Seasons go hand-in-hand with religion, sports

Published 12:01 pm Thursday, January 27, 2011

One of the joys of growing up Catholic and sports-hungry was how life revolved, not around the calendar most people use, but the religious one and the sports one.

The rhythms of each season made an indelible impression. You knew what time of the year it was by the color of a priest’s vestments, or altar clothes, and each season was an intertwinement of the holy and the sporting.

The winter, the time when the frivolity of Carnival bally-hoos the fasting of Lent, was ruled by basketball season and its endless games. The smells were of tightly packed gymnasiums, parquet floors, sweaty socks and heat balm that made those aching muscles punished by the cold and the hot feel whole again.

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The January and February gloom hung over the parade routes and gyms like a spectral presence, hiding the spring away under its steel-gray cloak. The cold, borne by the Alberta Clipper systems from the north, hit you in the face with an icy fist and a deep, freezing bite.

It also was the time in Florida when the favorite phrase, “pitchers and catchers report,” made many a baseball fan long for an end to roundball and a rebirth of the nation’s pastime.

The beginning of March Madness, when millions around the country watch favorites and failures do battle on the hardwood in two days of college basketball overload, was marked by Lent, with its time for reflection, repentance and self-denial. Watching the NCAA tournament pool went hand-in-hand with how many iterations of fish you’d eat every Friday. As former Notre Dame and South Carolina coach Lou Holtz once quipped as a youngster, “Why couldn’t the disciples of Jesus been ranchers rather than fishermen?” Guess ranchers of men wouldn’t have been as nice a metaphor.

The joy of Easter was not only a celebration of the Resurrection, it marked the resumption of baseball, with the endless summer days spent roasting on the summer diamonds just a few, short weeks away. Fans would get excited for Opening Day, only to be lulled into a stupor by July when their team was 10 games out of first place with no hope in sight and half of its pitching staff on the disabled list.

The summer would drone on and on, as baseball churned through a schedule only dwarfed by NASCAR races or the NBA. All of those day games, when the heat became a literal presence wicking the moisture out of pores and testing one’s endurance and the ones at night, when the insects engaged in ceaseless dogfights in the lights under a thick blanket of sticking, loathsome humidity, would add together in unceasing, unfriendly columns on the scorecard page. The trading deadline would be the only detour on the road to monotony.

Then football would begin in earnest as teams began to be forged in the heat and humidity of summer’s last inferno-like gasp. The football season itself would morph like a caterpillar into a butterfly, as the long, hot days of summer transitioned into the warm days and cool nights of the fall.

Baseball would decide its championship as the last gasp of heat left the northern tier of states as football took over south of the Mason-Dixon Line.

Then another season of repentance, Advent, was the signal of the end of football season and the end of a sporting year. The red and green of the Christmas season, endless family gatherings, the trappings of decorations and gifts, would give way to end of another liturgical and sporting year.

Only for the cycle to start anew on the ashes of another football season.

Steve Wilson is sports editor of The Vicksburg Post. You can follow him on Twitter at vpsportseditor. He can be reached at 601-636-4545, ext. 142 or at