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What: "Baseball's Early Season: Spring Training."

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Co.

Price: $28.


It's coming up to that time of year again when the boss forces me to embark on my annual tour of the spring training camps in Arizona and Florida. My wife tends to tell friends that I'd leave Jan. 1 if the camps were open, but she's stretching it.

After all, there's only so many UV rays that a bald head can take. Only so many computer outlets available by the swimming pools. Only so many times I can eat ribs at the baseball museum that is Don & Charlie's in Scottsdale, Ariz., or Atlantic snapper at the venerable Ocean Grill in Vero Beach, Fla.

Tough duty?

Well, OK, the boss knows better because he has often asked why I needed to rent a convertible in Sarasota, Fla., and the wife knows better because she has caught me hiding a smile as I wave goodbye. Spring training is a reawakening of muscles and memories on sun-kissed mornings, and simply the best six or seven weeks of the baseball season in many ways.

Dan Shaughnessy, the Boston Globe columnist, captures it with his prose in this attractive new coffee table-style book, and Stan Grossfeld, a two-time Pulitzer Prize-winning photographer, contributes the indelible images seen only in the more relaxed, uninhibited and often tank-top atmosphere of spring training. There is a foreword by Cal Ripken Jr., dealing with his spring memories, and a chapter in which personalities from historian Doris Kearns Goodwin to novelist Stephen King to Reggie Jackson, better known for his Octobers, page through their spring scrapbooks.

Baseball now is big business 12 months a year, including spring training. The wood bleachers are gone. The one-diamond facility with a claustrophobic clubhouse of the type that housed the Angels for so many years in Palm Springs has given way to spectacular complexes with mini stadiums seating more than 5,000 and generally filled, from Tucson to Tampa, for every exhibition game. Still, amid the cash registers, spring training remains what it has always been, a chance to pause, sit back, breathe in and savor those special sights and sounds. Heck, a time to even look forward to interviewing Barry Bonds.

As Shaughnessy writes in his introduction:

"Before the purpose-pitch that zips inches from the batter's head, before green-fly autograph seekers stalk hotel lobbies, before hateful sports talk radio jockeys spill their venom, before thousands of fans stand up and boo in 50,000-seat stadiums, before the proverbial dog days of summer and the pressure-packed moments of October ...

"There is sweet spring. The long hello. Baseball's early season."

Sweet, indeed. Now where did I put my sun glasses?

-- Ross Newhan

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