I packed my things on Tuesday, and I even remembered my passport so that I can head to Canada before finally returning home in early April. I flew south yesterday, changing my flight three times to avoid various snow storms. I woke this morning in Tampa and made my way to the minor league complex.
Pitchers and catchers report tomorrow.
We’ve made it through the winter. The winter weather might be sticking around, but spring training is so close we already have what might be our story of the spring: the announcement that Derek Jeter will retire at the end of the season. I enjoyed covering the Mariano Rivera farewell, and I’m legitimately looking forward to the Jeter retirement tour. One way or another, it’s going to be fascinating.
I’ve written before that I think Jeter is mislabeled as a bland superstar. I don’t think of him as being overly private, I just think he’s as honest as he’s comfortable being. He makes little attempt to build some false public persona. We might not know the details of Jeter’s day-to-day, but I think we have a true sense of his bigger picture. I believe we have a pretty accurate idea of who Jeter is. It might not be headline material — in the way some celebrities and athletes create headlines — but at least it’s honest. I appreciate that about him, and I wonder if the final season might bring down a few more walls and let a little more honesty spill out.
Earlier in the week, I spoke to a journalism class at Iona College in New Rochelle. At some point, I tried to explain that I don’t really cheer for any baseball team any more. Last year, I tried to get excited about my childhood team playing in the World Series, but I just couldn’t do it. I enjoyed watching the series, but whether the Cardinals won or lost had no real impact on me. Talking to my friends about it was fun, but when Kolten Wong was picked off first base, I remember thinking only that it was a fascinating way for a game to end.
One of the students in that Iona classroom asked me if I still liked baseball itself. And, you know what, I really do.
I watch it much differently than I did as a teenager, but the game itself still manages to amaze me. I love the history; I love the in-game strategy of a manager with a thin bench and a depleted bullpen; I love the one-on-one matchup of pitcher vs. hitter; I continue to be fascinated by the rocky path of player development; and I’ve never once felt as if I have a perfect handle on what exactly the players are thinking and doing between the lines. The combination of ability and know-how required to play at the big league level – heck, even to play at the Triple-A level – is stunning, and I really do feel like I can learn something new every day if I ask the right question.
And I appreciate that the pace of the game lends itself well to my profession.
I feel fortunate to have covered the final five years of Jeter’s career. Will I be rooting for him this year? Not really. Not in the true sense of cheering for a guy to do well, but I do love baseball, and Jeter’s a lot of fun to watch on a regular basis. He’s been good to me since I was covering the minor leagues, and I’m excited to see his career play out in this final season.
Changing gears ever so slightly, let me take this moment to say a quick thank you to everyone who participated in the Pinch Hitters series, which was once again a terrific success in bringing new voices and opinions to the blog. I didn’t agree with all of you, but I appreciate each of you putting yourself out there in a way that can be unfamiliar and uncomfortable. Thank you all for participating. And to the rest of you who’ve stopped by the blog, thank you for reading through a long winter. And to Bill, thank you for bringing the Pinch Hitters series home with such a perfect spring-is-coming essay.
Pitchers and catchers report in the morning.
Associated Press photo