• Rites of spring
    April 04,2014

    It is worth nothing that spring arrived in New England 15 days ago, an event that might have been overlooked by Vermonters as they continued to shove firewood into the stove. Even the welcome days of above-freezing weather that arrived this week seemed to deliver the sun’s warmth grudgingly.

    And yet this is the day when the world champion Boston Red Sox open their season at home after a brief road visit to Baltimore and a side trip to the White House, where they received congratulations from the First Fan of the Chicago White Sox. The selfie taken by David Ortiz alongside President Barack Obama was a fitting capstone to the 162-game season that brought the World Series title to the Red Sox last year.

    Obama may have been borrowing some of the charisma of Ortiz rather than the other way around, though through the years the president’s career has been characterized by a degree of good luck similar to that enjoyed by Ortiz. There was the three-point jumper Obama hit for photographers in Kabul. There have been any number of political home runs to balance out the grinding innings-long struggles.

    To see the players congregating at the White House on a fine spring day to bask in the glory of their winning ways launches the season on a positive note. For Ortiz to respond the next night with a two-run homer is a signal that, even as the beloved Papi ages, he retains his gift for accomplishing the big hit.

    Baseball emerges from its cocoon each year just as Vermonters are yearning for the rites of spring to commence in earnest. Complaining about winter is a common practice, but complaints usually serve to underscore the stoicism that allows Vermonters to endure winter in good humor. Stoicism and humor were stretched to the limit this year as Vermonters experienced what, in parts of the state, was the coldest March on record. It was cold, and it wouldn’t let up.

    One Vermonter who managed to escape to a tropical destination during the first two weeks of March returned to notice that people had stopped talking about the weather altogether, even to complain. It was no longer funny. People didn’t want to hear about it. Stoicism, unalloyed by humor, had taken over. It was time to grit one’s teeth.

    Grit one’s teeth and wait for signs of spring. Some of the birds that arrived at their usual times were no doubt flummoxed by the continuing arctic conditions. More than a few robins could be seen hopping futilely about the snow pack. Worms remained securely hidden away. Sugar makers had their operations at the ready. Only now has the flow begun in a big way.

    The major league season begins before spring has taken hold firmly in the northern regions. Red Sox fans know how miserable and frigid April at Fenway can be. But there is an image of baseball that endures as a Platonic ideal of spring: the outfielder roaming the sun-splashed expanse of outfield grass, alone and free as he runs down fly balls within spring’s radiant warmth. It is an image that survives from the childhood of millions of youngsters, replicated by big leaguers as they gather in Florida and Arizona and then bring the game north. It is an image that survives even April at Fenway.

    March is now part of the past. We have heard all about the high-pressure ridge in the West that redirected the jet stream southward. Enough already. The arc of the fly ball as it travels toward the outfield is one of the great geometric mysteries to be solved by boy and girl or by Grady Sizemore and Daniel Nava. When the fly ball comes to rest in the outfielder’s glove after he has traced its flight from the bat to the precise place where gravity brings it back to earth, that is a rite of spring surpassing all others.

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