Today was our first day of actually working out. Monday was full of arrivals and hugs and handshakes and retelling of old inside jokes. Tuesday was an early wake up call and a long morning of getting poked and prodded and otherwise completely checked by a herd of medical professionals....and also more retelling of the same, old, inside jokes.
But today we were on the field! Back to the beautiful mixture of green grass and red dirt, the dark and light lines of the outfield grass criss-crossing each other and telling tales of a mower that had come even before we had. We stretch in long lines, a herky-jerk ballet of 200 minor league pitchers and catchers getting ready to go back to work after almost 5 months off.
We've basically been getting ready for this as soon as we ended our seasons last year. Maybe there was a week where our minds would let us think about things other than baseball, but then it was back to turning double plays in our heads and replaying that perfectly thrown curveball that seemed to just disappear at the last moment - dipping under the bat. By January most of us had started getting our bodies back to baseball shape, taking cuts in backyard batting cages, indoor facilities, at the college we attended, or simply throwing what was once a perfectly good baseball against a brick wall that has turned that ball into what looked like a very well used chew toy.
We are men, perpetually at play, and we are back to the job that lets us do that.
After a good stretch, we break into groups and partner-up to throw. Those that don't already have someone to play catch with remedy the situation simply by a upwards nod at a teammate, or a shaking of a baseball. Some brave souls even speak, "Got a partner?"
For about ten minutes we are just kids in our back yard (maybe with slightly more of a purpose and definitely less ball chasing) but still, we are doing the same thing that our dad's taught us to do all those years ago; the stuff of old home videos.
The sound of fifteen balls hitting fifteen gloves at shortly separated intervals is one of my favorite sounds ever. Just like bacon has that tell-tale crackle, and anyone can recognize the sound of popcorn being made - this 'pop pop pop' of balls and gloves lets me know that it's baseball time.
Today was a short one for us, after we threw we split into drills. We spent half an hour fielding bunts, covering bases, practicing pickoffs, and fielding come-backers. Then it's off the outfield to shag. We stand out there like trees in a barren forrest, moving around sloppily from ball to ball, then reforming groups of two or three to talk about the offseason, girlfriends, lack of girlfriends and what's to come. Everyone is thinking about the end of camp, not because they're ready to leave, but because they're ready for games to start. Everyone wants to know what team they'll be shipped off with. Everyone's hoping that this year is better than last year, and that maybe this year it all clicks, and you get that famous phone call to the Big Leauges.
But today is just day one. We have about 30 more - and every one counts, and every one brings with it it's own excitement, and it's own challenges. Tomorrow I'll be up with the sun, and heading to the field in the cold desert morning to suite up for another beautiful day on the diamond.
Wish me luck....the boys of summer are coming.