Fay Vincent’s tenure as commissioner of baseball was characterized by intense unrest. He took over the role after the sudden and early death of his close friend A. Bartlett Giamatti; he was in Candlestick Park before Game 3 of the 1989 World Series when it was disrupted by the Loma Prieta earthquake. In the wake of the collusion scandals of the 1980s, Vincent saw tensions between owners and players rise to a point of no return.
For 32 days in 1990, baseball didn’t return either. There was nothing but a lockout, remaining unresolved through spring training, day after day going by with no end in sight. Vincent eventually managed to negotiate a resolution: for the players, a raise of the minimum salary from $68,000 to $100,000, and for the owners, a study committee on the possibility of future revenue sharing. On March 19, the lockout finally ended, and baseball could finally resume, although Opening Day was pushed back a week.
The problems, of course, were not over. In acknowledging the union as a valid entity rather than a threat to be stomped out of existence, Vincent doomed himself as commissioner. He would be forced out by a vote of no confidence in 1992, replaced by the man who had led the charge against him, Milwaukee Brewers owner Bud Selig. The office of commissioner would never again hold any semblance of objectivity, of a higher concern for the game of baseball. Instead it became an extension of the specific interests of ownership.
But still, the fact remained: In 1990, baseball, after its overlong absence, came back. And Fay Vincent—who had spent months, years, embroiled in baseball’s bitterest conflicts—was, if only for that one day, happy.
“I’m going to go to spring training with a shout and a song,” he said.
The fact that baseball ends every year as autumn fades and begins again with the coming of spring is an essential part of the mythology of the sport. After midwinter, the days get longer, and little by little, the shape of your team, the possible outline of their upcoming season, grows clearer. And then, at last—release. The uncertainty dissipates, the darkness lifts. The beginning of spring training is the thaw after the deep freeze.
The metaphor is so convenient that even I, sentimental as I am, feel a little embarrassed for buying into it. But there’s something undeniably compelling in that myth of the return of baseball as a herald of brighter days to come. And I found myself counting down to this, the random day in mid-February that marks a fundamental change in the state of my life. Pitchers and catchers are reporting. I survived another winter. I get to see what I have been waiting for since the Astros walked off the field in November: green and sunshine and baseball, in all its comforting familiarity.
But this year it feels different. This year, we sat through what may have been the slowest offseason in history—so slow that it remains unresolved, and free agents are going to have their own spring training camp. There were so many points at which the market was supposed to develop. Teams were just waiting for Ohtani to sign. Then Stanton to be traded. Then, then, then. There have been small bursts of activity, but the only thing we’ve really learned this offseason was that we might be looking down the throat of another labor stoppage.
As interesting as it can be to analyze transactions, to ponder the massive and complex business of baseball, I think it’s fair to say that such mental exercises are not why we keep coming back every year. I think it’s fair to say that most people care about baseball for the game itself: as a pastime, an escape, or a vessel for meaning, or a way to connect with others. That is one of the reasons why this offseason has felt so bleak: It has been a reminder that even something like baseball—which so often feels transcendent—is a business, governed by the laws of business, mundane and unpleasant and actually not transcendent at all.
And I think that’s why, even while the state of baseball has grown increasingly fraught over the last three months, people seem, if anything, more ready for the arrival of spring training than usual. The world we live in seems dire right now, and not even baseball is exempt from that. Baseball has confronted us, for the first time in a while, with the ugly conflict that underpins the business of the game.
But, if we can take comfort in nothing else, at least we can feel the warm weather in Arizona and Florida. At least the baseball players will be playing baseball again—even if they aren’t playing with their teams. The game, at least, will go on.
“This is not a day for concerns,” said Vincent on Opening Day in 1990. “This is a day for pleasure. There are concerns in baseball, but they get dissolved in the bright sunshine.”
The beginning of spring training will not mark an end to the concerns of this past offseason, just as Opening Day did not mark an end to the concerns of 1990. We may look back on this as just the beginning of a greater conflict to come. But today, at least, I am glad to have the bright sunshine, the green field. Pitchers and catchers are reporting. There will soon be baseball games to watch. And I will watch them, and I will feel better.
This article originally appeared on VICE Sports US.