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Radio Free Montone: Pitchers And Catchers

John Montone

By John Montone, 1010 WINS

Three magic words will melt these massive mountains of snow: Pitchers and catchers.

My sixth grade teacher required us to read The New York Times when the school bell rang in the morning. As soon as I was finished glancing at page one, I would turn to the Sports section where on one icy February day there was a photo of Mickey Mantle and White Ford with some palm trees in the background and the caption, “A harbinger of warmer days to come.”

I immediately looked up the word “harbinger” and learned it meant a sign or indication of a future event. Pitchers and catchers. Those words are a sign that however cold it is or however many more snowstorms we must endure, winter is not endless. It will be defeated. When baseball’s battery mates arrive in the coastal resorts of Florida or out in the desert of Arizona, the countdown clock starts ticking on the demise of frostbitten mornings, ice-slicked sidewalks and pools of slush at the curb.

I recall in my youth setting up steps to spring. Ballplayers report to camp, my new Little League coach calls, my friends and I shovel the remnants of the last snow off the playground and choose up sides for our first baseball game of the season. Next the new year’s baseball cards arrive at the Boulevard Sweet Shop, an establishment run by a couple named the Castros but which everyone referred to as Brown’s. “Baseball cards,” Mr. Castro would say as we walked in and because he repeated everything he said, “Baseball…baseball cards.” Five cents, a nickel for five cards and a stick of bubble gum. Five cents that could land a kid Willie Mays or Clemente or Koufax. Or even Ron Swoboda who hit 19 home runs as a rookie in 1965.

Pouring over the stats of many a Hall of Famer’s career I extrapolated that Rocky should be good for 30, maybe forty homers in his second season. Let the record show, he hit eight.

Finally, there were exhibition baseball games on TV. They were meaningless, meandering contests played by young men with no chance of going north with the big club, by veterans desperate for another year in the majors and an occasional star getting in his innings or working out the kinks in his swing while trying to shed the pounds he had put on over the winter. Back then ballplayers were not paid tens of millions of dollars, so there were no private trainers helping them stay toned in the off-season. They worked as insurance salesmen and in factories and drove trucks. But in mid-February they headed south and west, oiled their gloves, put on their spikes and stretched their arms and legs.

Pitchers and catchers means that every day the sports section will contain at least one baseball story. The Knicks and Nets and the local hockey teams may still get more space, but there will be tales about the Yankees newest tycoons and the Mets two feeble first basemen. Okay, stop it, John! This blog is supposed to be about hope, the eternal optimism of spring. The conquest of winter. The denunciation of the ground hog and his stinking shadow.

Those sooty piles of rock hard snow that sit on the sides of roads and encase cars on city streets are doomed, to be replaced by the smack of the ball hitting a mitt. The crack of the wooden bat on that tightly-stitched, rubber and cork filled cowhide sphere. Pitchers and catchers trump the Polar Vortex. It’s time to shovel the playground and choose sides.

Play ball!