For many spring training holds out the promise of a pure fleeting sweetness.
"At winter something inside you just keeps beating for the game," said Cincinnati's Dan Driessen today. "You get down here to Florida and it's like bein' in love again."
For those like Driessen - established players in midcareer - these are baseball's weeks of almost delicious laziness. There is sweat, but not too much. The muscles may ache, but the mind is at peace. The sinews grow tighter; and the nerves go slack.
In the stands of Al Lopez Field here the pensioners bask in the long, slow days of their second childhood.
Outside the little park, childred wait to chase foul balls. Occassionally, growups in the top row of the stands feel prankish and stand up in unison towatch the flight of an imaginary foul pop. The children run to the blessed spot. Nothing comes down. It is an old trick. Everybody laughs.
Everybody laughs here - except the veterans and the rookies, "The oldtimers and the kids, we're the ones who are expenable," grinned Red pitcher Woody Fryman, soon to be 37. "It's fun for everyone else."
For those coming up and those holding on, this is a time to worry, a time to look inside to see what is there, or how much of it is left.
"You tell yourself you've got three or four years left, good years," said Fryman, 105-119 in 11 seasons, "but you know you're only trying to fool yourself. Who knows? When you're my age, any year can be the last year."
The Rookie's fear is that he will never even have a chance for his first season.
"I spent six years in the minors and I wasn't world beater," said Jole Youngblood, the Red's bumptious untility man. "I had doubts about making the majors.
"For a person in my category, spring training is the one time to show what you can do."
Last spring Youngblood hit 476 in the Grapefruit League and husfled his way on board as the 25th man on the best ship in baseball.
He batted just 57 times in 1976 and has a careet total of one run batted in. But he caddied defensively at six different positions. And he smiled. Youngblood learned to smile a lot.
This year is different and more difficult. Youngblood has watched the major league merry-go-round. Now he would like to ride.
"But," he says honestly, "there is no position, no future for me here now. As soon as everybody's signed I knew that."
Under the skin, the rookie and the veteran - the Youngblood and the Fryman - and the closest of blood brothers. They fact that common fear - no position, no future.
"I've never seen's confident rookie," chuckles Drieasen. "The scaredest [WORD ILLEGIBLE] I ever saw was this kid five years ago who faced Bob Gibaon in his first at bat.
"He wanted to get out of there so fast that he swung at the first pitch, about two inches off the ground and dribbled to shortstop. He was so excited and happy that he beat it out. The rookie was me."
Confidence grows with the years, then it starts to seep away. It is the most precious commodity here. And there is none available in the trainer's pill closet.
Pete Rose has gray hairs now. He will be 36 next month.
"I don't look at my body to see if it's getting old. I keep looking at the base hit column to see which guy in the Hall of Fame I'm passin'," grinned Mr. 2,762 Hits.
"None of us can do a damn thing about when we were born. Everybody's always putting the screws to you mentally about getting old. If you think it, you become it. They key for me is enthuslasm. I never had speed or power. I can't lose them. But I have to continue to care about playing.
"Thank God I'm with a winner. I might be burned out now if my teams had lost 100 games a year.
"I've started 490 games and I'm not cutting back. Other guys have and it might be a mistake," said Rose, meaning those of his generation like Lou Brock and Carl yastrzemski.
Of all the reds, Fryman, who was traded for Tony Perez, and must take the place of Don Gullett in the starting rotation, feels the most rejuvenated.
He understands, as Rose does, that a man approaching 40 has a hard time caring about baseball games. What he needs is a booat, a goal.
"I never dreamed about the major leagues," said Fryman with grew up on a tobacco farm in Ewing, Ky., and turned down major league offers for years until he was 25.
"I'd gone if they'd met my price of a $20,000 bonus. I was gonna prove I was stubborner than they were, or dumber."
Now, Fryman finally sees his chance to be a world champion. "T his is a business. But there's gotta be more to it than money. I'll be coaching my boys, I 'spect, in Legion ball in a few years, and I'd like to be wearing a World Series ring."
The Red's coaches tell Fryman, as they do all creaky vets, "you do as much as you think you can." But Fryman insists on matching the rookies, 40 wind sprints for 40 wind sprints.
"Ot gets harder, and I can't claim the game is the fun it used to be," says Fryman. "But when they keep cutting the 23-year-olds every year and keeping you, it feels good."
With the years Fryman had to find ways to feel "that I'm more than just another pitcher on the team."
He remembers his rookie season in Pittsburgh. "For some reason which I never understood," he says, "Roberto Clemente took me under his wing." Now Fryman does the same.
"The rookeis like to talk and be serious around me," he says. "I like that. It makes you feel special. There are so many phonies in the world that young kids just like to find anybody who will say what he means."
Fryman is good at that. "Farm folks have an advantage," he said. "They can be smarter than other people and pretend to be dumber."
The conventional nightmare of spring training the thing that gives these othewise pristine days their poignance, is the fear of a career suddenly going sour. The outright belief, the ticket to Indianapolis, the sudden injury are all daily occurences here. Then Red's farmhands were shipped out yesterday; 10 more still have to go.
Though Youngblood is only 25, he has already learned the big-league brand of fatalism. "I'm getting a chance to start today," said Youngblood before this afternoon's game against the Los Angeles' Dodgers.
"It's only the second time this spring, You try not to press too hard, but you do wnat to make an impression. It's a long career and you never know who you might have a chance to play for. The story changes so many times.
"I feel like if it's meant for me to play everyday, I will. If it's in the cards, I'll get my change . . . there's no sense to push myself now, make demands. I'll get my seniority."
Perhaps the most unusual thing to find in any spring training is an aging player who is completely at ease, someone who is beyong disappointments. That is Fryman.
"The game has been good to me," he said. "But if I could pitch on a world champion this year, I wouldn't care if I never threw another ball.
Spring training is like a fairly tale. The little old ladies and gents in the box seats wear their Red batting helmets. They scatter in delight when Rose trips over a dozen stacked bats nearly breaks both legs and dives among them to snag a foul pop.
The players on the field before them are eternally young. Only the people in the stands next to them get older.
And in the outfield the palyers run their wind sprints between pitches.
"Legs," they seem to say, "give me another good year. Let me stay on this bright, warm field."
Youngblood and Fryman are running among them.
The kid just wants his chance, is anybody watching? The oldtimer wants a ring.
"When my pitching days are finished," said Fryman, "I'm getting out of the game completely. It's been great to me but I've got kids growing up in Fleming County. I've been gone too long."