Groundhogs throughout the frozen north have done their duty. Some have promised an escape from winter in six weeks, others threaten ice and snow for another month and a half. You say potato, etc. Death, taxes, and unshakable prognostication by rodents remain inescapable. February slides resolutely by; the chocolate-fueled love-fest that is Valentine’s Day is only a few hours away.
It’s almost baseball.
The Cactus League Spring Training Season opens on the 28th of February as the Angels face the Brewers on the American Family Fields of Phoenix. Once simply known as Maryvale, the Brewer’s park and the training facility are owned and operated by suburban Maryvale’s Park and Recreation Department. It’s easy to find; take a right off Indian School Road after passing Fry’s Food and Drug, just past the entrance to Maryvale High School on 51st Avenue. I’ve been told that the park can hold up to 7000 fans, and that may be true, although seats are rarely filled, perhaps because a third of the fans are lined up in front of the Klements Bratwurst stand.
Maryvale has long been my favorite park; there are no bad seats and the dimensions are pleasing. The left field fence is 350 feet from home plate, the right field fence 340 feet, and center 400 feet. I’ll get back to baseball in a moment, but I should add that Brewer fans are an uncommonly midwestern and outgoing tribe, relishing the sun, beer, brats, and their beloved Brewers. A few sport Seattle Pilots caps, honoring the club that became the Brewers in moving to Milwaukee, but Milwaukee Brewer fandom abounds although the Brewers record from 1969 to the present is under .500 (.483) and they remain one of the few teams without a World Series victory in their history. Things have slightly picked up recently; the Brewers have won their divisional title twice in the last four years and edged a wild card berth twice,bowing out of the postseason with losses to the Dodgers, Braves, and Nats.
There are many reasons one might wish to be in Maryvale on February 28th aside from the brats, beer, and the famous racing sausages (Italian, Polish, Brat, Chorizo, and Hot Dog). The Brewers’ Willy Adams is one of the exquisitely talented generation of shortstops playing baseball this season, and Christian Yelich, the NL MVP in 2018, may be one of the best bets to win the Triple Crown.
Turning to the Angels, however, HOLY GUACAMOLE!!!!
With apologies to William Wordsworth, “Bliss it is in that dawn to be alive” as Mike Trout and Shohei Otani appear on the same team, on the same field, at the same time. It’s not bad to be around as Mookie Betts comes into his own as well, but that’s another story.
Trout is Roy Hobbs, Ernie Banks, a sober Mickey Mantle, and Santa Claus. He literally showed up with presents for a family whose house had burned down. He returns every year to his high school in Millville, New Jersey to visit the baseball team and gives one player a jersey bearing the number he wore in high school. Oh, and he’s always a top contender for the MVP award, winning three times and barely missing with four second place tallies. Considered the best player in baseball since he entered the league in 2012, Trout suits up, shows up, and plays hard. He has been clocked at 6.5 seconds in the 60 yard dash, and he is fearless. To watch Mike Trout play baseball is to be reminded of what genius in cleats looks like.
Otani, on the other hand, a dominating pitcher and powerful hitter has been called a unicorn.
Otani is a manticore – a human with body of a lion, the wings of a dragon, and the tail of a scorpion, six foot four, 210 pounds, throws right, bats left, MLB ERA of 3.53 with a won-loss record of 13-5, 221 strikeouts, 93 home runs, and 247 runs batted in. In the “just-not-fair” category, he is also the fastest man in baseball in sprinting to first base.
Look, the Angels are probably not going to contend for a playoff spot this season; a good year would bring them above the .500 mark. But, as Zeno of Citium might have said, “I don’t care”.
Watch Mike Trout while you can. Don’t miss an Otani start. Watch Connor McDavid even though the Oilers won’t win the Stanley Cup. Spend an hour with Bradley Beale even if the Wizards make a fan self-digest. Ditto Chris Paul. Imagine NOT seeing Ted Williams, Ernie Banks, Ken Griffey, Jr, Tony Gwynn. Imagine never seeing Barry Sanders’ 47 yard TD run aganst the Dallas Cowboys.
February 28th, the American Family Fields, Maryvale, just past the middle school playground, the smell of brats in the air, this season’s Angels taking infield practice, this season’s Brewers tossing long balls, the crack of batted balls, the slap of a sizzling rope from third to first hitting the mitt, a throw down to second base, the umpire brushing home plate.
It’s almost baseball.