Spring Anyone?

The anticipation of spring is overwhelming here in upstate New York. March ushers in a sense of hope as winter relents and spring creeps toward us. We’re not there yet. We still have more cold gray days ahead, with temperatures barely climbing out of the thirties. More snow will fall and the wind will continue to chafe exposed earlobes, noses and cheeks.

But you can sense spring is almost here. We’ll be setting our clocks ahead this weekend as Daylight Saving Time resumes.

March brings with it Friday fish fry specials that are welcomed by Lenten observers, St. Patrick’s Day celebrations and the apogee of the college basketball season. After the conference tournaments wind down, fans will be dissecting the NCAA tourney pairings and filling out their brackets. The NHL season is moving along and the playoffs will be upon us soon.

This is my favorite time of year, because it’s a season of possibility, where the full glory of spring and summer lies ahead, just waiting to be plucked like a ripe peach. Now we can allow ourselves to imagine barbecues, pool parties, softball games, weekend getaways, outdoor concerts and fireworks on the Fourth of July.

Trees in full glory. Photo by Francis DiClemente.

Trees in full glory. Photo by Francis DiClemente.

I am reminded of The Twilight Zone episode Walking Distance (1959) where a business executive returns to his hometown and finds it unchanged. He is overcome by a feeling of nostalgia when he encounters his boyhood self during a summer marked by merry-go-rounds, cotton candy and band concerts, and he tries to instruct his younger self to savor his childhood while he still has the chance.

The man, Martin Sloan, says to the boy: “I only wanted to tell you that this is a wonderful time for you.”

So in this northern corner of the world, as Mother Nature gets ready to release a measure of heat, we can prepare to store our boots, coats, gloves, hats, sweaters and scarves for another year. We can get to ready to strike the terms black ice, lake effect, wind chill and Nor’easter from our vocabulary, at least for another nine months. It’s about time to step outside, stretch our limbs and live again.

Baseball’s Opening Day and the Big Feast at Vinci’s House

Meanwhile, spring training continues in Florida and Arizona—another sign that winter will be ending soon—and the first pitch of Major League Baseball’s regular season is less than a month away.

Bill Vinci, my best friend from my hometown of Rome, N.Y., holds an annual party on the first full day of the MLB season. Regardless of the weather, regardless of where he happens to be employed at the time—and he’s rotated through several jobs over the past decade—he invites friends over to his house to watch the opening day games.

The party host, Bill Vinci. Photo courtesy of Bill Vinci.

The party host, Bill Vinci. Photo courtesy of Bill Vinci.

It’s an all-day party with a group of friends debating their fantasy teams. Unfortunately, I haven’t had a chance to attend one of these parties because I’ve always had to work or I’ve lived elsewhere in the U.S.

But I find the concept appealing because of the allure of playing hooky from work to watch baseball; and it’s also entertaining to see the players shivering on the basepaths and in the dugouts and outfield grass during early April games in cities like Chicago, Detroit, Cincinnati and Boston.

Vinci tells me the party consists of watching baseball from the first at-bat to the “final pitch on the West Coast.” And his celebration has real roots in the Rome area, stretching back to Vinci’s high school days, starting around 1985.

“I would skip school and have my friends come over and watch baseball and eat in my parents’ basement,” he says. He adds, “As the years go by the attendees have decreased due to work, kids, etc., but that hasn’t stopped me from putting on the greatest opening day party in Rome.”

Bill Vinci swinging away. Photo courtesy of Bill Vinci.

Bill Vinci swinging away. Photo courtesy of Bill Vinci.

And the action on the diamond is enhanced by the menu for the occasion; the spread of food includes “dogs, burgers, sausage, hot and sweet peppers and sausage bread, along with chips and dip.”

So that’s what I’ve been missing all these years.

But Vinci, who serves as director of marketing for the Utica Brewers baseball club of the Perfect Game Collegiate Baseball League (PGCBL), says the “reason I host opening day is the love and passion of the game of baseball. It’s in my blood and to have friends and family enjoy it with me makes it all worth it.”

He adds, “as long as I’m on this earth, you can always count on one thing—opening day of baseball at Vinci’s house.”

To that I say batter up.

Getting reading for the season. Photo by Francis DiClemente.

Getting ready for the season. Photo by Francis DiClemente.