by Bill Burk
April 13, 2015
Saturday we wake in Virginia, a Comfort Inn seven hours south of home. The motel room heater buzzed all night, keeping REM sleep at arm's length. The second leg of the trip will be fatigue-filled, coffee-blurred, but welcome. We're going south, like a million spring-break caravans before us, to escape the gymnasium and the piled snow and icicles, to see grass and dirt and bases and fields with real dugouts and fences and, if we're lucky, the sun. It snowed the entire seven hours on the road, I mean every single mile, but surely the south is ready to embrace us, to melt us into its equatorial fold. But no. Not this morning. This morning the mercury is the same as its northern brother, embarrassed at its attitude, and deep under the same covers; 24 ridiculous degrees and snowing. Are you (expletive) kidding me!
We load into the car in a wind chill, underdressed and expectant of a sun that gives us only light, no heat. My kids (my players) don't care, they are on vacation, but this hardly seems fair.
The thermostat on the car dash refuses to budge until we prove ourselves determined to best the system by heading out. Two more hours of road under wheels and it's nudged up to 36 degrees. Hard to say if it's just the day growing up, or our southern trend. We continue and at least green-house effect heats the inside of the car (one that's frankly starting to smell like teenagers), and I finally exhale. Feels like I've been holding my breath against the cold now for five months. This winter has been flint in my mouth, for some reason more taxing than others. Maybe it's because Western New York has been stacking up days with crazy numbers like 15 below, 20 below, 25 below for two years now. Surreal, silly, stupid numbers, ones that don't make sense preceded by a minus sign on your car dash, or the bank display, much less what those numbers do to the roads you drive, your heating bill, your exposed skin.
Eventually (finally?) we've put enough north in the rear view mirror to turn off the heater and crack a window. Is that actual heat, or just a lack of freezing cold? What's the difference? I'm not wearing gloves or hat or winter parka anymore, and from the back cargo I hear a rustling. The players I'm driving hear it too, though they don't identify it directly. To them it's the rush of wind from an open window, and the absence of claustrophobia from the car cocoon, and their spirits lifting in small imperceptible increments, an elevator door opening on increasingly higher floors. It's shedding jackets and boots, and pale winter-drenched skin, and dispelling the notion that it isn't all that fun to be outside.
But I hear and recognize it. It's ball gloves. And bats. And spikes and hats and a team uniform. It's a real start of the upcoming season of baseball and softball. It's playing on a field, it's running on the base paths, it's throwing and catching balls framed against a sky and the ground instead of a ceiling and floor. I hear it from the back of the car, still stuffed in a bat-bag, but getting ready to be set free. It's high school ball, man, and it's Spring Break.