Scott Jenkins column: Keeping warm by the hot stove

Published 12:00 am Saturday, December 6, 2014

I am not a summer person. I was born in the fall, and it’s my favorite time of year, with the kaleidoscope of colors, the wind whipping leaves around the streets, the cool, easy-to-breathe air and the smell of wood burning in fireplaces.

I don’t mind winter, either. Whenever someone complains about the cold, I say you can always pile on enough clothes to stay warm. On a 100-degree day, you can’t take off enough to stay cool – not legally, anyway.

There is one thing I always miss about the summer, though: baseball.

Baseball has been part of my life my whole life. As I’ve written, in my family, you were born a Cincinnati Reds fan, and I can’t imagine being anything besides that. I was raised to love the national pastime, and I do. It is the most splendid game in the world.

And it is a game. While baseball always has contained some absolute physical athletic specimens, you don’t have to be one to play. I am under no illusion that I could stand in the pocket with a 6-foot-6, 290-pound defensive end bearing down on me, but I do imagine that with luck and just the right timing, even I could connect with a Clayton Kershaw pitch. (OK, maybe not Kershaw, but surely Clay Buchholz.)

As the decidedly non-physical specimen John Kruk once acknowledged when he told an interviewer, “Lady, I ain’t no athlete. I’m a baseball player.”

That gives little boys (and girls) everywhere hope.

Come the cold days, after the World Series, real baseball fans can’t let go of the game. And that goes double for those who gave their heart to a team that hasn’t played for a championship in more than two decades. (Reds fans, I’m looking at us.)

But there is hope, even for us. It’s called the Hot Stove League.

It’s time to look back at the last season, painful as that may be, and ahead to the next. It’s an opportunity to pore over the statistics — baseball was all about that base (and the percentage a batter got on it) long before Meghan Trainor.

The rumors and questions alone keep you fed in these lean times: Will my team make that trade? Will they sign that free agent? Will the Yankees try to buy another title? (OK, that’s a given.) And with the advent of online sports sites and the MLB network, a fan can keep track pretty much nonstop.

The offseason is a time for players’ injuries to heal (Come on back, Joey Votto!) and for fans to convince themselves those players getting healthy will make all the difference next year. It’s a time to check in on how prospects — the future of your team, you hope — are doing in the fall and winter leagues, and to imagine the damage they’ll do when they reach The Show.

This is the best time of year to re-watch Ken Burns’ magnificent documentary series, “Baseball,” and wonderful movies such as “The Natural,” “Bull Durham” and “Major League” (and so many more).

It’s a time to, once again and forever in vain, try to talk sense to fans of American League teams, to attempt to convince them the abomination that is the designated hitter rule should go away (along with regular season interleague games and umpire-by-replay, while we’re righting the rules).

Spring will arrive soon enough. The days will grow longer and the grass greener and the balls will crack on wood and slap on leather.

And with that will come the somewhat irrational (and, for some, downright screwball) belief that while your team is still tied with all the others atop the division and across the league, anything is possible.

No matter your preference of weather, baseball season is the best season, and we anxiously await its return.

Until then, we’ll keep warm by the hot stove.

Scott Jenkins is news editor of the Salisbury Post.