In Your Pocket

The New York Times

March 23, 2010

By Doug Glanville

Players know the truth of the adage that the only time you are healthy over a major league season is the morning you report to the first day of spring training.

From then on, it is a battle of attrition.

You ask yourself, “Will my mind go before my body, or the other way around?” If your mental discipline goes first, you become a puppet going through the motions. If your body goes
first, maybe through fatigue or injury, you have to find ways to dominate with your mind and instincts.

But make no mistake about it, something is going to go. The home stretch in September is a long way from now and the good players find a way to deal with the inevitable slowdown of mind, body and spirit. (For now, let’s leave steroids out of the conversation.)

A break in the action, even of a single day, can allow you to refresh that trifecta. It probably isn’t enough to heal that barking hamstring or that bone bruise on your right thumb, but it may buy you time to take a dip in the pool, play a couple rounds on the golf course or enjoy a nice brunch with that special someone.

In part, you appreciate this time off because it’s so rare. You know that you are about to play 162 games in 180 days. By this point in the spring, fans of the game have picked up that trusted 3-by-2-inch schedule, and folded it neatly in their pocket, or maybe affixed it with a magnet on the fridge or with a pushpin on the cork board. But contained in that dainty schedule is the life of a player.

It’s Big Brother pulling our strings and telling us where to be at all times. It is small, but it packs a big punch, one that has brought many a player to his knees.
Players know that once you hit your stride in spring training, your life is ensnared in a seven-month-long web. The pocket schedule tells you that a game will begin at 7:15 p.m., but it omits the other details of a road trip itinerary:
like the note, on “getaway day,” about a 3:30 p.m. bus from the Westin to Coors Field to play the Rockies; or the reminder, handwritten on the whiteboard, about early batting practice time and how if you want to work on your swing, you’d better get to the park at 2:00 p.m. We are punctual; it comes with the territory, like it or not. Once in a while you hear about a player missing a bus or a flight, and it becomes a story. But given the number of players and flights, one missed per year is not much at all, and I have been on teams where no one missed a flight all season.

And players are all at the park by that first pitch unless something really unusual has happened. We live by our schedule. We just get there.

So these days off matter, and not just when the sun beams down on you during spring training, but during the dog-day Iditarod that we call the regular season, too. We look forward to the days off even though we also look forward to playing against the best on any given night. The gift of a life in major league baseball brings with it an intensity — you keep going until you can’t go anymore or until something stops you. A one-day reprieve may not be a magic elixir, but it counts. So much so that when you have a day game on Sunday and a night game on Monday, it’s considered a “day off” — 24 commitment-free hours. Only desperation would bend math in such a way.

Ballplayers know that many people, non-professional-athletes, work virtually around the clock, scrambling just to make ends meet. But of all the sports out there, baseball, along with the luxuries it bestows, has a lot in common with the idea of “getting after it” with no end in sight. We show up every day.

So this season, when you get frustrated because one of your favorite players is hanging his curve ball, or overthrowing the cutoff man, or demanding a trade, remember that he probably hasn’t missed a single game or team meeting for seven straight months. And that after that mini-vacation during spring training, it’s back to business, bright and early, every day. Until, next thing you know, you are shopping for Halloween costumes.

New York Times 03/23/2010


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