Staring out the window, waiting for spring
Mike Lackey - Jan. 26th, 2008
Ask Brandon Phillips what he does to pass the winter and he has a one-word answer:
“Takes my mind off the game.”
Of course “the game” — baseball — is Phillips’ profession. He needs to get his mind off it once in awhile. At 26, the Cincinnati Reds’ second baseman had the best season of his young life last year. If he spent the entire winter obsessing over what might happen this year, he’d get so keyed up he couldn’t sleep.
Most of us fans didn’t have as good a year last year as Brandon Phillips. We need all the baseball we can get, in whatever form it’s available, to get us through the winter.
A few hours before Phillips rolled into town Friday night with the Reds Winter Caravan, the temperature had been hovering near zero. The mercury had hardly peeked above freezing in 10 days.
Such times are the dark night of a baseball fan’s soul. We grow restless and brood. The calendar’s cold months chill us more deeply than other mortals, as they did Rogers Hornsby, the great slugger of the 1920s.
“People ask me what I do in the winter when there’s no baseball,” Hornsby once said. “I’ll tell you what I do. I stare out the window and wait for spring.”
While waiting, some 500 fans bestirred themselves to show up at the Lima Mall to meet Phillips and his traveling companions. The throng formed an autograph line that started at Macy’s and at one point appeared to stretch about halfway downtown.
Among the earliest arrivals, nearly an hour before the presentation was scheduled to start, were Bret Busch and his 11-year-old son, Eric. They drove 45 minutes from their home in Paulding County, partly to get a respite from a household where all the women are Cleveland Indians fans.
Eric, wearing a Reds cap and a Brandon Phillips jersey, showed off a baseball that Phillips signed for him last summer during a visit to the Great American Ball Park. Coming off the field after pregame warm-ups, Phillips signed a few autographs and was about to head down into the dugout when he saw Eric’s jersey.
At that point, the ballplayer smiled and said, “I can sign one more.”
“He seems really accessible,” Bret Busch said. “He’s a nice guy.”
Phillips lived up to that scouting report. Loudly cheered and applauded by the Lima crowd, he smiled and waved. He hid his face when a questioner prodded general manager Wayne Krivsky to sign him to a long-term contract.
Phillips also struck just the right note in response to a young fan’s question about his goals for 2008. Phillips said the only goal he has set is for the team to make the playoffs, “and go from there.”
The most arcane query in the abbreviated question-and-answer session came from Lima Locos factotum Marty Glazier. He put Krivsky on the spot about newly acquired pitcher Jeremy Affeldt, formerly of the Colorado Rockies and the Kansas City Royals, and his susceptibility to blisters on his pitching hand.
“I follow the game,” Glazier explained afterward. “I saw him come out of Kansas City games a few times with blisters.”
Glazier has been following the game for 70 years. Asked what brought him out Friday night, he said, “I can’t miss this. This tells me that baseball season can’t be too far off.”
At the other end of the scale, the youngest fan in on hand was 6-week-old Gus Bibart, who came from Bellefontaine with his parents, Rob and Liz. Appropriately decked out in Reds gear, Gus was sleeping soundly in the midst of all the hubbub.
He was dreaming, no doubt, of spring.