Spring training
It takes skill, this following baseball. I mean following a single game, in progress. It takes practice. It takes training. So while February at long-blessedly-last fades into the rebirth and reawakening that we call March, my favorite teams are at last in spring training: The Red Sox in Fort Myers, Fla.; the Rockies in Scottsdale; and the Cubs in Mesa, Ariz. And that means that while they’re in spring training, so am I.

I mean getting this football-softened brain back into shape – working hard on my ability to maintain a running consciousness of the audio status of a ball game while keeping up the multitasking pace of daily work and life. It takes me a few weeks before my mental dexterity returns to its major-league, game-ready, regular-season form. So I’m thankful for those few weeks of throw-away spring training games to work on my own game. Because, even though I don’t care about these games, I’m practicing caring.

And the same way that the joy of following those Grapefruit League and Cactus League games is more than just notching the meaningless wins and losses, so, too, the reward for my personal form of spring training is more than merely sharpening my mental game-tracking skills. Spring training is about ... spring. And, like major-league spring training, spring is about getting ready for summer.

As a baseball fan here in the rural Rocky Mountain West, that means getting ready for baseball on the radio – because here most of my baseball fixes are injected either through KIUP-AM, MLB.com, or via XM Radio. But getting my radio ears back on isn’t the only unique way I must get into shape for my Four Corners summering.

So, here’s my personal spring-training schedule to prepare my ski- and winter-softened body for my own particular take on the Four Corners summer life. Most important is preparing for river running. Drills include:

- Pulling all dust-covered, silty, spider-webbed and black widow-housing pieces of gear from the haphazard heap left from that Fall San Juan River trip. I sort, clean and restack in order of most-immediate need for a quick multi-day river-foray. Then I rehearse rapid packing procedures between wall-of-gear and back-of-truck in preparation those short-notice releases from McPhee Dam on the Dolores River.

- Working in lengthening intervals as stamina improves, I sit on a chair outdoors (it’s important to practice this drill in all weather conditions), holding in each hand a light dumbbell (for training purposes). Then … I stare. Look around. Smell the air. Listen to the bird song. Resist any urge to grab a magazine, check an electronic device, turn on NPR or … anything. Build gradually toward six days on the San Juan River.

- Beginning in April, I pick up my guitar and actually play those Jimmy Buffett and Neil Young songs I claim to know, in case someone sometime is actually sober and paying attention around the campfire.

Other Southwestern spring-training-for-summer routines:

- To prepare for the great joy that is backpacking in the steep, rocky, sparsely-atmosphered San Juan high country, I like to sprint hard for a mile, while holding a large, oblong, sandstone slab on my bare shoulders. I then squat almost – but not quite – all the way down, while poking my knees and ankles with tent stakes (to toughen the flesh and joints for scrub oak, sage and krummholz brush). Repeat ad nauseum.

-  To prepare for fishing, I sit on my ass and watch the Outdoor Channel.

- For festival training, I put the Jam Band channel on satellite radio, then shuffle around the house (usually pushing the vacuum cleaner), slowly rotating my hips and swinging my free hand (actually, dusting), all the while – and this is key – maintaining a white man’s overbite. (It drives my wife wild.)

- And lastly, but not leastly, is the training that, for me, really means summer in Durango: I drag the grill out of the frozen snow onto the sun-dried flagstone patio, open the iced-up valve on the gas tank, whip out my Bic and fire that mother up. I invite over several friends and neighbors – fellow river rats, desert bums and mountain wanderers. Brats get grilled. Cocktails get shared. And then the bean bags get tossed back and forth across the yard toward opposing corn-hole targets. In this case, the training is what the training is for. If you know what I mean.

Still even if spring training means, essentially, training for summer  – be it transitioning from football to baseball, or, as here in the southern Rockies, moving from skiing to boating, from slacking to backpacking, from pool cues to barbecues – then that training is, in itself, its own allure and reward.
That’s why, here in March, when I tune my browser to a pre-season Red Sox game from “Fenway South,” or click my XM receiver to a not-so-gripping clash between second-string Cubs and Rockies players in the ever-summer climes of Arizona, what I’m really doing is more akin to, say, listening to some cool jazz, feeling the groove, tuning in to the soundtrack of spring itself – of the blooming that soon will be the living that is summer. And for me, that sounds a lot like a lovely melody, backed by the play-by-play harmonies of Joe Castiglione, Pat Hughes and Jack Corrigan.

Music to my frost-bitten ears.
– Ken Wright