My introduction to spring training came in 1974 as a rookie beat writer for the Twins. The location was Orlando, where Disney World had been around for only 2½ years and there was enough charming funk to the city and to Tinker Field to soon be declaring:
"Spring training is the greatest invention in the history of American sports writing."
The Twins' move to Fort Myers for the spring of 1991 only heightened that conviction.
I became a contractor for the Star Tribune early in the 2010s, while purloining my way through a daily radio show. The romantic view of baseball remained such that a small place in the Fort was secured a few years back, the main appeal being, it was "between the two ballparks."
Those would be Hammond Stadium, spring home of the Twins, and Jet Blue Park, 5½ miles to the east on Daniels Parkway, and spring home of the Boston Red Sox.
The Twins allowed me to occupy a booth on the press box level, complete with a portable broadcast unit. This would start in January. There were days when I was in the press box by myself. The only advantage taken of this was to place the daily supply of Diet Coke in Dan Gladden's refrigerator in the large home radio booth.
I would get there a couple of hours early, do almost a half-hour of show prep and then stare at the magnificent greenery down below.
The annual anticipation was for the day when George Toma, the legendary groundskeeper, would start his duties of making sure the field was in pristine condition.
George, tanned as a man can get, calves suited for a great running back from decades of dragging infields, the toughest man on the planet to work for if an employee wanted to leave early, is now 92 and a marvel of humankind.
I'm here in Minnesota, enjoying 10 below, and hoping that George is down there right now with his pebble picker, the contraption he uses late in the workday to remove minuscule pieces of stone that could lead to a bad hop.
This sure reads like a lament over remaining in the Frozen Wasteland.
Wrong. This is a lament over what has become of big-league baseball.
Romance level for baseball as we head forward in the 2020s: zero.
There are no longer passages to be written on the majesty and endurance of baseball. Long ago, it stopped being America's pastime, and now ownership, the front offices and the players, perhaps more than any group, are doing their all to make sure the game is permanently past its time.
As the NFL is celebrating with a Super Bowl to end an astounding season in which a full schedule was played, as the NBA and the NHL face COVID problems in their delayed seasons and seemingly remain in it together, management and players, MLB and the Players Association squabble to get started, in advance of a return to the strike/lockout days for 2022.
Commissioner Rob Manfred hates baseball so much that he wants to defile regular seasons with 14 playoff teams (his No. 1 crime toward the game among several). And Tony Clark and his advisers running the union are so paranoid they turn down a reasonable proposal to delay the season for a month, and still get full salaries for playing 154 games (rather than 162).
Tony and Co. seem to be upset the owners want to wait to increase the chances of having pockets of fans in the stands, and then to keep most of the money for Manfred's expanded playoffs.
Thus, an e-mail, to Anthony C. Clark.
It's good when owners have a chance to rake in a pile of millions. The hope for that to occur is the reason a talented, wacky righthanded starter can fetch $85 million in his first two seasons of a brand-new contract.
And, there's nothing you can do in a salary cap-free environment to make the Eastern-educated, analytics-believing front offices of today's baseball to sign a flawed 30 years-plus position player for more than one year at $8 million, even if you as an ex-player and the agents all remember when they could talk teams into big contracts for 33-year-olds who weren't stars.
It's true that analytic zealots — bringing as they do quick hooks for effective starters, endless relievers, hitters striking out 45% of the time and still in the lineup, only home runs and no rallies — have made 75% of MLB games sparse in action and suffocating in time.
And guess what? Culpable as they are in baseball's dwindling watchability, you're still not going to get the brainiacs to give more than one year and $8 million to Eddie Rosario.
Yes, Tony, the game is gasping, and all you can do by fighting a plan to allow owners to make substantially more honeybuns of hundreds to help pay Trevor Bauer's ransom is to hasten its ruination.
Yours truly … Despondent baseball lifer.
Write to Patrick Reusse by e-mailing firstname.lastname@example.org and including his name in the subject line.