Baseball’s always been my sport. I played it and its cousin, softball, obsessively back when I was a kid in Chicago. We played in alleys, mostly, meaning we all had to learn how to hit the ball straight up the middle. It was like playing football on a bowling lane or basketball in a hallway.
I played until I was about 38 years old when one Sunday while I was playing third base in a softball league game in suburban Lincolnwood, the batter hit a scorching bounder at me. The ball took a funny hop and, superannuated as I was, I was unable to react quickly enough and the ball smashed into my eye, shattering my glasses. It turned out the blow caused what the eye surgeon called a traumatic cataract, which had to be sliced out of me. The worst part of that procedure was when the nurse injected some drug or another directly into my eyeball, the memory of which to this day turns my legs into jelly.
Anyway, the start of baseball’s spring training and Opening Day (always capitalized) six weeks later have been landmarks in my yearly countdown to spring. I detest winter about as much as the cancerous tumors that popped up around my larynx in 2015, the same year my beloved Cubs began their long awaited renaissance, culminating in their first World Series championship since 19 goddamned 08.
That was in 2016, the same year chemoradiation therapy zapped the bejesus out of my tumors (I’d nicknamed them My Olive Pits), so it should have been an annum of bliss, Except five days later, the voters of this holy land decided to elect a lunkheaded clown to the presidency, killing my buzz and making me fret for the future.
Here it is, the first week of March and the Cubs and the 29 other Major League Baseball teams should have begun spring training games already. Only the MLB owners have decided to lock the players out because the Collective Bargaining Agreement between them and the Major League Baseball Players Association had expired last December. The owners are loath to share any more of the billions their sport rakes in with the guys who actually play the game than they have to. Sure, some ballplayers make ten, twenty, even thirty million dollars a year playing a game that I played every day, seemingly every hour of every day, back when I was 11. Of course, my skill level was a bit lower than theirs. If by bit, we mean several light years.
Spring training generally starts around Valentine’s Day and I take that date as the Beginning of the End of Winter. But, as I say, spring training hasn’t started yet. And the owners and the players, who been negotiating a new CBA, just gave each other the finger and have broken off talks. The first week of regular season games have already been cancelled. It’s doubtful there’ll even be any games come April. And if worse comes to worse, a couple of months or more of the 2022 season will be wiped out.
The owners, that is. Not only have I long been a staunch union guy (I’ve been a member of the Municipal Laborers Union, the National Writers Union, and the Newspaper Guild) but, even if I weren’t, I’d still side with the players because, for pity’s sake, I watch the games to see the players in action not to slobber over the owners counting their billions. As long as the game generates so much cash, the lion’s share of it ought to go to the people doing the hitting, pitching, and running around.
Not only that, but the majority of Major League players do not earn the aforementioned astronomical salaries. Under the expired CBA, incoming players earned $590,000 a year, a hefty payday to be sure but when you consider the fact that tens of millions of kids play baseball but only 750 or so grow up to play in the Bigs each year, that dough seems about right. Hell, maybe those lucky rookies ought to earn even more. The sport is awash in money. TV networks and regional sports programming operations are waving multi-billion-dollar checks at the owners, and a lot of those same owners call taxpayer-funded stadia home. Still, those owners want to break the players union because…, well, because that’s what the uber-rich do — fuck over as many people as they can, just for the sport of it.
Aw, I didn’t mean to get all that bitter here. My original intent was to post a little audio essay I call Halcyon Days. Click on the media bar up top and enjoy.