The Tropical Vacation Begins

Pitchers and Catchers report today. I'm struggling to restrain myself.

Pitchers and Catchers report today. That’s the kind of sentence that’s hard to type without an exclamation point, and if I was 17 and innocent and still trying to find my voice, I probably would have succumbed to the temptation. But now I’m older than Andres Gimenez, and while I’m no closer to finding my voice and suspect I won’t be for some time, I’m at least self-aware enough to understand the perils of the over-used exclamation point. Actually, I suppose, I’ve always been older than Andres Gimenez, but it was only recently — when Gimenez made his debut as the first Met younger than me — that our negative age difference started to matter. Then, almost immediately, he was traded to Cleveland. Don’t you hate when that happens?

That, I suppose, is the kind of thing that happens to everyone, or at least everyone who knows the age of the entire Mets roster: you go absurdly quickly from being younger than every Met, to being younger than every Met but one, to suddenly being older than some Mets who seem way too old to be younger than you. After February 24th, for instance, I’ll be as old as David Peterson was last season, and Peterson, to me, has always seemed like someone in his mid-thirties. That means I’m basically in my mid-thirties, which means — at least if you follow The King of Queens logic (don’t ask) — that I’m actually 55, which is at least two decades two young for my musical tastes. But I digress.

Yes, February 24th. It’s a birthday that flows harmoniously off the tongue, but it’s also one of the latest pre-pandemic birthdays possible. Last February 24th, to start my 24th year, I went to a Mexican restaurant on 45thstreet with three friends, and most of the conversation was about either Kobe Bryant or the philosophy of coconut flavor. That restaurant is closed now — “temporarily closed,” they say, which hopefully proves to indeed be temporary — as are the theaters down the block, as are most of the surrounding businesses. May my 25th year prove more fortuitous. 

How did we get here? Ah, yes — Pitchers and Catchers. They report today, but you already knew that. In fact, if you’re the type of reader who gets Mets newsletters in your inbox, you probably knew that even before I first mentioned it. But whether you already knew about it or not, it’s undeniably exciting. Still hard to type without an exclamation point, but I’m restraining myself.

Soon we’ll start getting pictures and videos. Four guys throwing in a sun-soaked bullpen, palm trees swaying in the background — always, for some reason, a truly strange combination of pitchers; some weird foursome like Jacob deGrom, Marcus Stroman, Yennsy Díaz, and Daniel Zamora — while coaches loiter behind the mounds and front-office types observe from even farther back. We’ll get the anecdotes, meaningless but so delightful — “Franklyn Kilome has added a split-fingered-change-up, and James McCann says he’s never seen Stephen Tarpley’s fastball look so lively!” We’ll get the nonsensical tidbits and rumors, overanalyzed to death, that are part of what make Spring Training so much fun, because while — let’s face it — there’s not much that actually happens, there’s baseball going on, so the baseball pages should say something:

“PORT ST. LUCIE — When Aaron Loup changed his weightlifting routine, he hoped it would help him add a few miles per hour to his fastball. He didn’t realize it would lower his E.R.A. two points, change the way he cut his hair, and lead to his completion, last month, of an offseason degree in animal psychology.”  

That, really, is half the fun of Spring Training. True to the locale, it’s basically a tropical vacation, baseball without any of the real-world stakes (if, that is, you’re the kind of person for whom baseball has real-world stakes). The records and player stats don’t matter; every day, the sun rises and care-free baseball starts anew. Get swept by the Yankees in the regular season, and you can barely stand for a good few days. Get swept by the Yankees in Spring Training, and you grimace and move on. No matter what happens, there’s another day tomorrow, and Opening Day is just around the corner.

At least, that’s what we thought. Then we had the year of the pandemic, and it turned out that Opening Day, long the cornerstone of Spring, could just not happen. You’d think there was a law against it or something, but no; they just canceled it, and life went on, barely.

Now here we are, a year later and all worse for wear. But today, there’s no need to dwell on the negative. There’s care-free baseball on the horizon, and Opening Day is just around the corner. Don’t you know what day it is? Pitchers and Catchers!