In baseball – as in life – the goal is to come home.
Spring Training ended Saturday. Opening Day is (officially) Monday.
Hope Springs Eternal.
I have one spot left on my top five Spring Training series.
And, I come home to Charlottesville, Virginia.
It isn’t home. Not exactly. But, it’s just a few minutes up the road and that’s close enough.
Charlottesville isn’t the most amazing or the most interesting or the most historic Spring Training location.
No Babe Ruth. No Jackie Robinson. No island, no dance hall.
Charlottesville is my #1 Spring Training place, not because of what happened here, but because it’s home. And, every home should have somewhere to warm up your baseball bones.
Between 1890 and 1916, many teams spent Spring Training in Charlottesville.
The Boston Reds in the 1890s. The Boston Beaneaters (today, the Atlanta Braves). The young Boston Red Sox. The Washington Senators (who had officially changed their name to the Nationals in 1901, but who everyone still called the Senators, until the team just gave up and changed it back in the 1950s. So really, call them whatever you like here).
Teams unpacked at Wright’s Hotel near the train station (it was later the Clermont and is now the Starr Hill Building). Or, they rented local fraternity houses.
They trained on cold and snowy days – and there were plenty of them in March – indoors at Fayerweather Gymnasium (now home to the University of Virginia Department of Art). It was a state-of-the-art facility with one of the longest indoor tracks in the country.
They played at UVa’s Lambeth Field, which one reporter at the time called “the best college field.” (It’s still in use today for intramural sports).
Walter “Big Train” Johnson, one of the greatest pitchers to ever play the game, spent a couple Spring Trainings there as a National/Senator. (How good was he? He would win more than 30 games a season – twice – and consistently had an ERA around a sinful 1.50. Yeh, The Big Train was good.)
Teams jogged through Charlottesville as part of their training. They played games against UVa’s team. They took day trips to Thomas Jefferson’s home, Monticello, and rode the trolley to Fry’s Springs resort, known for its healing mineral baths and “Wonderland” amusement park.
But, it’s often quite chilly here in March. Kevin Edds, writing in TheSabre.Com, quotes one unhappy journalist at the time: “This is no place to send a baseball reporter. … Apparently the only time it doesn’t rain hard in Charlottesville is when it is raining harder. And if by chance neither condition obtains for a brief period, snow is falling.”
Teams eventually wandered south.
True Confession: I wasn’t a baseball fan growing up.
Oh, I followed the Giants and A’s a bit when I was little and in California. I mostly cheered the Giants so I could needle my dad who cheered for the Dodgers. I mostly cheered the A’s because they were cute and had even cuter uniforms.
But, then we moved to North Dakota and my dad really preferred basketball and football.
The only times we followed the “local” Minnesota Twins were on the days when enormous thunderstorms rolled through and my dad would turn on the radio to follow the weather reports which would interrupt the Twins’ broadcasts. I’m sure somewhere deep in my brain I now connect the Twins to killer tornados.
After college, I left North Dakota (and frigid 40-below winters) and made my way to Washington, DC.
Not long after, in 1988, I tagged along with a busload of officemates on their annual trip to Baltimore’s Memorial Stadium to see an Orioles game. They always got to leave work early when they went up for the game, so it wasn’t that hard to convince me to go.
The Orioles had started the 1988 season 0-21. I felt really bad for them. Tom Boswell, a Washington Post columnist, was reporting each loss as the total mounted. I didn’t know much about baseball. I knew even less about the Orioles. But, I did know that this poor team needed me.
(There were also snacks on the bus ride, so really it was a pretty good deal all the way around.)
It was really no big thing. I was going to a game. It was cheap. It was a good enough way to spend an evening.
But, then something happened.
We got there, and everyone piled off the bus and most everyone knew where they were going, except me. I just followed behind … around the stadium and up the concrete stairways to the upper deck. Everyone filed out to their seats, and when I got to the top of the entry way, I saw the most amazing thing.
One of the greenest fields. A perfect diamond cut out of it. A wide, green, amazing field. And, a bunch of guys just tossing a ball around. It was the most beautiful thing I had ever seen.
I stood there staring for maybe five seconds. I just stood there. And, I said to myself …
Everyone needs a “home” – whether it’s baseball or Yoga or something, someplace that gives sanctuary from the stress and worries and labors of daily life. And, so I name Charlottesville, Virginia as my number 1 Spring Training location.
Today, the University of Virginia Cavaliers play baseball at Davenport Field.
I warmed my baseball bones at the UVA-Maryland game earlier this month …
… just a few days after a foot of snow fell …
The UVa Cavaliers beat Miami yesterday 8-1. Their record this season is 25-2 and they are currently ranked #5 in the nation.
In 1961, the Washington Senators/Nationals/Senators became the Minnesota Twins.
Spring Training ran a little long this season, to accommodate players who were part of the World Baseball Classic.
But, now … finally …
2016 UPDATE: I’ve written a new story on Spring Training in Charlottesville … with a whole lot of interesting things I never knew. Check it out here: “Charlottesville Is No Spot For A Writer Of Baseball.”
For Kevin Edds’ article on Spring Training in Charlottesville, click here.
And, there are plenty of updates on present-day baseball at the University of Virginia. Just click the “University of Virginia” tag at the bottom of this post.
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