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Shirts and Skins

Special Report

By Eddie Matz | Posted 2/12/2003

Pitchers and catchers report. Next to "all you can eat," it's the sweetest four-word phrase in the English language. To a baseball fan, anyway.

As a blustery, snowy, and seemingly endless winter continues to dump mountains of fluffy whiteness on our windshields, this is the week we finally get to hear, read, and say those very words:

Pitchers and catchers report.

Feels good, doesn't it?

Yep, this is the week--Feb. 13, specifically--that Spring Training officially starts. Not that there's anything inherently thrilling about a bunch of sore-armed and sore-kneed athletes gathering in the warmth of Florida and Arizona while the rest of us freeze our butts off up north. Or about the month's worth of meaningless scrimmages that start two weeks later on Feb. 27.

Nope, Spring Training is pretty boring in and of itself. But just like seventh-period history class, it brings a smile to our faces because of the anticipation of what lies just on the other side.

When pitchers and catchers report, an 8-year-old coaxes his parents into an all-day shopping scavenger hunt for that new Derek Jeter-model Rawlings glove he's been promised. Or maybe a brand new, unblemished, red-seamed official major league baseball. Or maybe a few packs of baseball cards. Maybe all three if he's lucky. Later that night, his dad or possibly his big brother comes into his bedroom to tuck him in. He carries an extra-large, extra-thick caramel-colored rubber band and a white plastic vessel resembling a travel-sized shampoo bottle--it's filled with something called glove oil--and proceeds to teach his son how to properly break in his new glove. Ten minutes later, the father is gone and the bedroom is dark. The third-grader snuggles into his comforter, tries to force his wide eyes closed, and presses his little head down extra-hard on the lumpy pillow. Under it lays the unblemished baseball, which sits in the leather webbing of the Derek Jeter glove, which is smothered in the pungent glove oil and quadruple-wrapped shut by the sticky rubber band.

When pitchers and catchers report, a couple of 29-year-olds decide to meet in the park and pretend that an unusually warm 51-degree February Saturday is proper weather for throwing a baseball for the first time since . . . well, since last year at this very time. Prudently layered in hooded sweatshirts over their long-sleeve shirts over their T-shirts, the two childhood friends start out by standing only 10 feet from each other on a mucky, leafy, not quite yet grassy patch, tossing softly back and forth so as to minimize the risk of any residual pain the following day. Or days. Not more than 90 seconds later, the former Little League teammates are 137 feet apart and adorned in T-shirts only. The one friend uses a sidearm, slinging motion--it can't possibly be healthy--to hurl a sky-high pop up in the general vicinity of his partner. The other friend hones in on the descending projectile, in the process avoiding three mines of dog poop, two wooden benches, and one pile of hooded sweatshirts and long-sleeve shirts. As he waits for the ball to drop into his dilapidated Ron Guidry-model Spalding glove, he takes two small steps back in preparation for the play at the plate (there's always a play at the plate--it's a given). It's Orioles center fielder John Shelby firing a BB to catcher Rick Dempsey to nail Milwaukee's Bob Skube in '82 all over again. And both guys know it. The imaginary runner is out, of course. (He's always out--it's a given.) This continues for about an hour. For the next four days, the two 29-year-olds are completely incapable of using their right arms.

When pitchers and catchers report, a 43-year-old systems engineer who can't stand reading gets into his Buick and heads down to Barnes and Noble. He lifts two magazines off the periodical shelves: Fantasy Baseball Index and The Sporting News (fantasy-baseball issue, of course). He hurries back home, stealing a glimpse of the two rags at every red light. Upon entering the front door, he gives his wife a peck on the cheek and retreats to the bathroom for the next two hours. It's six weeks before his fantasy-baseball league's annual draft, but there's a whole off-season of comings and goings to catch up on, and the bathroom is where he gets his best work done. In fact, he'd stay in there for longer than two hours if he could, but that's about how long it takes before his legs and feet start falling asleep. So after two hours, he emerges from the loo, gives his wife another peck on the cheek, and flees to the comfort of his home office, where he promptly logs on to ESPN.com. In an ideal world, his fantasy team would be heavy with hometown favorites, but his research tells him that other than Jorge Julio there aren't any Birds worthy of a draft pick. Doesn't matter.

All that matters is that pitchers and catchers have reported. When pitchers and catchers report, baseball fans get excited.

Even Orioles fans.

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