In a winter like this one, I almost feel guilty about going to Spring Training this week.
But I think the crucial word in that sentence is "almost."
This winter, in much of the continental United States, the climate has been variable. It has varied all the way from Siberian to Arctic. The phrase "polar vortex" has been introduced into the national conversation. That turned out to be at least as bad as it sounds.
This is why I regret, sort of, leaving the rest of the family in the snow and the ice and the sub-zero temperatures. In a typical Spring Training, when I call home and inquire about the weather, my wife tells me that there was a blizzard followed by sub-zero temperatures. There is a certain humorous effect in this, as well as a guilt-trip quality for the spouse who has left the cold because, oh man, his job demands that he goes to Florida in February and/or Arizona in March.
But this year, when she says that sort of blizzard/sub-zero thing, I can assume that it might even be true.
Forget the ice, the snow and the heating bills. Forget even the polar vortex. We are entering into one of the best parts of the calendar: the annual rebirth of the grand old game.
You do not need to show up in Florida or Arizona to understand this, although sunshine and temperatures above freezing do have a tendency to validate the experience.
The meaning of Spring Training is both real and symbolic. It isn't anything like spring in much of the United States, and it won't be for another five-plus weeks, based on dramatically lowered meteorological expectations, and the groundhog seeing his shadow.
But that's a technicality. Spring Training is the annual sign that better days are within range. Baseball beats the first robin of spring every year. The days will eventually be warmer. And they will be days accompanied by baseball.
Already the Dodgers and the D-backs are at work in Arizona, getting the necessary early start as they prepare to open the season in Australia on March 22. The internationalization of the game continues. And why not pick a place where it is now summer? It was, in fact, too hot at the recent Australian Open. How many of us would happily settle now for a day that could be described as "too hot?"
By the end of the week, pitchers and catchers for all 30 Major League teams will be in camp, from Florida's Atlantic Coast all the way to Arizona's Valley of the Sun; all the way from Jupiter to Surprise.
It is a special time of the baseball year. The game starts anew. Hope springs eternal.
Optimism is not only an acceptable reaction, it is a completely reasonable response. Winter has been brutal and it isn't close to being over. But the baseball players are about to begin the rituals of a game in places where the temperatures, with any luck, will be high enough to make the "spring" part of Spring Training an accurate assessment.
Those of us who are able to see some of this process firsthand understand how fortunate we are. There is nothing like not needing a parka for the first time in 10 weeks.
But it is bigger than that. Everybody who understands the game of baseball and what it means is a beneficiary when Spring Training starts. Being there is terrific. But you don't have to be there to be part of the experience.
Look outside at the snow drifts. Step outside and feel the cold of a truly deep winter. But Spring Training is about to begin. So these are about to become the good times.
Mike Bauman is a national columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.