As I write this, winter’s icy grip is beginning to weaken. Her cold fingers are giving way to the warm breath of spring, and life begins again. There’s something spiritual about the awakening of nature from the respite and slumber of winter. The idea of renewal…the chance to grow again…to sprout and spread…to breathe in a fresh life…is a universal part of our human nature. Redemption, rejuvenation, and resurrection are more than just words. They are ideas that offer hope. They offer the chance to get a do over. The Tabula rasa that is spring is a time for belief and imagination. This is reflected perfectly in the world of sport. At no point in the calendar year is there more genuine hope and belief of better days to come than in spring. Fans all over are dreaming and scheming of what glory awaits their beloved teams and players. It doesn’t matter what region of the country one is in, what sport is being discussed, or what language is utilized, springtime is that penny in the fountain that screams dreams can come true.
Baseball is a game of failure. It truly is the only game where the best players are judged by who stinks the least. If a baseball player spends his career getting a hit in 3 out of every 10 at bats, he is judged a hall of famer. Yet, come March, even for these traffickers and yearners of mitigated success, the crack of the bat, the smell of freshly cut grass, the click clack of cleats in the dugout, are just as much a part of the sounds of spring as that of birds and bees singing and buzzing. They’ve been waiting for the opportunity all winter to see who can fail the best as individuals, and win the most as a team. Perennial winners and champions like the Yankees and Cardinals plot to add to their storied traditions, while bottom dwellers like Houston and Seattle are still undefeated, and are hoping that it all comes together. Even my beloved Atlanta Braves, the team most likely to lose in the first round of the playoffs year in and year out, have a renewed vigor and optimism about them. Names like Chipper, McCann and Hudson have given way to the likes of Freeman, Heyward, and Teheran. Dreams of banners and titles rest on names like Terdoslavich, Pastornicky, and Gattis, and yet, we believe. Yes, I am a homer, and yes, I am a fan, and yes, I am foolish, but I truly believe the Braves can win the World Series this year. If not us, who? If not now, when?
According to the firm Challenger, Gray, and Christmas, the first two days of “March Madness” cost businesses $134 million in lost productivity in 2013. An estimated three million employees will spend at least three hours watching the games at work. We do in my office. To say that the first week of the annual NCAA basketball tournament is a big deal is to grossly underestimate its significance.
There’s a reason for this. America has always loved underdogs. In a field comprised of 68 teams from around the country, the Belmonts, Stony Brooks, and Manhattans of the college world get an equal shot at a national title as the Michigan States, Dukes, and Floridas. David slaying Goliath is a part of our collective consciousness, because we were that. Our country was Stony Brook when we fought for independence from big bad England. We understand the idea of winning against all odds. It’s who we are. No sporting event encapsulates this the way March Madness does. Currently, we are wrapping up the regular season and are heading into conference championship tournaments. Young men and women who have battled and played on the court since November, are eying a spot in that tournament and hoping to hear their school’s name called on Selection Sunday. After all of the hard work, sweat, tears, and long hours of grinding preparation, close to 30 schools sit on the proverbial bubble, and all are dreaming of a March to remember.
It’s a tradition unlike any other. You only have to utter two words to most golf fans and a sense of reverence and awe will exude from eyes and lips. The Masters Golf tournament is a special event at a special place. I remember the first time I walked those hallowed grounds, and I swear to this day I could hear Bobby Jones whispering through the pines. Spring is a special time for golfers. That first day when you clean your clubs, check out new gear, and start calling for tee times, is better than most holidays, and The Masters is the embodiment of everything that golf emanates. Beauty, honor, respect, courtesy…all come together in Augusta, Georgia for a quiet civility that soothes the soul. It’s a pressure cooker of a tournament wrapped in an elegant and graceful landscape. Not only is this the first “Major” of the year, but a victory there carries a weight and cache that champions enjoy for the rest of their lives. A Master’s win is life changing for the player, his caddie, and their families. This year’s Masters comes with some familiar questions and some new ones. Can Tiger win another green jacket after failing to do so since 2005, and continue his pursuit of Jack’s major record total? Can Mickelson work his magic around Amen Corner and sheepishly grin as he wins his fourth, or will he pull a “Tin Cup” and leave heads shaking all over the country…yet again. Do the international players continue their tour dominance…calling folks to question what has happened to U.S. golf? Who will put it the water at 12 on Sunday when everything is on the line? With the azaleas and dogwoods serving as a bucolic and resplendent back drop, The Masters golf tournament is everything that’s right about this time of year, and will make someone’s dreams come true.
Nascar….can Dale Jr. win a Championship? NBA…can Lebron win another World Championship? Can Durant win his first? NFL…will Johnny Heisman go 1st in the draft? NHL…is St. Louis a real contender? World Cup…can the U.S. get out of the “group of death”? These are just some of the questions being asked in their respective sports…all at the same time. Spring is that unique time of year when the Gregorian and sports calendars collude and confer hope of what might be. It doesn’t matter what sport you care about, what team you cheer for, what state you reside in, or what channel you are watching, this is the time for optimism. It’s a beautiful time of year. It’s the perfect time for daydream believing. It’s a time when hope springs eternal.
(W. Michael Lawson is an alumnus of Lee University and University of Richmond. Mr. Lawson currently hosts a weekly radio show “The Strong Sauce Hour” and Co-hosts a daily sports show “The Sports Drive” on 101.3 FM/1570 AM. You can follow him on twitter @thestrongsauce.)