Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Spring training and bird songs

We went to Ft. Myers to see the Twins in spring training.

This is the time of year when the winter homes of our various baseball teams stir with activity.

Spring practice fires us up as Hammond Stadium is doing now. Under the Florida sun the eternal hope of another Minnesota season comes to life.

The annual drill for the summer games is part practice, part picnic and part county fair. That's the feeling for me anyway as I watch the players walk onto the field for their daily workouts.

The coaches have an easy manner in the first sessions. There's an art to properly breaking in a new team. The best coaches know how to loosen up the players and get the most out of them and both at the same time.

Ron Gardenhire and Tom Kelly, who preceded Gardy as Minnesota Twins manager, and assists him at spring training, our baseball caps are off to you.

Getting to the practice field early we first find a place in the sun (because the mornings start cool) and then in the shade as it warms.

We study the player roster. Names and uniform numbers are printed on both sides of the sheet. We know some players by sight. For them no identification is needed.

There are new players, called up at the end of last season, and those who are introduced as invitees on the roster sheet. We follow the newbies with interest. We expect to see some standout actions that make one player suddenly the one on whom the buzz centers.

It's exciting to spot great form in a player pitching his stuff to make a case for himself. You see the precision turning, twisting, reaching and bending of the body. You see the effortless range of movement. You admire the strength and the discipline required of them, and demonstrated here under the Florida sun.

There no question. Sports on a professional level demand more than most of us can possibly dish up. We can, in turn, appreciate, support and be part of the team we choose as ours. And what makes it so sportsmanlike is that we can choose any team we want. Just choose a team and cheer as loudly as you can.

At spring training fans line up along the rail for autographs. You immediately recognize the players willing to please those who stand waiting for them to pass by.

The fans - often young but sometimes not - come with bats, baseballs, caps, jerseys and team books for the Twins organization in its entirety to sign.

Invitees get the same attention from those collecting autographs. Their names grow in value as they're picked by teams to play. It's never too soon to secure their name while they have the time to stop for you.

There will be players who jog along blind to the autograph queue. Their focused pace separates them from the avid quest for signatures.

I view this as somewhat a litmus test of personalities. It seems to me those who go right on by may miss something. They might, for instance miss the point that sports have the interaction between performers and their fan base as their underpinnings.

It takes patience, and real kindness I think, for a player to come sweating and spent out of the noonday sun, and honor the many requests for his signature. Each pause to sign his name delays his arrival at hot shower, cool drink or meal that's been the pictured end to his morning.

As much a highlight as seeing the Twins practice is catching sight of our local TV sports announcer on the field. He is taping a report to air for the five or six p.m news.

Mark Rosen - Rosie as he is called affectionately by WCCO colleagues - has covered spring training from Ft. Myers for as long as I recall.

I believe it's correct that he was covering the Twins when they won their first World Series in 1987. This series is the great divide by which many Twins fans count the eras of our team, now a half century old.

In this 25th year since the Twins took the trophy home to Minnesota Rosen's grin and genial TV manner is as engaging as ever. Every March he summarizes for us back home in the Twin Cities the great Florida weather, as well as the opening plays of the new season.

Rosen's reports make us envious of the Florida sunshine. Some years we're digging out of a late winter snowstorm while his tan, caught so excellently on TV, lets us know it's beach and outdoor pool and - oh yes - baseball weather down there in Ft. Myers.

His baseball interviews and on-site reports add to our sense that Ft. Myers is home away from home. Hammond Stadium declares itself Minnesota Twins Territory. Pennants wave. It's the place where North Star State lakes meet the palm trees.

For lots of Minnesotans attendance at spring training is one of the must-things to do. And we book our tickets and fly down or travel by car, gaining layers of spring with each hundred miles covered.

Our place while here for Twins training backed onto a quiet residential Southwest Florida street. Birds perched and sang on the overhead wires.

Their songs grew louder and more elaborate in the time we were here. It appears it might be getting to courting season for some of the species. The chirps, calls and melodies added their lovely sounds as we had the chance to be around.

Nearby, the bells of the Presbyterian church pealed the hour and half hour. We delighted in this sound too. The homely ringing of church bells has many familiar associations.

Being elsewhere invigorates with novelty and contrast. The common small things of the passing hours are in the end more apt to be cherished if not as readily talked about. They're almost private moments as we take them in.

Not commented about because they're ordinary, they are taken dearly and squarely into the heart. They're already a part of us, to be reclaimed once more.

Ro Giencke - February 28, 2012

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