LAKELAND, Fla. — So there I am standing in my cornfield when this voice comes out of nowhere.

“If you go there,” it whispers, “they will play.”

“I beg your pardon?” I say.

“If you go there . . . they will play.”

I poke my hoe in the ground. I look at my dog. I check to see if I left the transistor radio on. I look at my dog again.

“If you go there . . .” the voice of baseball repeats, “they will play.”

I cock my head. “You gotta be kidding me.”

They gotta be kidding me. First of all, the voice sounds like Vin Scully. Secondly, I promised to have nothing to do with baseball this year. That’s right. I promised to boycott the game after watching the owners and the players behave like 4-year-olds during contract talks, acting as if $200 million wasn’t enough to buy a can of soup.

Enough, I said. Every few years we endure this ridiculous process and then, like lambs, we come back to the ballpark. Not this time. Not me. Baseball, I decided, is a greedy, cold- blooded business, and if I wanted to watch that, I could go to Wall Street.

“Whoever you are, you’re barking up the wrong tree,” I say to the voice, as I enter the house and wash up. “Or should I say whispering? You’re whispering up the wrong tree. Either way, you’re in the wrong tree. I’m finished with baseball.”

“If you go there . . . they will play.”

I’m not going anywhere.

Where are my car keys? Sparky ramble? That never happened

Not that I didn’t once love the game. Not that I didn’t once love to stand behind the batting cage, my fingers curled around the links, feeling the warm Florida sun on my back and hearing a strapping young ballplayer say to me,
“Move your damn hand before you lose it.”

Not that I didn’t love that. But that was a long time ago. I have new things to do now. I have developed a life without the National Pastime. I have books. I have the corn. I have the dog.

“If you go there . . . Sparky will ramble.”

“Hah! That’s a good one,” I say, driving toward the airport. “I’ve heard Sparky ramble enough for two lifetimes. I’ve heard Whitey grumble about baserunners and Roger pontificate on the split-finger fastball. Believe me, I’ve had baseball talk up to my ears. You know what? It’s just talk. Who needs to talk baseball anymore?”

“If you go there . . . Sparky will ramble.”

Unbelievable.

Why should I go there? Isn’t this spring training the very residue of greed? A shortened, non-traditional version of what was once a great tradition? Six weeks to three weeks? Players rushing to get ready? Pitchers way behind hitters? Or is it hitters way behind pitchers? Whatever. Why should I go there?

Besides, I have a very full schedule these days. There is a stack of books to be read. And there’s a new show on the Arts & Entertainment channel, Swedish opera, I believe. And if I get so desperate for sports, there is always Red Wing hock–

Well. OK. Forget that last part.

“You’re still wasting your time,” I say, as I purchase a ticket at the counter. “I told you: not interested. The whole thing is a joke. Baseball? I would sooner spend an evening with Donald Trump. And I really wish you’d stop interrupting me. People are starting to stare.”

“If you go there . . . Trammell will double.”

“Oh, now stop that,” I say. Oh, the bad times . . .

Once I might have fallen for this stuff. Once the lure of green grass and a warm breeze and the sight of nine men scattering across the field, slapping their gloves, ready to play . . . well, once I might have been tempted. But who can remember that stuff anymore? My mind is too cluttered with arbitration and Jose Canseco’s driving record and Pete Rose’s gambling, and Donald Fehr looking like he needs a barber and a shower, not necessarily in that order.

“You’re not dealing with a softie,” I say, as I pick up my Florida rent-a-car. “A softie might give you another chance. But we’re talking principle here. The public trust. You can only abuse the public trust so often before the public fights back.”

“If you go there–

“Don’t start,” I say. “Remember George Steinbrenner? Umpires on strike?”

“If you go there–“

“Matt Nokes’ arbitration? Chuck O’Connor’s speeches? Ron Darling calling
$5,000-a-month strike pay “Horse track money”?

“If you go there–“

“I’m not going anywhere. I am not going anywhere. I’m telling you for the very last time, I am . . . I am . . .”

I am standing outside the stadium.

I hear the national anthem. I hear a muffled roar of a crowd. I hear the announcer bellow, “NOW BATTING, PLAYING SECOND BASE . . . “

I will hold my ground. I will not move. I will remember all the horrible reasons not to fall for baseball, all the times my trust has been smashed, all the greed, all the wealth, all the disappointments.

“If you go in . . .” says the voice, “they have hot dogs.”

“Who’s pitching?” I ask.

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