I will be 72 on April 22, and still, after 54 years, the most important date every year is not April 22, or Jan. 1, but that day in February when pitchers and catchers report to spring training. Ever since I was 18, spring training has always meant for me a fresh start, another chance to pull up that little plastic sheet that wipes the slate clean, all those losses instantly vanished, replaced by a blank slate and the possibility of nothing but victories this year. So every February I escaped the cold, barren New England winter and headed south toward the sun by plane, train or automobile.
Spring training was a Baden-Baden for the body and soul. It had curative powers for whatever ailed you – sore arm, bad marriage, ungrateful children, the death of a parent, financial collapse, ennui. It was like one of those Caribbean cruises, a Ship of Fools for ballplayers, fans, and sportswriters.
But it was all a fantasy, an illusion.