February 20, 2008
There are those in our midst who carry a mantra within. It lies just beneath the surface, biding its time, awaiting its call to arouse those spirits put into hibernation in late fall.
The words are a signal of rebirth, an incantation of sorts. To the initiates of the cult, they bring upon a cleansing of the soul. They border upon the pentecostal. Just to hear them harkens to new beginnings and the letting go of the past. Hark, the herald angels sing!
Many others share in this annual awakening. You run into them in the produce section or at the gas station or, just maybe, the liquor store. Many of them work outdoors and would just as soon put their Carhartts and Sorels away. But, among members of the flock, even those who reap daily sustenance by making turns upon the slopes feel the stirring. Subtle change is in the air.
Stand upon the highest snowdrift and spread the joy. Let the word go forth that pitchers and catchers have reported to spring training sites! OK, so some of them stopped for a bit to chat with the House Government Reform Committee. You’ll have that!
There will be a few casualties along the way, to be sure, but think positive. Maybe the power aspects of the game will give way to the more subtle. Maybe even those who can’t see past the long ball will finally see the light of hitting behind the runner and keeping the rally alive.
Repeat it softly at first. "Pitchers and catchers, pitchers and catchers, pitchers and catchers." There, now! Doesn’t that feel better. Just the repetition of the chant has been known to release a flood of endorphins. That taste in your mouth is of peanuts and ballpark beer.
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Possibly, the current brouhaha over the use of steroids and human-growth-hormones will serve to bring the sport back into harmony. At its best, it is much more like chess than arm wrestling.
"Let us go then, you and I, when the evening is spread out against the sky," as T. S. Eliot once so invitingly posed. Let us go then far enough up into the grandstand of our minds to where we can experience the whole. Up far enough to where the opening gambits between the third-base coach of one team and the catcher of the other do not go unnoticed.
Let us watch the ballet of ongoing adjustments that turn each and every pitch into a singularity. To that moment where the pitcher’s grip on the baseball at the top of his windup is all that keeps existence itself from tumbling past the event horizon and into the black hole of tedium. There are those who feel that the nuances involved in this grip are of another sphere, as it were. One where performance-enhancing drugs needn’t play a role.
Pitchers and catchers. Pitchers and catchers. Soon the spaces between the words disappear and it becomes all about breath. The mantra has taken on a life of its own. It allows one to stand atop a snowdrift while, at the same time, anticipating the left-handed pull hitter in the on-deck circle, motion outfielders into proper position. Think of it as the Zen of simultaneity.
Pitchers and catchers share a central role in this particular team sport like few others. And that is why they show up early and, for the most part, together. It’s about bonding, becoming one. Getting on the same page. All that stuff!
They are also there early so management can get a look at their progress in recovering from injuries or surgeries that may have left question marks in their wake. Rotator cuff and knee retrofits often come into play. These guys have no option. They can’t say no, no, no to rehab.
Some pitchers even get surgical procedures named after them. Mention "ulnar collateral ligament reconstruction" to thirsty fans in a ballpark beer line and they might well take menacing steps in your direction. But bring up "Tommy John surgery" and fan-bonding begins to emerge.
With "opening day" for the various ballclubs still five weeks or so off, is it possible that, within the fan culture, "peaking too early" might become a problem? Negative! Not a chance! That’s the point! Once pitchers and catchers report to spring training sites, all bets are off. It’s a new day. Underindulgence is not an option.
So, here we are. Up to our collective rear-ends in seemingly never-ending dumps of frozen translucent hexagonal ice crystals and looking for a respite, a bit of hope. Any port in a storm, as they say. And that is precisely where the "pitchers and catchers" mantra becomes transcendent.
It is more than a harbinger of spring. It’s a direct metaphysical conduit to those raptures brought about by full-count curveballs and ninth-inning home-team suicide-squeeze plays. It’s not about sweeping the steroid issue under the rug or having winter end before its time. It’s about communing with pure essence. All the rest is sidebar.
Just know that, as long as pitchers and catchers, like the swallows returning to Capistrano, maintain their annual ritual, then all is not lost in this crazy world. Rumor even has it that some loners within the flock look at it as a quality substitute for Valentine’ Day. Indeed, there is a light at the end of the dugout tunnel.
Jay Meehan is a culture junkie and a free-lance writer with a background in commercial and community radio, among other pursuits. He has been a columnist and feature writer for various Park City publications going back to 1973.