Hope springs eternal, especially in the depths of winter. Baseball’s training camps get into full swing across Florida and Arizona this week, and the blank-slate possibilities of a new season allow snowbound fans to share the buoyant spirit radiating from the diamonds where the boys of summer are now congregating.
The fresh start of February exudes sunny optimism: Hitters declare they’re in the best shape ever, surgically repaired pitchers say their new elbow feels just fine, managers insist that last year’s bottom-feeding team has a good chance to be a contender this year.
If we value baseball, it’s for times like this when just enough of the ambient cynicism about professional athletes fades away and we can reconnect with a game’s more basic rhythms. Reality will get in the way soon enough – failure is built into a sport where even a great hitter fails to get on base six times out of 10. But for now, the good-news proclamations on the field of dreams play to a willing crowd, and even seasoned observers of the game feel the urge to believe.
Baseball’s most thoughtful believers are flocking to one team in particular: the Toronto Blue Jays, a thoroughly overhauled squad that strongly aspires to be Canada’s Team, if the big red maple leaf on the players’ spring-training caps is anything to go by.
The Jays and their young general manager, the Montreal-born Alex Anthopoulos, have become Internet darlings for their shrewd off-season wheeling and dealing, and have reawakened pride in an underperforming team that hasn’t made it to the World Series since the glory years of 1992-93.
It’s fair to say that many of the new acquisitions come with question marks, if only because Mr. Anthopoulos’s sense of economy requires him to take chances on players he believes to be undervalued because of age, injury history or poor reputation in matters on-field and off.
But in the pre-season sunshine, these doubts are silenced, and all that riskiness can be celebrated as daring. Spring is in the air, for baseball devotees at least, and it’s much easier to agree with the oddsmakers that this team with a quirky 38-year-old knuckleballer who relishes Yann Martel’s Life of Pi, a once-marginalized power-hitter coming off wrist surgery, and a new outfielder who came cheap because he tested positive for performance-enhancing drugs, has a good chance to go all the way.
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