Back when I started working in baseball for the Cleveland Indians, the only feeling that rivaled winning in the playoffs was getting in your rental car in Orlando in the middle of February, rolling down the windows, and soaking up the 60+ miles to Winter Haven. The satisfaction had nothing to do with the drive itself - central Florida isn't necessarily known for stunning topography. Rather, it was the realization that another nascent season was upon us.
Of course, leaving the Cleveland winter behind didn't hurt.
The first event of every spring training is the opening meeting of the staff - front office, Major League coaches, AAA coaches, minor league coordinators and roving instructors. We always begin with some housekeeping items - introductions of new staff, important dates on the schedule, etc - but the meat is the roundtable discussion of each and every player in Major League camp.
As the various staff members share their experiences and perspectives, the discussion inevitably gets people excited. There are always new players in camp, new things to work on with veteran players, and a pervasive optimism. After all, our passion for this game has led us to these jobs, and we're all anxious to get started after four or five months of no baseball.
There are also always a few laughs, like the time in Oakland when a new staffer had compiled the depth chart which contained a young left-handed pitcher named Mark Mudler. Nobody really knew much about Mudler, but we had high hopes for a kid named Mulder. The poor guy never lived it down.
The next morning is full of greetings: "How was your winter? Family good?” But, as I’m sure the players suspect (or at least they should), it’s also full of whispers: “Did you see so-and-so? He looks great!” or the more sarcastic “It's good to see him so dedicated to eating fried food.”
The best part, of course, is when the players take the field, which all of pitchers and catchers are doing this morning. That's when everyone gets to do what they're here to do - players are throwing the ball around, coaches are coaching, and the front office... well, we're watching, evaluating, and just happy to be outside.
Leaving San Diego this weekend didn't have quite the same qualities as leaving Cleveland in the mid-90's. I now have a family, which makes it much more difficult to leave, and there's no urge to leave San Diego weather behind...ever (I actually drove through snow between San Diego and Phoenix on Saturday). That said, the feeling of arriving in spring training has not changed in my 14 years.
I hope it never does.