Thursday, February 14, 2008

Pitchers, Catchers and Memories

That's right: today was the day. Six weeks until REAL [EXPLETIVE] BASEBALL. I, for one, am ready to go now. But I'll have to wait.

The players are probably getting together tonight, curfew-free, at that Florida delicacy: the mini-golf course. I'm just kidding. They're probably drinking. But my memories of Florida, and Spring Training, are pretty much limited to a handful of stadiums and mini golf courses with names like Blackbeard's Cove and Pirate Adventure, littered along four-lane roads. We went to Spring Training when I was 10 — my mother, two younger brothers and I. And we loved mini golf. We played it as often as we wanted to, which was pretty damn near all the time between the games, it being the best time-filler this side of Disney World. Which we loved. The Spring Training trip, however, was about the baseball. Despite living just outside of D.C., we were Red Sox fans by dint of my having been born in Boston and indoctrinating the others. It wasn't hard, as the Orioles were going through a historically bad stretch at the time. We were there to see the Sox, and some other teams, but it quickly became a race to see as many games and play as much mini golf as possible.

I loved it. I was fascinated by the different pirate-themed courses; if my mom suggested with go to Captain Kidd's, I would suggest that we really try Treasure Island. There was always the chance that it was a lot better, and it was a chance I was willing to take. I thought there were probably thousands of people who knew exactly which course was better than the next, and I, a kid from up north, was wide-eyed at this world. I just wanted to fit in (it's a very silly thought in retrospect). Every intersection was thrilling, a new world with new places with the added advantage that I had a chance to beat my brothers on the course, or get really upset while failing to do so.

There were a lot of fights over mini golf. I probably won most of the games, given that my three-year age advantage over my next oldest brother was almost certainly at its most relevant, and my youngest brother was a peanut. Mom probably won a few as well. But when I lost, I probably set off chain reactions, predictable among three young boys and a single mom criss-crossing Central Florida in a minivan through strip malls and rickety baseball stadiums. Inevitably, a spark at one end of the car would lead to a blowup in the other. And just writing it now makes me realize what an absolute and unbelievable saint my mother was for doing all that. I don't think I can adequately describe to you what jerks we could be, and those trips were entirely for us. Spring Training? I'm fairly sure she hasn't been to a baseball game since. But I have. I've been to literally hundreds in stadiums everywhere, and the city to which we lived the nearest didn't even have a team at the time. I wonder what effect the Spring Training trip had on that. She was taking us on the trip, I think, so that we could feel "normal," but the long-term effects have been much stronger than that.

I love you, mom. And I love just thinking about that trip. But more than that, I love that hundreds of families just like ours are about to do what we did 20 years ago, some for the same reason we did: to feel normal. I'm ready for the games now, but I'm sure Blackbeard, and his legion of pint-sized, club-toting, sunburned followers, is not. It's time to make some memories.

Update from mom: It was the best trip ever. Seven games in seven days. You left out the water park. I think we ended up picking up Grandma at Great Grandma's and going back to Disney World on that trip. It was the one where we stayed at the Polynesian and Steven got the never ending Caribbean amphibian t-shirt, so big he wore it for about 10 years. Glad the investment paid off, not just on the shirt, but on the three of you and baseball. Note: I have been to a game since, chaperoned G's class one year at Fenway and JaJa took us girls once a year to Comiskey for a night game, so I had to carry on the tradition in some way.

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