By the end of the spring training workday, shadows are so long they seem almost to touch Opening Day.
Ballplayers carry dinged Louisville Sluggers on their shoulders, batting gloves in their back pockets, and pure anticipation in their souls. A baseball season stands somewhere before them, uncontaminated by bad-hop grounders and bad breaks, as neat and clean as a freshly drawn infield.
Spring training is Jimmy Buffett from the speaker in center field, sun-flushed snowbirds holding hands above the dugout, “Hey No. 67!” from the kid with a ball and a pen but no program, laughter from players whose teams turned all business generations ago.
It is as subtle as a veteran’s waning touch, then as spirited as a rookie’s first step from a batter’s box, occasionally at precisely the same moment.
Spring training is often where they collide, the aging and the new, there among the lines and the symmetry of a game born again each season, to generations that pass it along like a well-worn Willie Mays trading card.
And when the lineups finally become set, when the games become serious and the people in them stern, then you know you have come to the end of the shadows, and to the brink of Opening Day.