Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Bring on the spring

During a recent Spring Training...

Reporter: "We'll only ask you 1,000 questions today."

Player: "I can only throw so many cliches at you guys."

Reporter: "Come on, you've got to get in mid-season form."

Player: "If that was the case, I wouldn't be talking to you."


It's almost here. Spring Training. I booked my flight today and can already picture the drive across the Courtney Campbell Causeway, the long strip of pavement that slices through the waters of Tampa Bay and leads to the beginning of another baseball season.

The palm trees. The sunshine. The beaches. The ballparks. The tiny clubhouses. The cramped pressboxes. The cheap press meals. The shoddy wireless.

Ahhh, Spring Training.

Now, don't get me wrong here. I am not complaining.

It's a six-week retreat from the frigid north and, while much of a reporter's time is spent standing around and waiting, we're standing around and waiting in the comforts of Florida in the spring time. After the offseason, and it's seemingly endless string of unexpected events, a return to the routine is welcomed with open arms.

The first few days of Spring Training are often used for catching up. There's the required, "How was your offseason?" or "How's your family?" It's also the only time of year when it's completely appropriate to compliment another man on his physique: "Did you lose some weight?" or "Looks like those offseason workouts paid off!"

Everyone is "in the best shape of their life." Well, maybe not the reporters.

For reporters and players alike, though, it's a great time of year. Everyone's in a good mood. And why not? Writers haven't had to write on deadline in months and players enter the clubhouse without a line of stats for everyone to scrutinize. Optimism abounds and a funny thing comes with that: players and reporters get along swimmingly.

Of course, this might not be true across the board. For the most part, though, even the standoffish players who use long, postgame workout sessions during the season to avoid the lingering vultures that are The Media, even they are accommodating in the spring. It's the best time of year to strike up a conversation with just about anyone.

Once Opening Day arrives, some players put on a six-month game face. Their reason? They were available as much as you needed them during the spring. Sometimes it can be funny to see how a player's personality does a 180-degree turn once the calendar flips to April. This isn't the case with every ballplayer. But, it's something a reporter deals with every year.

This is one reason I always look forward to Spring Training. You can arrive as early as you want, be the only reporter in the clubhouse at times, and you can wander around, stop at just about anyone's locker and shoot the breeze. It's such a relaxed environment and conversations are not always about baseball.

That can be refreshing. During the grind of a full baseball season, we all need a break from the game from time to time. Right now, though, I'm looking forward to diving kneedeep into another year on the beat. The offseason can be exhausting, and the best cure is that first drive across the causeway from Tampa to Clearwater.

See you in eight days, Florida.

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