Pitchers and catchers have reported across Arizona and Florida, and you know what that means.
COVID, and all the bluster, lying, halfhearted mask wearing and vaccine line-cutting that entails. Oh, and people playing catch. You may choose what inspires you more.
Last year's version was laid low by the virus, like everything that wasn't football, and it will be compromised again by it a year later. But it will also look the way it was going to anyway, in that a few teams will spend money like drunken sailors and most of the others will slash payrolls and the fun of player acquisitions by pleading poverty they don't have.
That's why if you want your spring not to be a drag, you may as well resign yourselves to your love going unrequited unless you like the San Diego Padres, who just threw down $340 million on 22-year-old Fernando Tatis The Younger. There's nothing that's not to like about Tatis, an electrifying player with harmless showmanship and in the middle of a supercharged lineup that ought to give more of the one true outcome that people like, homers, and less of the two true outcomes they don't, walks and strikeouts.
This is also true of the Los Angeles Dodgers, who spend more and are demonstrably better on the field, but as they have not yet been punished for their role in allowing COVID-ed up Justin Turner to roam free after the last game of the World Series, they are less worthy of your eyeballs. And no, this is not some sort of hate-the-Dodgers-because-they're-the-Dodgers screed that oldtimers like to bathe in because they were once told to. Teams should be shunned based on their actual behavior, and the Turner debt has not yet been paid. If you also want to reject them because of the Trevor Bauer signing based on Bauer being a bit socially retrograde, you can do that too, but we have far lower standards for baseball because the sport has rarely met any of the standards we've ever asked for that.
Every other team is cutting costs so that their owners don't actually have to dip into their personal billions. Free agents aren't being signed in the same way, and regular old employees are being outfitted for a cardboard box and directions to the parking lot. Plus, 40 towns had their minor league teams snuffed out because commissioner Rob Manfred found them redundant to needs and inconvenient to efficiencies. The sport is murdering itself at the grass roots, but that won't worry the owners because in all likelihood they'll be dead in 15 years anyway and even though you can't take it with you, the idea of leaving it for your successors seems to be all the more poisonous.
Now add the fact that it isn't likely to go to spring training as a tourist this year because the cootie is nowhere close to being eradicated. That means no training for you, and spring only where you're at. What that is, isn't spring training. It's practice, and practice is way worse. Indeed, the people who run Maricopa County have been saying their health care systems are not prepared for an influx of tourists and want you to stay away have essentially been countermanded by the people who run the Cactus League, so even if you decided to be reckless and go anyway, you wouldn't be welcomed. In short, you'd burn your skin and tan your liver a lot less joyfully.
In sum, this is a joyless and threadbare beginning to what is traditionally a happy and lucrative bit of the business. Except in San Diego, of all places. The Padres' payroll reflects its talent, and for the first time since 1998 that payroll ranks in the upper half of baseball, and is being showered on young and dynamic players and pitchers. Despite the fact that owner Peter Seidler is part of the O'Malley family that owned the Dodgers (hey, sins of the father and all that), they have managed to make brown and gold fashionable in a way that UPS can't. They are your new favorite team, or ought to be.
And if this interferes with your Giants or A's love, consider it a personal failing. Even if your fandom is unshakeable, you'll have a hell of a lot less fun with a right-wing-funding owner and institutionalized austerity than you would adopting to a team that is selling you all the things that make baseball fun — talent on unabashed display, no noted COVID history, and money burning in the fireplace.That's the baseball every fan base craves, so take yourselves out to THAT ballgame. It may feel disloyal at first, but it's not like baseball has been terribly kind to you these past 12 months.