By L. Bowman
Turning the calendar from February to March is always a late winter highlight, especially for those of us who grew up in places where the winters usually linger (think Erie, Pennsylvania). When March 1 arrives, lion-like or not, the fact that spring isn't too far away starts to sink in, even to those of us who live in the snowiest locales.
To college hoops fans March means conference tournaments and then, of course, March Madness. To hockey fans, March is the time for your team to tune up for the grind of a playoff run that (you hope) will continue into June. But, for baseball fans, even fans who have become jaded by major league baseball's many problems, the end of February means that "pitchers and catchers report" (the four best words in baseball, according to a Pittsburgh radio commercial), with full squads and exhibition games beginning in early March.
The Grapefruit and Cactus League seasons start soon, with games pretty much every day, usually played in Florida or Arizona sunshine. The games are meaningful only to the players whose spot on the major league roster is in doubt. (Think not? What was your favorite team's spring training record last year?) Spring training isn't about renewed hope for a pennant, at least not for fans of teams like the Pittsburgh Pirates, who dream only of a winning season every couple of decades or so.
Spring training baseball is great because, at a time when the weather in the north still stinks, it reminds us of the sights, sounds and smells of the baseball spring and summer to come: the lush outfield grass, the unmistakable "pop" of a fastball hitting the catcher's mitt and a whiff of a grilled hot dog. Thinking about March baseball helps those of us stuck up north get through the last gasps of winter.
The real fun, of course, is attending the games. They always start with a three-locale weather report as in, "Welcome, ladies and gentlemen, to Joker Marchant Stadium in Lakeland, Florida, spring home of the Detroit Tigers and to today's game between your Tigers and the visiting Pittsburgh Pirates. As you know, it is 75 degrees and sunny here in Lakeland. In Detroit today it's 37 degrees and raining, and in Pittsburgh, it's 29 degrees and snowing. We hope you enjoy the game." These weather reports always draw a cheer from the 5,000 or so in attendance. Sometimes thoughtful fans attending the game will text their friends back north to pass the weather information along and even send back a line score of sorts, as in: "Tigers 2, Pirates 1. 4th inning. 3rd beer."
Spring training games normally proceed at a better pace than regular season games because nobody cares all that much who wins. It's common to see players who aren't playing in that day's game doing their conditioning runs on the playing field (deep in the outfield, to be sure) while the game is in progress. Nobody runs all that hard, mind you. After all, this is baseball. For fans and players alike, spring training games are about having a nice time in the warm, sunny weather. Weather that will make its way up north. Eventually.
Swing, Batter, Batter!
When the major leaguers begin playing ball, look for a lot of them to be swinging wooden bats crafted in a small factory in a Pennsylvania town. Some of America’s most popular baseball bats are made at the BWP Bat Factory in Brookville, PA, a town we used to drive through on our way to drop off our older son at college. Who knew there was a factory doing such important work just down the road apiece. The factory is located in a part of the Keystone State known as the “hardwood capital of the world” allowing for a large selection of trees to choose from to manufacture the bats.
Prepared wood awaiting sculpting at BWP Bats
~~ Free Tour Available
BWP bats are a favorite brand among major league sluggers, including Johnny Damon who will use the bats again this year if he is signed. Visitors are welcome to take a free, self-guided tour of the factory to see the hardwood go from tree trunk to smooth finished products. Any wood that isn't worthy of being used as bats is turned into furniture, hardwood flooring or other products, so no wood is wasted.
For more information, visit the BWP website.