The car is humming. The not so sound proof windows whistle as we hurl ourselves 90 miles per hour down the Interstate 8 freeway to Arizona. We’re going to Spring Training. It’s always a welcomed trip; the winter months give way to spring; the frigid cold melts; football passes the baton to baseball. It’s a time of renewal. Hope springs eternal. The slate is cleaned off and even the Pittsburgh Pirates are contenders.
Teams and their fans are raucously chanting some clichéd mantra: “The world is our oyster!” or “This is our year!” or “All we have to do is make the playoffs, then anything is possible!”
In spring, everyone is a champion (speaking of clichés).
But me, I’m more reserved with my expectations. Being a Padre fan, I’ve learned to keep my heart cold and my thoughts grounded. And at this moment, like every year on this long, straight desert road, I can only think about one thing.
In 2001, the San Diego Padres had a new starting centerfielder, a young prospect by the name of Mike Darr. That season in 105 games he hit .277 with 2 HR, 34 RBI, and 6 SB. Modest stats, yes, but this was coming off the heels of Ruben Rivera, one of those five tool players that Moneyball warned everyone about. Darr was a breath of fresh air. Only 25 years old, he was everything Rivera was not: patient, level headed, teachable.
Going into Spring Training the following year, expectations were high. Darr was the future of the franchise. He was going to bring the Padres back to the playoffs. Back to the World Series! Only that never happened. Darr never got the chance. Somewhere out here in the desert, with all this empty space bearing witness, Mike Darr and friend Duane Johnson were killed in a car accident. And just like that, as if the Padres were already 20 games out of first place, hope was gone.
Baseball and Fantasy Baseball are games of wishes and dreams and prospects. If we just make the playoffs…if we just get that one player…
The word if belongs with words like would’ve and could’ve.
And even though out here, a mere hour from Glendale and Peoria (the land of hopes and dreams), my thoughts should be cluttered with these words, they’re not. I’m sobered by the cruelty of the game, the prospects who should’ve made it, but never did. I’m humbled by Ruthian spring stats that withered in the summer months. I’m reserved with players who are can’t miss draft picks, who finish spring at a blistering pace, and who pee their pants from April to May until every last spring stat is washed away and replaced with broken hearts.
Baseball teams and fantasy managers might have eternal optimism in March, and why not? Anything could happen. And it will.