Springtime for the Boys of Summer, 2007

There was a time in the not-too-distant past, when the arrival of spring meant something very special for Floridians... when the frosts faded off into the warmth of the state's signature sunlight. No, the excitement isn't because the sweltering summer lingers right around the corner, but something much better: Spring Training.

Grounds crew member waters the infield

Yes, the arrival of Major League Baseball to the clay diamonds of Florida–and Arizona–is indeed a very special time, especially in the decades before MLB expanded the Florida Marlins and the Tampa Bay Devils Rays (for Arizona, the Diamondbacks) into the playgrounds of the preseason. Once upon a time in the orange groves, the common cracker had very few chances to get a taste of big-league baseball before the Braves packed their bags and moved from the frigid beer and cheese capital to the humid confines of Atlanta. Even after the Milwaukee migration, all that most folk in the Deep South have is the minor league circuit, except for a the annual two-month stretch leading up to the regular season.

Although the expansion of MLB into Florida (again, and Arizona) has taken some of the novelty out of Spring Training, it still remains the cornerstone of many communities. Places like Lakeland, Fla., which hosts the Detroit Tigers and their Advanced-A minor league affiliate, have a strong bond with their ball club. This symbiotic relationship is a two-way street: the Tigers get a warm place to practice and develop their talent; the city of Lakeland gets to collect revenue from all of the out-of-towners that pass through. And make no mistake, both the natives and transplanted snow birds flock like seagulls on a French fry to the springtime venues of their favorite teams.

What baseball brings to the hamlets of the Sunshine State amounts to more than just revenue and excitement–it’s also an identity. For instance, Lakeland dubs itself "Tiger Town" in homage to their patron ball club. A long drive up and down Florida's highways will reveal a similar pattern of patronage dotted throughout the state–from Naples to Winter Haven, from Port St. Lucie to Dunedin. Spring Training is something very special to the simple people who populate these oppidan outposts–in many ways, it’s a surrogate in lieu of true seasons on the sub-tropical peninsula, providing a delineation between the brief chill of winter and the dog-days of summer, a time when small-town Florida gets a moment to bask in the national sports spotlight.

Entrance to Joker Marchant Stadium

While the other 29 teams prepare for the preseason, the Tigers will take on Florida Southern College in an unofficial opener Tuesday; by the end of this week, both leagues will be well on their way towards the 2007 schedule. Come Opening Day April 1, the boys will be separated from the men, and for many, the summer will have officially begun. For Detroit, it will be the beginning of a long road to redemption after last year's disappointing World Series blunder.

[Wiki, SpringTrainingOnline, SpringTrainingMagazine]


[This article was originally published in the now-defunct The Sequitur web magazine February 27, 2007]

This is a FanPost and does not necessarily reflect the views of the <em>Bless You Boys</em> writing staff.