In early February, from somewhere deep in Florida, near the principal’s office, a call comes out over the PA system: “Pitchers and catchers please report as soon as possible!” And from all over the land, they drop what they’re doing and head to the Sunshine State, the only people under 50 to arrive in large numbers without their grandparents first complaining that they don’t visit enough. The long baseball season has begun.

I see this annual event as a more significant weather harbinger than Groundhog Day. When I hear that pitchers and catchers have reported for spring training, I feel that warm weather is truly on its way. I start to picture myself lying in the sun on the beautiful black beaches of Santorini. I’m not sure why I was lying, I should have simply told the truth. By the way, have you ever been on the beautiful black beaches of Santorini? The Aegean Sea looks so inviting that you kick off your sandals and stroll toward the gently lapping waves. Then you smell something burning and you realize it’s your feet. The black volcanic stones have absorbed most of the sun’s heat. With no fire extinguisher handy, you sprint the remaining 15 yards in three steps and steam billows out of the water. As a team-building exercise, this coal-walking was a failure, since the rest of my team was laughing at me from the beach chair.

The second day of spring, training the Northeast gets 3 feet of snow and I’m jolted back into the reality of six more weeks of winter. The weatherman was kind enough to say that the snow blanketed the area, which made it seem a little cozier and preserved my little fantasy.

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This year, as in every other year, they are trying to speed up the game to make it more palatable for younger viewers who only go to a baseball game so they can Snapchat themselves at a baseball game. Since the most interesting thing for them is the Snapchatting part, if they really wanted to be honest with themselves, they would Snapchat themselves Snapchatting and make all their friends jealous.

To make the game go faster, starting last year, you only had to tell the umpire that you were intentionally walking somebody and POOF, they were on first base. If they want to save even more time, they can institute a rule proclaiming that any Yankee batter with a 3-and-0 count is automatically out. It happens every time: The pitcher throws three straight balls and I get all excited that something is going to happen. Then the manager calls a “take” on the next pitch, which is an automatic strike. The 3-1 pitch is fouled off, and the next pitch is a called strike three. I’ve already predicted the whole sequence to my wife, who looks amazed, not at my prognostication skills, but that she’s still married to me.

You can put a backwards “K” on your scoresheet for the strikeout. If you’re scoring at home, congratulations, especially at your age. You used to get a scorecard when you bought a program, if they even still have programs. Your dad would teach you how to write in the outcome of each at-bat for each player. Thus, you were able to miss the entire game while your dad ate most of the Cracker Jacks.

If you have a calculator and you don’t feel like actually watching the game, you can crunch the numbers and figure out whether your players are any good or not. RBIs, ERA? No one cares about them any more. What is his OPS? That’s his on-base percentage plus slugging average. What is his RISP? Runners In Scoring Position. These don’t seem like “vital statistics.” I can take them or leave them. Kate Upton has vital statistics. Baseball players just have a bunch of numbers that only add up to something meaningful a third of the time, and that’s if he’s a Hall of Famer. Someone asked me whether I had seen Sonny Gray’s WHIP. I said I hadn’t seen it but he may have left it in the dungeon. Actually, it’s none of my business.

Please join Rick and the No Options band St. Patrick’s night, Saturday, 03-17-18, at Lucy’s Lounge, 446 Bedford Road in Pleasantville.

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