, pitchers and catchers have often long been in communication prior to the middle of February. Current big leaguers began their offseason throwing programs long before the start of spring training, and have most likely already been in contact with team doctors and coaches. Additionally, it is not uncommon for players to meet up during the winter months to work out together.
In fact, report dates for both position players and pitchers and catchers have lost its luster. Growing up in Boston, Red Sox fans had the yearly anguish in February when outfielder Manny Ramirez and pitcher Pedro Martinez failed to report on time to the complex in Fort Myers, Florida. The rules for report dates for the Red Sox was that each player would “report” by calling the team representative and stating they are in the Fort Myers area. It was not uncommon for either Martinez or Ramirez to show up whenever they wanted to, sometimes as late as in the beginning of March!
So if the meaning of reporting for spring training has changed significantly over the years, then why do people still cling to it? People love the anticipation. Especially with the expansion of the 24 hours sports cycles, fans are always listening to analysts and commentators discussing the offseason for their favorite teams. Spring Training marks the first time old faces are in new places, much to the enjoyment or chagrin of baseball fans.
Spring Training is timeless because of what it represents: Spring. Pitchers and catchers report day arrives with most areas of the country maintaining wintery conditions underfoot. This was the norm in New England. But, this day specifically was special in my house. When imagining the beginning of baseball season, I always pictured in my head the smell of fresh cut grass, the warmth of the sun on my neck and the “pop” of a baseball hitting my glove. Some years, I would go outside and play catch in the snow, as a symbol of the oncoming season.
This idea is perfectly captured in the idiom “hope springs eternal.” For Chicago Cubs fans, this date starts what some believe is the year that they finally capture a World Series Championship. For Detroit Tigers fans, this could be the year to get rid of the awful taste of losing the World Series last fall. For Red Sox fans, its meaning has changed over the past decade, but this could be the year to return to the years of lovable, home grown talent bursting on scene in the big leagues. Pitchers and catchers reporting means that the winter is coming to a close. The Boys of Summer are back with their teams, preparing for the long treck towards October. Above all else, it means that warm weather is coming, regardless of what it looks like outside your window.