Forgotten spring storylines: Milestones, superstars, teams on the rise


The days are growing brighter and moderately warmer even here along the western shore of Lake Michigan. Soon, I’ll be making my annual trip to spring training. This year, it’ll be to Arizona. And for that, I’m grateful, because it puts a buffer of a couple thousand miles between me and West Palm Beach, Florida, spring training home of the Houston Astros.

No matter how you feel about the Houston sign-stealing scandal, aren’t you just a little fatigued by it at this point? Anti-Astros extremists sure aren’t going to let go anytime soon. At the very least, the reception of the Astros in every new city they visit this season will be a story. Everyone is waiting for their chance to voice their displeasure, as is their right. This story is not going to die for some time, even as baseball tries to chart a scandal-free path forward.

Yet, does it have to suck the oxygen out of everything that remains good about the best game there is? Aren’t we ready for a new season, perhaps now more than ever?

One of the wondrous things about baseball is just how deep its roots have grown through the eons. No other sport comes close. The history of baseball is like a work of magical realism of unthinkable breadth, one in which a new chapter is written each and every year, as it has since the days of outhouses, gas lamps and horse buggies. You never know where the story will take you, as the past few months have reminded us.

And, sure, some of that largely explains the degree of Astros uproar that has dominated all forms of sports media. We get mad because we care. Baseball is part of our national identity in a way that other sports can never be and you never want scandal fodder to be part of your identity. There have been pretty significant scandals stemming from malfeasance in other sports over the past couple of decades. Yet as we have seen with the Astros, nothing gets people more worked up than a baseball scandal.

You may have noticed that here I am again, talking about the very thing I don’t want to be talking about. (Talking in the proverbial sense, of course.) The Astros continue to dominate my thoughts and that’s why I’m so glad to be going to Arizona … where the Astros are not.

Some people — fans and media alike — actually like a good scandal, and that’s OK. Whatever trips your trigger. At the very least, you can say that the messes surrounding the Astros, Red Sox and the game in general give us something to talk about. You can absorb only so many “best shape of my life” stories, hopeful tales of budding stardom and anecdotes about lessons learned in the pitching lab — the kind of stuff we usually traffic in this time of the year.

But here we are, just three weeks until real games begin. Let’s acknowledge that we, myself included, will probably be talking about the Astros for the foreseeable future. Then let’s try to set that aside and focus on an Astros-free baseball universe. There are so many other things worth our attention.

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