"Little darling, it's been a long, cold, lonely winter." - George Harrison, "Here Comes the Sun," the Beatles.
Cures for depression vary in their effectiveness: The pills only get me back to even, and sometimes not even that, but there is nothing like the conclusion of the Super Bowl to give me a real boost.
That is not to say that I don't love the ol' pigskin game as much as any other American-born boy, but baseball has first claim on me, and has ever since I met Ted Williams and Bill James at that crossroads in rural Mississippi, and the moment when football ends is also when baseball is about to HALO-jump back into our lives. Cue a sense of excitement that is appropriate only to the opening of baseball camps: Baseball players don't have to make a big deal of going to Disney World -- they'll already be there six weeks before the season even starts.
Snow is coming down in buckets on the Northeast today, so it seems like an automatic falsehood to say that this winter has whipped by, but we're almost done. Incredibly, though pitchers and catchers report to spring training in just 10 days, but for some of last season's contenders and near-contenders the offseason hasn't even started. The Orioles have spent the winter acquiring an entire secondhand store of spare parts while becoming a national punchline due to their propensity to veto their own moves via pessimistic medical reports that pinpoint coming breakdowns that no one else can see. The Indians have 20 non-roster invitees to spring training, Nyjer Morgan, Jeff Francoeur, and Jason Giambi among them, but their biggest move of the winter remains signing a 32-year-old platoon left fielder coming off a 650 OPS season. The Reds bid adieu to their manager and Shin-Soo Choo and added... Skip Schumaker. The Atlanta Braves watched Brian McCann decamp to New York, and yet the only signs of life we've seen from them is that "Nuh-uh" hand gesture that tells the dealer you don't want another card.
You know you've had a bad offseason when the Milwaukee Brewers have been more aggressive than you have. Oh, and the Indians have made it through another offseason with that miserable racist caricature of a mascot intact. So much for that to-do list.
Still, there is a great deal to be excited by. The Yankees remade their team but paid a high price -- if you will pardon that expression used to signify money they did not spend -- by letting Robinson Cano go to the Seattle Mariners. The Mariners, who have posted one winning record in the last 10 seasons and haven't made the postseason since 2001, seemingly got halfway through a rebuilding, signing Cano, Corey Hart (after a full year on the shelf) and trading for Logan Morrison (forever becoming), and then stopping. Will it be enough, or is Cano Jack Zduriencik's version of a Potemkin village? The Red Sox will defend their title by getting younger, giving Jackie Bradley, Jr and Xander Bogaerts a chance to succeed Jacoby Ellsbury and Stephen Drew. Will Doug Fister and better health be enough to put the Nationals back into the playoffs, or Scott Kazmir, Jim Johnson, and Craig Gentry for the A's?
Heck, we needn't think too much about team-level questions, because in less than two weeks we get the whole wonderful cavalcade of athletes that make our game, which, as Robert DeNiro memorably pointed out in The Untouchables (via the words of David Mamet), operates simultaneously at the team and individual level. That means whatever their general managers did or didn't do, we still have Miguel Cabrera and Mike Trout and David Wright and Andrelton Simmons. More are coming this year: Oscar Taveras, Noah Syndergaard, Nick Castellanos, George Springer, and so many more. The best thing about baseball is the rapid pace of change. Just when you think that one more Yuniesky Betancourt plate appearance might prove that something important is broken, it's off to the Orix Buffaloes with him and in with -- well, it's the Brewers, so probably not someone newer or better, but perhaps someone not quite so abjectly futile.
That's another good thing about baseball: As a game of not-quite redeeming features, it tends to deflate poetasters and inept generalizations. And then, yet another possibly redeeming feature: We might see Byron Buxton, who could be Superman, in the majors by September. So, hell, bring on the superlatives.
There is no big message this time out, not even a rousing John Fogerty-style, "We're born again, there's new grass on the field," just the anticipation of spring on a cold, white day. "I sure get laughs when I see in the papers where some major league pitcher says he gets a sore arm because he's overworked and he pitches every four days," Satchel Paige once said. "Man, that'd be a vacation for me."
Better go get limbered up, you Sons of Satchel. In just over a week we'll be putting you to the test once again. No, it's no Field of Dreams. Forget about all that faux-mystical bull. It's just the day after the Super Bowl, the day when the seeds' germinating kicks into high speed, the beginning of the beginning, the first sign that the day of liberation is coming when we hear the simplest and greatest of sentences, "Play ball!"