All winter, baseball's cast of characters seems to disappear, as though it had left the planet. A few hot-stove tales of trades or signings hardly restore the reality of the game. Even those first few days of spring training, with calisthenics and drills, seem more like an adult picnic than major league baseball.
Today, baseball returned, just as it has returned every spring as far back as the oldest living person can remember. Again, as always, the game brought with it just the proper mixture of familiarity and surprise. The words of the sport, the terminology, the comfortable phrases that evoke a cherished world, returned with all their old, dependable unpretentious strength.
For example: the New York Yankees beat the Baltimore Orioles, 2-1, here this afternoon as Jerry Mumphrey lined a 400-foot, wind-cheating home run off Jim Palmer in the third inning with Willie Randolph on base.
There, wasn't that nice? Don't you feel warmer already?
The Orioles, whose only run came when Ken Singleton singled home Eddie Murray, who had doubled, thought they were robbed in this exhibition season opener; Manager Joe Altobelli did a dance of disgust all around Greg Kosc after the umpire rulled that Leo Hernandez's monstrous 450-foot, fourth-inning fly ball off Rudy May was not a three-run, game-winning homer, but merely the loudest of fouls.
Even new-old Yankee Manager Billy Martin, trying to find out if the third time is a charm, said, "From where I was sitting (with a perfect view down the left field foul line), it was fair."
In the box seats behind home plate, a novice Oriole scout with a frizzy permanent hairdo marked in his scorecard next to Hernandez's name: "outstanding power." Out of the crowd of 7,066, only one child recognized the little scout with the silly hair and asked, "Could I have your autograph, Earl Weaver?"
This windy day was perfect for both the expected and the novel.
It was no surprise that Baltimore's prize rookies of '82 shone again. Cal Ripken had two singles, a double off the wall and a line-out; Storm Davis retired nine consecutive batters on just 25 pitches (21 of them strikes).
On the other hand, much that happened this afternoon to the Orioles had a fresh edge.
Reliever Tim Stoddard, disabled the final month of '82, pitched two shutout innings and said of his knee, "It felt good, like it's supposed to feel."
Designated hitter Singleton, crippled all of '82 with a weak right hand, got the best possible first-day gift--an RBI batting right-handed. "I just feel a lot better--not overpowered. I just felt overpowered every time up last year," said Singleton, admitting the truth after a winter of rehabilitation. "I can look for my pitches again to hit for power and still be quick enough to make solid contact if I'm fooled."
Perhaps most surprising was the way the new managers--Altobelli and Martin--managed with a seriousness more appropriate to an exhibition game in the last week of March, not the first week. Five Oriole and two Yankee starters were still in the game until the ninth. Both men are under pressure to start fast; Altobelli to allay the ghost of Weaver, Martin to dispell the ghost of himself.
Weaver made his first by-the-batting-cage appearance of the spring and was razzed unmercifully about his new and dubious selection of hair styles--a flamboyant perm that resembles those of John Lowenstein, Don Stanhouse and Ross Grimsley in the past.
"He used to look like Mickey Rooney," said Palmer. "Now, he looks like Little Orphan Annie."
"You've grown," said Coach Lee May, greeting the man with the elevated hair.
Rick Dempsey, not knowing Weaver was present, asked someone innocently, "Where do I hit?"
Weaver, standing behind his favorite foil, growled, "Ninth, like always."
Dempsey spun around, pumped Weaver's hand and said, "Skip, that hair really looks horsefeathers."