In much of the country, March portends spring (although not so much this year). In my home state of Minnesota, March is miserable. It is Punxsutawney Phil’s revenge—for what, I don’t know, but every year there’s six more weeks of winter, and then six more after that. While my cousins in the South enjoyed azaleas we were showered with 4 more inches of snow. Even the most stolid Scandinavians in the state start itching for some green grass, an outboard motor, and a walleye pond by mid-March.
Minnesota’s late winter sports scene can be as bleak as the weather. When I was growing up there, we usually were just starting to recover from a smarting end to a Vikings season. The Timberwolves were terrible, vying for a lottery pick instead of a playoff spot. Pro hockey abandoned us when the North Stars moved to Dallas. Sure, we had Golden Gophers hockey and the annual high school tournament (a hidden jewel among American sporting events), but those were winter sports, promising nothing of sunshine and happiness.
As a kid, though, I looked forward to one thing about March: the mythical, mystical, wondrous event called “spring training.” I didn’t know what “spring” was since Minnesota didn’t have one, but I knew it meant baseball. Not real, official baseball—that came in April—but the promise of baseball. Each morning I would roll out of bed, get dressed, and head downstairs for breakfast before school. But first I’d head to the front door and brave the sub-zero temps and drifts of snow to look for the Star Tribune, which contained my treasured sports section. In its pulpwood pages lay two paragraphs recapping the Twins’ Grapefruit League game from the day before and the blessed box score.
As I pored over every word and digit of those box scores while shoveling down Frosted Flakes, I could, for a few minutes, forget boots, coats, and mittens and know summer was coming. The familiar names were like old friends and the new names were friends I had yet to make. Who was doing well? Who was a surprise? Who might make the team this year for the first time? I knew them all by name, number, and accomplishment. They were getting ready to come north, and when they did, winter would leave.
As miserable as a Minnesota March was, it brought with it one of the fondest traditions of my childhood. Box scores and breakfast was about more than just baseball; it built anticipation and excitement. Each box score represented one day closer to opening day, the pulling of the plug on winter’s life support. The cold might stick around for a little while longer, but it was going away peacefully, and in its place we would have cracking bats and popping mitts. March was the dark before the dawn, the last clap of thunder before the storm broke. This much was sure. The box scores told me so.