If you want more sunshine, more warmth and extended adult recess, you should head to Florida this week for spring training. The games won't begin until the last week of February. But games often bring crowds.
I like this week, when pitchers and catchers report and position players tend to show up, too. You watch the fellows throw and catch and hit and run, appreciate the languid pace and remember why you fell in love with the game.
I like road trips, so I drive to Daytona Beach every year for the Daytona 500 (I can't go this year because of a scheduling conflict). I'd stick around the day after the race and spend time with the winning team. Then I'd head to spring training.
Florida in February often feels like a gift and the 500 is my favorite race. The problem is that Daytona Beach is overwhelmed. Everywhere you go somebody is there except, perhaps, the book store.
Especially tired of crowds one year, I went to Kansas City's camp. The Royals trained in Florida then. I figured the crowd would be small. Here's how small it was. When practice began, there were three spectators, and that included me. The greatest Royal of them all, George Brett, was just standing there, watching. I approached and we began to talk. Just two guys talking about baseball.
I ran into Keith Hernandez of the New York Mets in a bar near Port St. Lucie. He bought me a beer.
That's the beauty of spring training. It's loose and free.
It's not as pristine as it once was. Before the Atlanta Braves practiced in Lake Buena Vista one morning, a guy held a meeting behind the bleachers. He had a game plan for his eight or so employees. You go here, he said, and you go here and you guys go over there.
The guy with the plan opened a box full of new baseballs and handed them out. The plan was to stand next to the field along first and third base, and behind home plate. These were the vantage points at which they were most likely to encounter players. They would then ask the players to sign the baseballs.
Big fans? Nah. They planned to sell the autographed balls on eBay.
But there's sleaze everywhere. It's not about them. It's about putting your legs on the empty bleacher in front of you, because unless you're watching the New York Yankees in Tampa the bleacher in front of you always is empty, and listening and watching and thinking.
Beyond the outfield fence business is being conducted.
Inside the ballpark, it's just baseball.