Hope springs eternal

first_imgIt is spring training. A special time, a unique time. Six weeks unrivaled by any other sport. Truth is, despite everything, I love it. Am a complete sucker for it. It is an annual pull, avoidable as breath and almost as necessary. Sometimes you just can’t help it. Despite everything, you feel its soft tug and that hardened shell you’re so certain has been mastered just melts away. Every time you think you’ve outgrown it, become mired in the cynic’s view, every time you are certain to have distanced yourself from those translucent images from your past, it will reach out and draw you back. By now, you would think it’d be different. Lessons learned from past failings, from expectations undelivered. Yet it happens every spring, and somehow unexpectedly. It is not just the swaying palms, an almost inspirational sound of wood bat on ball, the freshly cut grass or the blarney coming from every general manager. It is all that and a renewal of intrigue and hope. Daily interest in small things that otherwise might go unnoticed, seem insignificant. center_img Who will be this spring’s phenom? What injured and almost forgotten veteran will harness a comeback? What team will live up to its potential, crash and burn, surprise, crush hearts? During spring training, all things seem possible. That’s the gig. How many times in life can we say that about anything? There is nothing romantic about the NFL preseason or NBA camps. They go about their business, they make cuts, move on to the season. It feels almost business-like, almost like required reading in an Elizabethan English class. Something that has to be done. It doesn’t take you back to your youth, doesn’t recall those days of unquestioned loyalty to your team where you were certain every rookie was a rising superstar, when you never doubted each move made by the manager would prove golden. We grow up, file away all the kids who never delivered, all the stars who got old, all the weaknesses that weren’t overcome. And you’re certain you’re past all that. Too many disappointments, too many false hopes and false starts. Too much distance from childhood. Where there were wide eyes, crow’s feet stake a claim. Where there were baseball cards, tax forms invade. Where there was certainty, doubt takes hold. So it is unexpected when it reaches out to you after so many years, after so many springs. This spring it happened to me while reading a simple daily newspaper report from the Angels. Brandon Wood, their No.1 prospect was going to be moved from shortstop to third base. It wasn’t unexpected, yet was a flare into the skeptical night. Wood is 6-foot-3 and 190 pounds of pure potential. He has true power. He just looks like a rising star. And now maybe he will arrive this season, maybe succeed where Dallas McPherson and Casey Kotchman stumbled. What if Wood thrives beyond expectations, what if he looks ready right now? Where do they put Chone Figgins and who gets bumped? Suddenly it was all so exciting. Spring training is not just about annual innocence, it’s about questions being answered and somehow believing in the answers. Can the Dodgers and Angels really prove they are title contenders without having added a power bat? Will their starting pitching really make that much difference? Are Juan Pierre and Gary Mathews really the answers in center field, or the most overpriced acquisitions of the spring? Can Randy Wolf and Bartolo Colon completely overcome their injuries? Are Garret Anderson, Jeff Kent and Nomar Garciaparra actually healthy this year or just too old or injury prone? Will catchers Mike Napoli and Russell Martin prove last season was no fluke? Can Howie Kendrick replace Angels veteran Adam Kennedy at second, Luis Gonzalez give the Dodgers more than J.D. Drew? Will the Dodgers find a place for James Loney? Is Jered Weaver the Angels’ next great pitcher, and what about that tendinitis in his bicep? If it’s still sore now after the offseason, how will it improve now that he’s throwing? Every spring day provides a window to an answer, an opening, or sometimes, a closing. Six weeks is so long, with a pace that almost lulls, yet the days are filled with pieces that slowly form an intriguing whole. Spring training is about revitalizing, the past comfortably intertwined with the present. A hard thrower tries to claim a closer’s role, a phenom announces his arrival, an old right-hander learns a new pitch. Maybe you think you know better, but something from your past still makes you want to believe, almost forces you to. Spring training is a moment in time unlike any other in sports. And maybe best of all, you don’t have to outgrow it. Steve Dilbeck’s column appears in the Daily News four times a week. [email protected] (818) 713-3607 160Want local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! You’re all set!last_img