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Action at Pirate City is a blast of warm air

LONG ISLAND, New York -- The sky was battleship gray, and the temperature on the sign outside the bank read 5 degrees. Five? Wait, that was Celsius. It was 41 degrees Fahrenheit, plenty warm for the snow to melt, forming big puddles that would turn to ice that night when the temperature dipped below freezing.

It was a wet and muddy Monday on Long Island.

The remaining piles from the last snowfall were kicked up by passing cars and trucks.

The sun hid behind the clouds.

It wasn’t freezing during the day, but it wasn’t really warm.

It climbed into the 60s Wednesday, but the afternoon ended gray and a tad more than chilly.

A tease. It is still winter for most of the country.

Nothing like a quick trip north for your mom’s birthday to hammer that point home.

I can tell you this about our family and friends up north: They are tired of runny noses.

For them I have six words: Pitchers and catchers report this weekend.

Sure, the temps will hover around freezing most nights and some days, and a snowstorm or two may still be in the forecast.

But the pictures of pitchers throwing and catcher catching in the local newspapers accompanied by such datelines as Bradenton, Fort Myers, Clearwater and Sarasota are the Christmas lights you see hanging from a neighbor’s house in late November. It doesn’t mean Christmas is tomorrow, but Santa is definitely on his way.

Same with the boys of summer.

If the Pirates are in Bradenton and the Cubs in Mesa, Ariz., can the tulips be far behind?

I used to think the acts of pitchers pitching and catchers catching were overrated.

To me, spring training didn’t start until the first exhibition game.

That’s when the air is filled with the smells of hot dogs and suntan lotion, and that’s when you can really tell who is going to make the club out of camp.

Don’t get me wrong, I always enjoy the first weeks of spring training. If anything, they mean the start of baseball season.

Still, the fielding and bunting drills are important to the players but tedious to watch. Sort of like being in the movie “Groundhog Day.” If you’ve seen one pitcher cover first, you’ve seen them all.

Punxsutawney Phil has done this thing, and no matter what he saw or didn’t see, it’s still going to be winter for more than a few weeks.

But the action starts at Pirate City on Saturday and hope, as some like to say, springs eternal among baseball players.

This is going to be their year.

They can feel it.

Down here, we can feel the warm sun on our shoulders as we watch the start to another season.

Up north, it’s time to dream of those warm days.

It may still be winter, but pitchers and catchers are reporting. Feels like a warm breeze to the soul.

And if pitchers and catchers are reporting, then it can’t be winter for much longer.