For all the romance and emotional hope attached to it, spring should have better manners. After a winter of darkness and cold the anticipation was for warm sunshine and gentle breezes. But, with all the gangly awkwardness of a teen on Prom Night in oversized borrowed shoes and too much eye makeup — out she comes to outward grins and inward groans. The saving grace being that better is assuredly coming soon. If you haven’t figured it out yet, spring is the proverbial “Hot Mess.” Oh, and so is the baseball they play in it.
Back in the Cabin Fever days of February this was not in the script. The tropical zephyrs in the palm trees of Florida were supposed to work north. Short sleeves, sun block, and cold beers were only scant weeks away. Mid-season form was nearly at hand. Reality is rarely that cooperative. The weather we associate with a season is delayed by four to six weeks after the calendar start date. It takes time for the atmosphere to catch up with the sun angle.
There is something unnerving about watching baseball players blowing their vaporized breath into the cold night through modern versions of a stagecoach robber’s bandana. It’s one thing to watch on television. It’s another altogether to sit in the stadium and experience it first-hand. Nationals Park, with all its granite, seems colder and more stark than most. That’s especially true on an April night game with a sparse collection of freezing patrons. Baseball is a game out-of-place in such a setting. Golf, with the luxury of only one tournament a week, figured this out long ago. The Tour follows the warmth. It doesn’t arrive in the Mid-Atlantic until May. Baseball does not have such latitude. It has 30 cities to feed the joy of Opening Day. The snow finally stopped long enough for the Cubs to have theirs.
The schedules are a tangled mess of day games, early off days, and even a late-start Sunday nighter. In the true spirit of Murphy’s Law, where anything that can go wrong will do so, that one went extra-innings. It was pre-ordained. The opportunity to crank up the misery index was never going to be missed. Baseball is a game of routine and rhythm. Both are in scarce supply during early April.
Against that backdrop it should not be a surprise that the Nationals’ start has been a disjointed collective spasm. Four games of “Blazed Glory” out the gate followed by five games of “Up in Smoke.” Even the best teams of all time are a bit schizophrenic. It’s the nature of the game. Even the worst teams look like world-beaters on occasion. The best teams sometimes look like they are, “…working on mysteries without any clues” as Bob Seger once sang. It is disconcerting when these two polarized opposites get strung together into such discrete blocks of games. Which of those two alternate versions of reality was more indicative of the future?
The team then posted two pitching gems and an extra-inning thrill ride loss. Mix the first twelve games in a bowl, spread them out on the table, and you have a first-rate fan Rorschach test. Whatever your inclinations about the team, a particular player, the manager hire or the state of the franchise in general there is data there to support it regardless of polarity. So what does it all mean? Well, we really don’t know.
That, of course, is the beauty of it. Baseball is an exercise of continual anticipation. The old professor said that two data points do not make an accurate trend. He was not talking to a room full of baseball fans. Mets fans are already putting in vacation slips for the ticker tape parade. Then again, Mets’ fans are not noted for emotional moderation. It’s always a good idea to slow your roll when you’re not even ten-percent into a venture.
The promise of spring is that she will hand the baton over to the less mercurial summer. The infernal early season scheduling will recede into the familiar quotidian routine. Long sleeves and stocking caps will find the back bins of the storage area. Baseball will find its syrupy sweet rhythm. Evening games on the porch in cool extended twilight will become the norm. It’s the vision we carry through the relentless winter darkness. It will be here as soon as we can get through the silliness of early April. For as much as we wanted spring to be here, it won’t be too hard to say goodbye when the time comes.