I noticed on television last evening that major league baseball just started spring training. Pitchers and catchers reported to warm spots in Florida or Arizona to get ready for another long, arduous season of playing a game for money that many of us would still play just for fun if arthritis and other old age maladies would permit.
Over the next month or so the boys of summer will hone their skills so they'll be sharp when early April arrives and the real games begin.
I noticed, too, as local sports reporters covered the annual gathering of the jocks that many drove up in what I can only describe as mansions on wheels. There were Rolls Royces, Jaguars, a scattering of Beemers, a Benz or two and small, fast sports cars that sped by too rapidly to read the trade names. It was a veritable parade of four-wheeled, ostentatious opulence.
I dearly love baseball. I watch it on television. I enjoy going to the ballpark and seeing it in person. I'll stop on the side of the road and watch Little Leaguers play. My wife says I'd watch donkeys play. She may be right.
Baseball, is, in my opinion, the world's greatest game. It is so simple in concept, yet so complex in execution.
It is, also, at least at the Major League level, completely out of touch with reality.
Take Alex Rodriguez, for instance. Sometime over the winter he signed a contract to play with the Texas Rangers for well more than $200 million. (I think the figure was $281 million over about seven years or so, but figures have always eluded me so I won't bother with the math.)
Maybe Arod, as his buddies call him, is worth that much money to a team that struggled last year. Maybe he'll pack in enough fans to justify his salary. He is, arguably, one of the three best shortstops in the game.
(The other two are Derek Jeter, of the World Champion New York Yankees, and Nomar Garciapara of the perennial “almost but not quite made it to the World Series” Boston Red Sox. Personally, I wouldn't turn around for the difference in their skills. Jeter just signed a contract for more than $100 million himself. Nomar will not likely collect food stamps anytime soon.)
But more than $200 million for playing a game, even if it is baseball, defies common sense. It does, however, point clearly to where our national priorities reside.
There is an old adage that a civilization always will pay for bread and circuses. That no longer holds true. We are quite willing to pay for a circus, but we balk (to use a baseball term) at paying for bread, at least as long as we can get someone to provide it for nearly nothing.
Another rite of spring also comes to a head this month, or has already in some parts of the Southwest. Farmers, hat in hand, walk into local banks hoping to get enough production money to make another crop. Some will leave disappointed this year, following back-to-back-to-back droughts and at least as many consecutive years of low commodity prices.
They didn't sign multi-million dollar contracts during the off-season. Many were lucky to break even. They didn't invest in new luxury vehicles and many will continue to get around in the pick-up that got them around last year and the year before.
They did spend much of the winter, however, honing their skills, or at least trying to find ways to do the same job they've done for the past few seasons with less money than was available last year.
A $200 million baseball player pays little attention to the cost of the gasoline he uses to operate his Rolls Royce. Farmers will pinch every penny they spend on fuel that's about double what they paid last summer.
It happens every spring. A new baseball season. Any team can become world champion with enough talent and a little luck.
And farmers again hope for good weather, manageable insect infestations, and a disaster somewhere in the world that will push prices up so they can survive to do it again.
Let the games begin!