I never know when it's going to hit me each year, the first pang of real baseball hunger, or when. Today was the day for 2010, and it was NESN that helped me along.
I caught the end of their Red Sox Spring Break Live show, coming in on the middle of a Peter Gammons interview with Daniel Bard. Bard was as I remembered him from Fan Appreciation Day -- he seems to have a mild, kind, even-tempered way about him.
Gammons, meanwhile, conducted a masterful interview, drawing Bard out on details of his long friendship with John Farrell (going back to Farrell's playing days), Bard's relationship with his father, a minor-league catcher, and how Bard's game matured from Class A ball onward.
Bard said he started out trying to be like Greg Maddux -- and had to learn the hard way that "not everybody can make the ball sink and cut to the corners", that "my game was to throw the four-seamer, get ahead, and then finish with a curveball. I started getting ahead of guys..."
Normally when I watch baseball coverage, I'm doing so to appreciate the skills of the athletes. This morning I was also appreciating Gammons' obvious interviewing prowess, and his obvious depth of research, resulting in questions that drew colorful stories out of Bard, instead of the usual jock platitudes.
And there it was, as NESN launched into a montage of 2009 season highlights -- that homesick, hungry feeling for baseball.
Part of the reason for my avoidance thus far, I think, has to do with some of the glass-half-empty corollaries to those moments -- this year Mike Lowell is the walking dead; Jason Bay is a Met; and from Big Papi to Josh Beckett, the year ahead is a huge unknown, followed by an even huger unknown after the season is over.
Once again, Soxaholix was on my wavelength this week about this:
Remembah, it's not just that seasonal cycle at work but the human one as well. Playahs come into the league fresh-faced and gangly and full of the promise of Spring and then they wow us in their primes with feats of athleticism that seem to defy their very mortality and humaness... But then most assuredly comes their Autumn, and the gray beards and creaky knees and lost steps... And they leave us, we watch them go, sometimes they go with grace, sometimes they go with angah, but they always go and it's always bittahsweet and difficult for us and them to accept. For in the end, watching baseball is both an escape from our own mortality and a remindah of it.
Today, though, was a reminder of the other side of that equation -- that spring returns as well as autumn, that for every erstwhile hero reduced to mortal status there's a Daniel Bard, a fresh face with an aw-shucks grin, a brisk four-seamer and a crisp breaking ball, who's happy to be here, and just hopes to help the ballclub.