The regulars are on the other diamond," I told him.
He is eight years old, and he nodded, but only blankly, as I led him in that direction. Then it occurred to me. "You don't know what regulars are, do you?"
"No," he said.
That hurt a little. Regular has always been a classic spring training term. The regulars have always reported after everyone else. The regulars have always been given time to get in shape. Everyone else has to struggle in spring training, bringing their arms around, scratching to make the squad. The regulars are in Florida at their leisure.
In the days when I was growing up, a regular anything was sufficient unto itself. There was no higher compliment than to be acclaimed a regular guy. A regular fellow! The regular Army was such a standard that men knew its members simply by initials: "He's R.A."
"Well," I said, "we are going to see Munson, Jackson, Chambliss, Rivers, Nettles—what do you call them?"
"Oh," he said, with instant recognition, "the stars." Verbal inflation is such that regulars have become stars, and mere stars are now superstars. Regular, such a proud, honest word, has been taken from us, appropriated by laxative ads. But never mind. That aside, little else of spring training has been modified. In a world in flux it remains downright immutable; also, pleasant and gracious.
So a couple of weeks ago I took my son, whose name is Christian, with me to visit a few camps. Baseball, more than any other, is a generational game. It speaks best across the years. There are so few things you can show children to illustrate the way it was. But the timelessness of spring training endures and should be shared—can be shared.
Bill Veeck, his good leg crossed over his peg leg, a fresh cigarette in his chops, stared across the sunny fields. To be sure, his White Sox were in sporty new-fangled uniforms, and only a few of them spit tobacco juice upon the greensward. "But it can never change," Veeck allowed. "The same atmosphere must always prevail, because spring training is first and always a time of dreams, of wishful thinking." I introduced my child to Veeck; it is a time for all us children.
Any kid who takes an interest in sports immediately designates a favorite player. The choice is often irrational, as in other affairs of the heart, but it requires neither apology nor explanation. A favorite player holds that estate because...he's my favorite player.