MIKE BURKE

Allegany Communications Sports

Pitchers and catchers have reported to spring training, and as the great Chuck Thompson would say, “Ain’t the beer cold!”

Now pitchers and catchers reporting is a great thing, don’t get me wrong. Yet it’s just pitchers and catchers reporting because pitchers have to get their throwing in and if there are no catchers the ball would roll to the wall on each pitch and there would be a whole lot of time wasted.

But it’s a start. In fact, it’s the most important start of the baseball season short of Opening Day. And soon enough, the position players will begin to filter in and the spring training games will get underway and the countdown will move more swiftly toward Opening Day. Though, really, spring training can sometimes be the world’s longest Christmas Eve, particularly after a nasty winter and, in theory, they’re all nasty even when the weather hasn’t been too terribly gruesome, as has (knock on wood) been pretty much the case so far in our neck of the woods.

Speaking of our neck of the woods, several years back, we had been hit with an enormous snowfall in mid-February. Now enormous snowfall to me is dusting, but this one was legit — something like 18 inches, right? So when there are 18 inches of snow on the ground, I don’t try to fool anybody or be Mr. Man. I walk to work.

So it was actually Valentine’s Day that year of this miserable snow, and I’m walking to work and I’m just at the intersection of Brookfield and Kent when my phone rings, and like an idiot, I answer it.

“Hey, buddy,” my friend says. “What are you doing?”

“Walking to work.”

“I’m not going in today. Too much snow.”

“Oh.”

“Are you pumped?”

“For Valentine’s Day? Mm, no.”

“No,” my friend says with all of the exuberance and wonder of a child on Christmas Eve, “pitchers and catchers report today.”

My friend lived on Brookfield at that time, but rather than stop by his house and deposit a big pile of my excitement onto his living room floor, I simply did the adult thing and hung up on him.

In fairness to my friend, though, and to our original point, I did get where he was coming from. The anticipation of any coming baseball season does bring excitement, even for old frumpy guys like me. I just wasn’t in the frame of mind at that point of that particular day to count my baseball blessings while I was freezing my stump off.

Yet my friend’s enthusiasm is real (you can bet he was “pumped” on Wednesday), and it’s justified. For the baseball fan, the stability of knowing there is a game every day and every night and being able to count on it, then adjusting your entire day and night around the first pitch provides great comfort, whether you are attending the game, watching it on TV or listening to it on the radio.

As the remarkable writer Thomas Boswell said on Ken Burns’ “Baseball” documentary, “Baseball is one of those forms of gentle poetry that runs through our lives and makes the more important issues of living bearable. You have to have moments that give you pleasure with your children or your hobbies or your games. Life can’t all be big issues and heart surgery. Something has to bring joy into the day. I’ve always thought that the six months during the baseball season, there was something in the day that wasn’t there the other six months in winter. It was not that you had to listen to the game, but that you could if you needed it.”

Baseball is renewal. Baseball is every day. It is something new every day. During every baseball game you ever watch you will see something happen that you have never seen before. You see things that continue to provide you with goosebumps, no matter how many decades you’ve already been a baseball fan and no matter how late into a lost season that moment may occur.

Almost as soon as the season is over, you miss it. Just weeks before another one is to begin, or in this case, six (42 days), you crave it and you can taste it.

It is the companionship, and baseball is the only game that has this kind of companionship. It is the companionship of what you are familiar with and what you love that you never look forward to missing. Because when you have it, you have it every day and you have it every night.

Just a lonely guy? You bet. Every year from the last pitch of the World Series to the first pitch of Opening Day.

So it may still snow from now until then, and spring is not yet here. But baseball is most assuredly on the way.

Mike Burke writes about sports and other stuff for Allegany Communications. He began covering sports for the Prince George’s Sentinel in 1981 and joined the Cumberland Times-News sports staff in 1984, serving as sports editor for over 30 years. Contact him at [email protected] and [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter @MikeBurkeMDT