SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — By design, the pulse of spring training beats slowly. That’s why, in the world’s current era of discontent and vitriol, it has become even more appealing.
It would be nice to think that everything going on is right before us, plain as the nose on our face.
It would be nice to think the only things that mattered Wednesday were the Los Angeles Angels’ picture day, Josh Hamilton’s sore leg and Mike Trout’s new contract.
Same with the Los Angeles Dodgers — that their spring opener against the Arizona Diamondbacks and getting the kinks out for their early regular-season start in Australia were their only thoughts.
But on this Wednesday in the Arizona desert, with the bright blue sky and summer-like temperatures a perfect balm for life, an issue simmered beneath the camouflage.
The issue had a number, SB (Senate Bill) 1062. It also had a label, the anti-gay bill. It was passed by the Arizona Legislature recently but vetoed by Gov. Jan Brewer on Wednesday night. As written, it said that for religious reasons a business person may legally withhold services from gays, lesbians and transsexuals.
It was, of course, a hot topic. Prominent people weighed in. It didn’t seem to have any political lines, just across-the-board amazement that it was passed by the state Legislature and disgust that it took so long to veto.
Those opposing the bill seemed to merely be battling stupidity.
The biggest wedge seemed to come from the leverage of sports. The Super Bowl is scheduled here next year, and the NFL’s stance seemed quite clear.
The league said in a statement Tuesday that it emphasizes “tolerance and inclusiveness and prohibits discrimination based on age, gender, race, religion, sexual orientation or any other improper standard.”
The statement didn’t say the NFL would yank the 2015 Super Bowl out of Phoenix if Brewer didn’t veto SB 1062. The league didn’t need to be that specific.
Baseball also needed to weigh in, and it did. Even the sleepy pace of spring training couldn’t prevent that.
Commissioner Bud Selig has long called his sport a “social institution,” and as such, he eagerly added his voice to the debate.
There are 15 major league teams training in the greater Phoenix area alone. That’s lots of commerce in the months of February and March, and that doesn’t even include the year-round impact of the city’s permanent MLB resident, the Diamondbacks.
Sports have become a flash point for many of these social issues. They are high profile; more emotion-driven than logic-driven. Doing business in Arizona under SB 1062 would have been perceived by many as a nod of acceptance of the state’s laws, even the most odorous ones. People working for MLB might have been offended had their employer not stood up on this issue.
Selig said he wanted his voice heard loud and clear. From his desk in frigid Milwaukee on Wednesday afternoon, before Brewer’s veto, he read his handwritten statement to the Los Angeles Times before its official release:
“As the sport of Jackie Robinson, Major League Baseball and its 30 clubs stand united behind the principles of respect, inclusion and acceptance. Those values are fundamental to our game’s diverse players, employees and fans. We welcome individuals of different sexual orientations, races, religions, genders and national origins.
“MLB has a zero-tolerance policy for harassment or discrimination based on sexual orientation, as reflected in our collective bargaining agreement with the MLB Players Association. Accordingly, MLB will neither support, nor tolerate, any words, attitudes or actions that imperil the inclusive communities that we have strived to foster within our game.”
Now that Brewer has vetoed SB 1062, the slate is clear again for some spring training sleepwalking. It can be what it has so delightfully been: much ado about very little.
People from out of state who had paused over this before buying tickets for spring games can get back to the Internet and click the “purchase” box.
Focus can go back to who will be the Angels’ leadoff hitter. Will it be Kole Calhoun or J.B. Shuck setting the plate for the big guns to follow in Trout, Albert Pujols and Hamilton?
We can worry a bit, needlessly, about Clayton Kershaw’s shaky first spring start, in which he allowed three runs on five hits and now has an earned-run average of 13.50. We can nod approval at Chone Figgins’ comeback beginning, with three at-bats for the Dodgers that produced no hits but solid contact, as well as a sure-thing double that went 6 inches foul.
We can report, and feel there is value in doing so, that there were no incidents when two teams that don’t like each other much, the Dodgers and the Diamondbacks, played without incident, other than Yasiel Puig getting booed.
We can also report that Angels manager Mike Scioscia has lost 34 pounds in his quest to drop 60, and know that we are doing so with an interested readership of one, Mrs. Mike Scioscia.
We can, once again, put our own finger on the pulse of spring baseball, and rejoice when we feel nothing.