In 1913, Igor Stravinsky debuted his The Rite of Spring, a cacophonous pagan stomp of a ballet, in Paris. This piece seemed to capture an older world, a deeper and darker one, where the sensual goblins of nature were ever-present, as well as the terrible new world revealed by Einstein. Legend has it that people went nuts at the show: hissing and booing or being driven to madness. One attendee famously said he saw a man grab the head of another concert-goer and beat it madly, like a drum in hell.
I love this story. It seems to me like the pinnacle of art. The only problem is that it might not be exactly true. Turns out the guy who told the famous story wasn’t actually there that night. And really, it seems, most people were booing the avante garde balletic composition of Nijinsky, another odd modernist.
But those are the kind of boring details I want to ignore when I think about the work, and the impact it had on the world. This desire to believe a beautiful lie over an ugly truth doesn’t just underpin my feelings toward The Rite of Spring. It’s how I feel about Spring Training overall. There is beauty here, and there is hope, even if there really shouldn’t be.
That’s sort of the point of spring. Spring, as a season, offers a lot of false promises. There are beautiful days, where the sun unfurls its warmth over an eager ground, and people unfurl their limbs in premature exultations, jogging in shorts or searching out patios. We know that it is fake, we know the cold is biding its time, blowing on frozen knuckles around the corner, ready to jump your idiot unsuspecting self, but we don’t care. We’re ready to believe. It’s why Eliot, no stranger to the broken promises of the new century, said that April was the cruelest month.
That’s the beauty of Spring Training, though. You turn it on when the weather frosts your window. You pull a blanket over goosefleshed legs and watch smiling young hunks play some loosely-defined baseball in a gently-baked sunscape. You forget that Arizona is on fire and Florida is sinking and you let yourself fall into the somnambulant soundtrack of summer. It’s so close, you think, mocking February wind notwithstanding.
Spring, for a certain type of lopsided romantic, is about ignoring the Somme-like mud for the meagerest crocus. When the Sox beat Seattle — a damn playoff team! — 10-1 on Monday, I instantly forgot about the ugly blowout loss to the Angels the day before. Or not forgot, really, but completely dismissed.
The loss was one of those weird spring quirks. Scrub players fungoing around, a meaningless exhibition, each at-bat no different and no more meaningful than a coin flip. It meant nothing.
But the win … hot dog, that was a real game. That was the real lineup (actually, it was). That’s what we’re going to do when the rubber hits the road and it’s time to really play ball. And then to win the next day? Against the execrable Diamondbacks? Well cousin, that’s not a coin flip. That’s a good team Taking Care of Business.
There’s a lot to hate about this upcoming season. There’s the front office doing very little to plug our holes (though the belated Elvis Andrus signing was pretty nice). There’s the lingering stench of last year (though Pedro Grifol seems a breath of fresh air). There’s the sickening perfidy of the front office handling a scumbag of a pitcher (though maybe sinkholes will open up with shocking justice).
The parenthetical point is that Spring Training is a time for dreaming of something better. It is a hope that the summer doesn’t bring stultifying heat and choking smog, but home runs tracing the clear blue air and fireworks pinwheeling into summer nights where the air is redolent with sweetly tangy sweat and and grill smells and the fizzing crisp of cheap cold ones. It’s where you stomp off the slush of a maddening winter, and think toward long days stretching into a hopeful fall.
Surprisingly, I think, Stravinsky knew this. The Rite of Spring was essentially about a rebirth. A terrible one, maybe, but a rebirth nonetheless. It’s been interpreted as a precursor to the terrible war that broke the world, but that’s ex post facto analysis. The war had yet to happen. As with the beginning of every season, we don’t know for certain the heartache to come, and that gives each spring a dappled sylvan grace. There was hope to the piece, there was the promise of renewal, and that’s the weirdly beautiful truth that we feel every spring.