Ah, the harbingers of spring. Little dresses in store windows. Better weather. Baseball players on TV, limbering up, swinging handfuls of bats in the southern sun.
And Bob Greene, loathing those players.
Last year Bob spent weeks spewing invective against professional baseball, vainly trying to lead a popular uprising for the scab replacement players.
He's at it again, spinning his Florida vacation into material. A little late this year. Last year's antibaseball season began February 19; this year's Opening Bray was February 26, with "Young fans forgive and forget, but don't get a second glance." Bob is in Sarasota, in the midst of a group of kids--itself an unsettling image, like Peter Lorre prowling the Berlin streets in Fritz Lang's M. Their fingers hooked through a chain-link fence, Bob and the gang gaze at the White Sox at practice. "They don't even wave," Bob pouts. "The ballplayers seem to give little thought to the fact that people travel many miles every day to come here to watch them..."
Bob's February 28 column is his obituary for the scab players. Bob finds a retired couple watching the practice to commiserate over the scabs' fates and parrot his own thoughts. "These men were tossed out like last night's garbage," Bob cries. You'd think he was reporting from Rwanda.
By then Bob is softening toward the major-league players, like an abusive husband embracing his wife in a moment of sobriety and remorse. He admires the "freshly laundered gray pants" of the men at the White Sox training camp. He marvels that baseball has survived at all, considering the whir of more exciting sports, "dozens and dozens, almost all of them more supercharged and frantic and breathless than baseball." Such as golf?
He even manages to talk to real major-leaguers, like Robin Ventura and Frank Thomas. Hey, Bob, here's your chance to ask them why they don't wave to those kids!
No way. Bob instead draws them into rhapsodizing about the glory of the game, which he now seems to adore, in a reversal bordering on schizophrenia. By the end of the streak (seven columns and counting at press time) Bob is talking strategy with the players he so recently reviled and keening over the fleetingness of their baseball careers.
Tempus fugit, Bob. Get over it. But no. Like Lorre's pederast, Bob stands in quivering awe of innocence. One column focuses on aspiring rookie Chris Snopek. Snopek has the dewy, aw-gee newness that titillates Bob so, and the column is Bob's Humbert Humbert-like meditation on the fragility of such a virgin glow in baseball.
Bob: "Who knows how long this kind of awe--this kind of appreciation for what life has dealt--lasts?"
It certainly vanishes after you've been grinding out columns for 25 years. Doesn't it, Bob?
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): illustration/Jeff Hellner.