Monday, February 20, 2012

In the Spring a Young Man's Fancy Turns to...Baseball?

“In the Spring, a young man’s fancy turns to…baseball.”  Well, there are a few things wrong with that phrase, particularly coming from me. 

First off, the original line is, “In the Spring, a young man’s fancy lightly turns to thoughts of love.”  It is arguably the most famous line of a 194-line poem called "Locksley Hall" by Alfred Lord Tennyson. It was first published in 1842 before baseball as we know it.  I’m sure if he had been familiar with the game, big Al may have substituted “love” for “baseball,” but he didn’t.

I’m not sure who was the first to bastardize the phrase, making the change, but I'd bet it was an English major turned sportswriter trying to breathe life into a story on Spring training.  Now, the phrase is so cliché, it’s sure to pop up in your local newspaper’s sports section this time every year.

There is another reason you won’t hear me repeat such a phrase with any degree of seriousness.  I am from Pittsburgh.  Here, not many men, young or old, have a fancy that turns to thoughts of the Pittsburgh Pirates this time every year.   Sure, we read the sports pages, listen to the games and watch them on television.  The green grass of sunny Bradenton, Florida is a welcome sight on our televisions after a typical Pittsburgh winter.

But to seriously get caught up in the notion that the Pittsburgh Pirates will lift our hopes and win more than half of their games and possibly compete for a championship is a cruel thought for many disillusioned Pirates’ fans.  We’ve been left at the altar too many times.

And that’s what brings me to the PR topic of the day: How seriously should anyone take the hype coming out of Florida ballparks each year?  My recommendation is not much. 

Baseball purists marvel every year that in the Spring, every team is perfect, every one of them has the right to envision themselves in the World Series.  But the truth is, there is a financial disparity between major market ball clubs and the small market teams that ensures the larger market teams have a better chance.  Add to this that in some of the smaller markets, uh hum, teams have a long track record of investing the bare minimum in the team just enough to keep the fans coming to the ballpark to buy beer and Primanti’s Brothers sandwiches.

So the PR staffers at baseball teams churn out news releases, and they arrange press events and interviews with everyone from the General Manager, the owner and the field manager, to the established stars and the young guys just trying to make it to the big leagues.  No one needs a sheet of key messages to spread their optimistic views of the upcoming season.  It’s a nice tradition and actually a nice escape if you don’t take it all too seriously. 

That said, I do feel for the PR staffers who have to manage the expectations of ball club owners who oddly enough seem to fail to understand why the press and the public are a little skeptical when they hear the owners make promises of competitiveness each Spring. 

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