To many coupled folks, February 14th meant love and gifts and cupid’s arrow splintering their backsides. I saw it all over my Facebook page. Young people were in love. But to baseball fans, February 14th meant something entirely different. Cupid’s arrow splintered their backsides for a completely different reason. It was to signify that pitchers and catchers were reporting to spring training. Baseball is back!

Spring training is more than just pre-season baseball. In the NFL, NBA, and NHL, pre-season is nothing more than exhibition games that don’t count and that fans don’t care about. They are boring representations of the sport. Pre-season NFL is so bad that the owners would like to decrease the number of pre-season games because fans hate paying for meaningless games. But in baseball, spring training is a different animal.

Set in either Arizona or Florida, spring training is still a place for players to get ready for the upcoming season, but it’s also a place for the fans to go on vacation. Bachelor parties are held in Arizona to coincide with spring training. Honeymoons are planned around spring training. Father and son weekends happen around spring training. You’ll never hear a friend tell another friend, “Hey, let’s go to a NBA pre-season game.” They won’t be friends much longer.

Last year was the first year I went to spring training. I gathered up my kids, got on a plane, and Phoenix, Arizona was our destination. It was a blast. The game was actually in Scottsdale, which is a great town in of itself. Scottsdale Stadium is a minor league baseball park which means all the seats are close and there’s a more intimate feel, much like a recording artist holding a concert at a smaller venue of just die-hard fans. The players are more accessible for photos and autographs.

But what these spring training games ultimately reminded me of was playing the sport. Just one month after September 11, 2001, I made this same trip with the kids and my family, but instead of going to watch baseball, I was going to play. I played in a semi-pro baseball tournament. We played something like 5 games in 4 days, all in the spring training parks that major leaugers would graze just four months later. By the end of it, my hamstrings were burning, I couldn’t feel my right arm, and my body pleaded for an epsom salt bath, but I was happy to be playing baseball.

To most sports fans, pre-season means that the real thing is coming soon and you just have to be patient. For baseball, spring training is a celebration that the sport is back. If you get a chance to head out to Arizona to catch your favorite baseball team, do it. You won’t regret it. Spring is in the air …

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