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Holidays are days of optimism in baseball world

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Ballpark Digest

The time period between Christmas and New Year's is an odd one, and more than a little awkward, too. That goes for the world in general, but it's especially true for those who work in the baseball industry, Jesse Goldberg-Strassler explains.

There is a hangover effect to Christmas, which has so much time and effort leading up to it. Less than a week later, here comes New Year's, after which work can restart in earnest. Between the two, it's pure limbo, presenting the options of traveling, working, relaxing, cleaning, visiting, and partying. To be productive or not be productive, that's the question.

This is also a weird time for baseball, caught between the hangover of the hot-stove season and the promise of spring training. The Winter Meetings passed by weeks ago; the roiling period of trade talks and free agency has cooled down.

Yes, there's a future January argument about steroids, Jack Morris, and the Baseball Hall of Fame to look forward to. Otherwise, unless you're a football or basketball fan, these are the days, as Rogers Hornsby once said, when you "stare out the window and wait for spring."

Except that's not exactly true.

There's no reason that late December, January, and February can't be hugely productive... and, for many folks involved in the national pastime, it is.

For Major League and Minor League front offices, these days can start becoming packed with projects. There is much to be done leading up to Opening Day -- filling out staffs, selling season ticket packages, creating various materials, selling sponsorships, scheduling acts, selling group tickets, brainstorming new promotions, selling single game tickets, putting marketing plans into action -- and sometimes it appears that the season is approaching far too quickly. (For me, it has become an annual tradition to have fans excitedly approach and ask if I'm ready for April; I smile engagingly back, all the while thinking, "Not yet.")

For the ballplayers, the wiinter months may be filled with playing competitive baseball in the Australian, Dominican, Mexican, Puerto Rican, or Venezuelan leagues; working out in local gyms to get themselves in optimal shape for a breakout 2013 season; attending classes in working their way toward attaining a degree; and spending valuable time with their family. Many work second and third jobs to help pay the bills. A former Blue Jays farmhand named Tyler Powell, for instance, found employment at his local grocery (a la Kurt Warner pre-NFL stardom), while teammate Shawn Griffith delivered pizzas. While it's primarily Minor Leaguers who have to seek other job opportunities now, historically this has included MLBers as well. Hall of Fame outfielder Earl Averill worked as a florist; third baseman Richie Hebner was a gravedigger.

For fans, these are days for optimism, dreaming of what the upcoming season will bring. The parity in the game has produced an increased amount of World Series hopefuls, spread from coast to coast. Toronto Blue Jays fans haven't felt this much excitement and anticipation in decades. Angels supporters cannot wait to see how their All-Star lineup performs. Cincinnati Reds rooters remember being this close to sweeping the eventual World Champion Giants out in the first round. Loyalists of the Washington Nationals, Oakland Athletics, and Baltimore Orioles are ready for their teams to take the next step forward. A Clayton Kershaw-Zach Greinke 1-2 punch in Los Angeles has the Dodgers faithful rearing to go.

And on and on it goes, with the turning of the calendar from December to January signaling the start of the momentum, gathering speed and energy as the weather warms and spring nears.

We might find ourselves in Winter limbo now, working under gray skies that darken too quickly in the late afternoon. But, just like the period of days at the end of December, we know there's a new year arriving soon, and we're all eager -- all of us, from the front office to the field to the stands -- to make the best of it.

Jesse Goldberg-Strassler is a Ballpark Digest contributing editor, the author of The Baseball Thesaurus and the Voice of the Lansing Lugnuts. You can reach him at jgoldstrass@hotmail.com.

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