This article is about getting through the winter.
I'm not talking about the weather here. This isn't about snow, or ice, or freezing temperatures. None of which I have, by the way, now that I live in Phoenix - but that is beside the point.
This is about that gnawing sense you have in your gut when, just seconds after the last out is made in the World Series, you realize you have witnessed your last pitch and for the 3 1/2 months between that moment and the day pitchers and catchers report you have to fill the long nights with something.
We all find some way to cope. We have to. And here is my list of things I do to endure:
Be careful here, because not just any reading will do. No War and Peace here. No Moby Dick or Dylan Thomas or John Grisham.
I'm thinking JP Kiensella instead. Or David James Duncan. Or Roger Kahn. So far this off season I have read A Well Paid Slave, the story of Curt Flood; On the Black, John Feinstein's hard core look inside a year of pitching on the corner executed by Tom Glavine and Mark Mussina; and Head Games, a look inside the thinking pitcher's approach to the game. I think my next book will be the gem that almost no baseball fan has ever heard of, and yet no fan's library is complete without: David James Duncan's book The Brothers K. I'm telling you, find this book, buy it, read it. You can thank me later, as I did my brother Jay for turning me on to it.
My library now includes a few hundred books about baseball, its players, its history, its analysts. On long winter nights, its hard to do much better.
I also have a growing collection of movies. "Bang the Drum Slowly," "Eight Men Out," "Field of Dreams," and one of my all-time favorites - the much underrated first "Bad News Bears." Throw the remake in the crapper. My children sort of know at Christmas, any baseball movie I don't have is a pretty standard gift. But of all the films out there to watch, nothing beats taking all nine episodes in successive nights of Ken Burn's baseball documentary and watching them nine nights in a row. Save that for when the depression hits the hardest. And I dare you not to cry at least once an episode.
Baseball Cards, that is. I started when my son was born 24 years ago collecting every Topps card - their standard set, that is. These are not investment pieces for me - they are totems. They are to be taken out and used. About once a winter, I decide to shift my cataloguing system from alphabetical order to numerical order, or numerical order to team and position, or - well, you get the idea. And when you take the full set out and reshuffle the deck, so to speak, you spend the time over the long night reading again the back of the card. Something almost always surprises and delights.
Holy Cow, this may the most precious part of all. Just as the pauses in the actual game contested on the field give fans a chance to anticipate the next pitch or argue about the last (one of the truly unique parts of the game), so too does the pause that is winter give us all time to carry on the arguments that have endured through generations and make the fan's experience all the richer. I call my brothers or my sons and we make our case, over and over again. Instead of pissing each other off by arguing whether or not Tony LaRussa should have pinch hit for Aaron Miles in the 8th inning of last night's game, we argue instead about whether or not Derek Jeter is the worst fielding shortstop of his generation (I argue he is, though I had myself to be persuaded).
As of this writing, there are only 48 days left till pitchers and catchers report. Some of you are barely hanging on. Once the holidays pass, it is a long time till opening day. I hope that my prescription for maintaining sanity and health till life begins again helps you get through another long winter.