Beginning this past weekend, pitchers and catchers have started reporting to camps in Florida and Arizona. Generally speaking, they don't do a whole lot, and full-squad workouts don't get going in earnest for another couple weeks, but nevertheless, "pitchers and catchers" is regarded by many as a cause for celebration, and some people look forward to the date as they might their own birthdays.
I haven't always understood. For a time, I didn't know what "pitchers and catchers" meant. These were my younger years, and I thought them better spent playing Marbleworks and burning things in our treehouse.
Later on, I learned about Spring Training and the offseason calendar, but I couldn't bring myself to care. So pitchers and catchers would show up at camp to get physicals and throw baseballs back and forth. So what? That marked the beginning of Spring Training. Spring Training is just six weeks of practice. Who cares about practice? I wanted games, dammit, and intrasquads and exhibitions didn't count.
And the next stage was dread. By this point, I was a dedicated baseball blogger, but where you'd think that a dedicated baseball blogger would eagerly look forward to the start of the year, in reality that couldn't have been further from the truth. Pitchers and catchers marked the start of Spring Training, but Spring Training was a time for media fluff. Six straight weeks about how this guy is in great shape, or how this guy's trying to beat the odds, or how this team has a positive new direction. Spring Training was all talk with little substance, and in my mind, the regular season never seemed further away than it did on the day of pitchers and catchers.
That was the most recent stage, and I wasn't shy about being vocal. People knew how I felt, and some people agreed, and some people didn't. But lately, I've noticed a change. As the date of pitchers and catchers has approached, I haven't felt the dread this year that I did in years past. I wouldn't say that I've been excited, and I didn't wake up yesterday morning with a pep in my step, but I've actually been looking forward to it. For what I think is the first time in my life, I sit here knowing that pitchers and catchers have begun to report, and that knowledge makes me happy. I think I'm beginning to understand.
The actual act of pitchers and catchers reporting doesn't mean much of anything at all. Guys show up, they shake hands, they undress for their physicals, and they leave. Then they come back the next day to run and throw a little bit. That's nothing to get excited over. But - and this probably doesn't come as a shock - the significance of the occasion is less about the occasion itself, and more about what the occasion means.
It doesn't mean that the regular season is almost here. The season is still six weeks away. That's a long time. But it does mean that baseball is back. After going into hibernation for much of the winter, pitchers and catchers gives cause for baseball to get splashed over sports sites and pages the whole country over.
It's driven by the media. I'm a Mariners fan. Two months ago, there wasn't a lot of new information about the Mariners. One month ago, and one week ago, there wasn't a lot of new information about the Mariners. But pitchers and catchers reported to Mariners camp yesterday, and they worked out for a little while this morning, and there's constant, thorough coverage. There were quotes coming out of camp yesterday. Interviews, and features on the new manager. Today, there've been dozens of pictures of guys running, standing, and throwing in the bullpen. More quotes. Some analysis. Some updates on guys who were hurt, and some updates on guys who weren't hurt.
Pitchers and catchers marks the return of the baseball news cycle. And the return of the news cycle marks the return of the opportunity to spend so much of our time thinking about our teams, and the season ahead.
Which isn't to say that we couldn't think about the season ahead before, but now we're provided with an onslaught of new information. Is it always worthwhile information? Of course not. A lot of it is nothing but fluff. The coverage is a big contributing factor to the way in which everyone spends March feeling optimistic. But long shots with good stories, guys in the best shape of their lives, Spring Training anecdotes - these are new things to think about, and they make for distractions. Distractions from the rigors of day-to-day life, which is all we ever look to sports to provide.
Pitchers and Catchers marks the return of baseball as a pastime. Granted, baseball never quite disappears from any fan's radar. Even in the deepest depths of the offseason, there can be trades, minor league signings, maybe some off-the-field incidents. But those events happen, and they're considered, and then they're pushed away and then there's nothing. Once pitchers and catchers report, there's never nothing. There's always something new. Even if it's just a picture or an update on the team's PFP, around the clock there is always something.
The true joy of baseball is about more than the games. It's about having something pleasant to occupy your time. Once pitchers and catchers show up, your time can be as occupied as you want it to be.