PHOENIX, TAMPA, oh I don't know – Every year, sometime in mid-February, I get off an airplane and try to rush to the rental car place only to get stuck behind some Harry and Mildred who suddenly can't remember if the lady said baggage claim A or baggage claim D.
They lean left together, then mosey right, then wander left, and just when I sense exactly what the next move is, they split up, one drawn by the little toy dog yapping in circles on the floor of the gift shop, the other off to check the pay phone for abandoned change.
I don't know why I'm in such a hurry, other than being capable of being in a hurry, which I suppose is the last thing to go before A's start sounding like D's.
Anyway, once down the escalators, through the baggage claim area (checking bags is for tourists and people who don't trust their neighbors) and into the street, I make myself the same, familiar promise.
I did it this year and last year and for going on a couple dozen before that.
You will not, I instruct, fall for the .600 batting average. You will not fall for the pitcher you've never heard of who just struck out Albert Pujols. Twice.
You will allow for some optimism from the Pittsburgh Pirates, but you will not write it. Nor will you laugh out loud, because that's rude.
You will remember that pitchers are way ahead of hitters at this point. Or the other way around.
You will instinctively understand that when a guy in a walking boot says he'll "for sure" be ready by opening day, he'll suit up for the first time on July 1.
There will be one person in every camp who'll greet you as if you'd saved his life. Twice. And then when he thinks you're looking away, will try to read the name on your credential.
Every guy who hit .212 last season? He'll hit .212 this season, too. Or be cut in March.
Just because the other baseball writer at the office knows exactly what he's writing every day from now until the All-Star break, you will not feel guilty for not having a particularly clear idea what you're writing this afternoon.
It's OK to notice the smell of the fresh-mown grass, the pep in the skipper's step, the crack of the bat, the pop of the catcher's mitt, the clatter of spikes over crusty red clay and that special look in the eye of the guy who hit .212 last season. But you will not mention them. Not to anyone. Not ever.
Formerly reedy second basemen who show up 30 pounds heavier with toasters for biceps – all of that coming from four months in the gym – are not to be praised for their offseason workout regimen. They are, however, to be lauded for their huevos. Assuming, you know …
Nobody has a visa problem. What he has is a procrastination problem. Or, perhaps, an identity problem.
I will not, under any circumstances, tweet play-by-play from an exhibition baseball game, play-by-play from exhibition batting practice, play-by-play from the line at Fancy Bill's Sno-Cone Stand, play-by-play from a 14-hour work day or, for damned sure, play-by-play from a three-hour work day.
Unless I'm absolutely positive it'll get me 20 more followers. (@TBrownYahoo).
While standing on a concrete island waiting on the rental car van, I promise myself that this year I will write shorter sentences, because even if that's how your brain works and how the words come out, people can't get through that stuff, and nobody likes having to go back over the same 90-word sentence three times just because you're incapable of sticking a period in there somewhere and no one took the time to teach you the difference between a colon and a semi-colon and a long dash and now you're afraid to use any of them, which is about the same kind of lazy as not showing up to the embassy to get your visa until seven hours before your flight leaves.
This is absolutely the stuff that goes through my head, that spring training is spring training, that it is not romantic when a guy takes his first swing of the year. It's practice. And, besides, he probably took 1,800 swings last week, and just because I wasn't around to see them doesn't make them any less romantic. Or more romantic, for that matter.
It just is.
Every year it's the same, these oaths to myself. And every year I forget every single one, and fall in love with the kid who throws 98 and couldn't hit my hotel from the handicapped parking spots, and gush over the 38-year-old hanger-on who hits six consecutive balls deep into the desert, all of them off a 72-year-old coach, and believe it when the new Pirates manager says they really, really have a shot this season.
This year, though, was going to be different.
I could tell, because I was so consumed by these thoughts, I missed the rental car van.
As the van drove off, I gazed at the folks inside. They peered back, I assumed wondering exactly what it was I was waiting for. And why I was talking to myself. That's when it struck me.
Harry and Mildred had beaten me to the bus.
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