Spring Thaw

Take me out to the ballgame … please!

You could be here.

Anybody stupid enough to wear a pair of glasses outside during the winter months in Oymyakon, Russia, will learn that the brutal temperatures in the town will cause the spectacles to freeze instantly to one’s face.

The town of 500 is located within an area known as “Stalin’s Death Ring,” so named for its haunting gulag history. It is also the proud holder of the planet’s lowest recorded temperature in a constantly inhabited area. That came in 1924, when a scientist endured a minus-96 Fahrenheit reading, which would make a polar bear make plans for a Caribbean getaway. When asked what keeps them going, locals refer to “Russian tea,” their euphemism for vodka. What did you expect in a location just below the Arctic Circle—buttermilk?

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The folks in Oymyakon wait patiently for summer, when average temperatures can soar into the 50s. We, however, have other things to anticipate—like Thursday’s start of spring training, which serves as a reminder that grim thermometer readings and spirit-sapping snowstorms will soon be replaced by warmer days and Phillies baseball.

Granted, our variant of the nation’s pastime hasn’t been of the highest quality in recent years. But that shouldn’t matter. Even if the Phillies settle into the NL East basement once again, their mere re-emergence is reason for celebration. Following the franchise’s deterioration over seven years of disastrous GM bumbling by Ruben Amaro, the Phillies are now in competent hands, and the acquisition of young talent over the past several months has provided hope that a return to contention is not too far off.

Yes, the lineup this year isn’t likely to provide much run support for a fledgling pitching staff. There’s no closer on the roster and only a couple of suspects. The starting rotation has no proven ace. But Maikel Franco is back at third base. Aaron Nola will be atop the rotation. And after being strip-mined by Amaro in his short-sighted attempts to keep the good times of last decade going, the farm system is beginning to show signs that it might be able to produce some stalwarts.

A 90-loss season is highly likely this year. Plenty of good seats will be available for just about every game. Ryan Howard is still on the roster, even though it appears that he’ll be handled properly (at last) in a platoon. So let’s not get too optimistic. Prosperity is hardly around the corner.

But baseball season is. And despite growing evidence that the sport is in trouble, with national TV ratings suffering, there’s no other athletic pursuit that engenders such a broad-based anticipation. 

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Don’t get El Hombre wrong. He’ll spend the next six months pining for football the way a dog waits for its owner to return from work. But there’s nothing like the build-up to opening day, when romantic images of languid summer evenings at the park warm the mind, and even fans of this year’s Phillies team can look forward to watching the team grow. After years of decay on the field and a couple of brutal weather weekends over the past month, that sounds quite inviting.

Meanwhile, in Oymyakon, the forecast is for permafrost and despair—much like it is for the Sixers.

EL HOMBRE SEZ: Conestoga’s boys and girls remain alive in the District One hoops playoffs—not a bad daily double. But if you’re looking for a team that could surprise, check out Lower Merion’s boys, who benefit from 27th-seeded Upper Dublin’s upset of Abington and face the Cardinals Tuesday night. Coach Gregg Downer’s team wasn’t overpowering during the regular season, but it has been historically tough come playoff time. … Let’s set the over-under on 76ers GM Sam Hinkie’s removal from office at April 1—and take the under. Jerry Colangelo continues to increase his power, while Hinkie and his catastrophic plan are slowly shunted to the shadows. It’s about damn time.   

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