Why all America loves spring training

Charles Fountain, a national sportswriter, can’t wait for the baseball season, sharing his joy with Ball State.

“Hello everyone. Did you guys realize that there are four days until pitchers and catchers report to spring training?”

That was Charles Fountain’s opening statement to a lecture hall of Ball State students and faculty as well as Muncie residents. Fountain, a regular contributor to the ESPN SportsCentury series, and dozens of other television and radio programs nationwide, came to speak about his new book, “Under the March Sun – The Story of Spring Training” on February 9 as part of the Department of Journalism’s Professionals in Residence series.

Fountain spoke of spring training with the passion and affinity of a young man in love, though he has been attending and writing about spring training and baseball for more than 30 years. His words were saturated with enthusiasm, which was infectious even for non-baseball fans.

The spring season is often identified with the concept of the renewal of life: flowers budding, trees getting new leaves and snow melting. Fountain made that same connection to spring training and the reinfusion of life into the economies of small Florida towns in the mid-20th century. He said St. Petersburg was a sleepy, unpopulated town before the first major league teams began holding their spring workouts. He emphasized the importance of sports journalism in creating excitement in spring training towns.

“‘But what about the writers,’ the people from St. Petersburg asked,” Fountain said, “because they knew that journalism would be a critical component in making people aware of what was happening in their town.”

He said the same mentality of St. Petersburg in the 1930’s exists for towns like Goodyear, Ariz. Goodyear is making a multi-million dollar investment into facilities to bring at least two Major League Baseball teams in for spring training. They are staking the financial future of their community on the same prosperity experienced by St. Petersburg more than 80 years ago.

Fountain’s visit to Ball State was predicated by a massive accumulation of snow in the Midwest as well as New England, where he is a professor of journalism at Northeastern University in Boston. He was quick to remind his audience why baseball spring training plays a vital role in his mental outlook at this time of year.

“There may be 10 inches of snow on the ground, but once we see those highlights of baseball players out there playing the game in the Florida sun, we know that baseball’s coming, and summer and warm weather are coming with it,” Fountain said.