The Cactus League

Last night in Arizona before heading home. 

This is my seventh spring training trip. Two of them were to Florida (2010, 2014) and five to Arizona (2011-13, 2015-16). They’re all wonderful trips. It’s baseball. Beyond that there’s warmth and renewal to be found. In the past few years, as I’ve battled some depression, these trips have served to drag me out of some darkness and into some light, literally and figuratively. It’s hard to feel bad when there is so much sunlight. So much warmth. So much optimism in the subjects you cover and the people you meet. 

The desert has always been good to me. In 2003, while on a road trip, I came as close to an existential epiphany as I may ever have while laying in the middle of a highway in Death Valley and while hiking over slick rock in southeastern Utah. In Arizona, during spring training, I wake up early and feel invigorated by the crisp dry dawn. It’s hot by the afternoon, but still crisp in some indescribable way. Still clean. I’ve started to notice that my mood changes as weather systems move through. That fronts and disturbed air make me uneasy and that high pressure and still air keep me calm. Phoenix is not an ideal place – it’s big and sprawling, it’s filled with strip malls and it and lacks a cohesive center – but It always feels calm here. My mind is at ease here more than it is most places. 

My mind is at ease here, but I’ve come to accept that part of my personality inevitably seeks to find some negativity no matter what my circumstances happen to be. Here the negativity comes from realizing that I want to disappear into a valley like this. Maybe not this one specifically, but some quiet, still-aired valley someplace where my tasks are simple and obvious. I want to do this indefinitely but I know I can’t because I have responsibilities back east where the air is unsettled so much of the time. I feel bad that I can’t do this and I feel guilty for wanting to do this nonetheless.

I’m luckier than most, I suppose. I get these chances to be in these places. I get to test drive possible new realities that, if my luck and career options hold, I may one day get to experience more fully. Maybe one day I’ll come to this valley for good. Or another one. Maybe I’ll one day figure out how to capture the feeling I get while I’m out here and experience it back east, regardless of how unsettled the air happens to be. 

Craig Calcaterra

Craig is the national baseball writer for NBCSports.com. He writes about things other than sports at Craigcalcaterra.com. He lives in New Albany, Ohio with his wife, two kids, and many cats.

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