It means renewal. It means optimism. It means spitting. It means San Francisco is going to have a very bad six months.
That's because the Giants stink, substantially because their best hitter is a Giant no more, but an unsigned free agent, languishing at home with his all-time career home-run record and tattered reputation.
Yeah, Barry Bonds, the most prolific slugger ever, can't get a job because he's been denounced as a cheater. Very good power to all fields. Very bad role model.
Baseball's steroid scandal has robbed a generation of children of so many heroes. Bonds, Jose Canseco, Mark Maguire, Roger Clemens, Miguel Tejada -- tainted by drug allegations all -- have left a trail of disillusionment. Baseball may have long since ceased being the true national pastime, but it is still uniquely situated for role modeling. Every player's approach -- swing, delivery, batting stance -- is distinct, and therefore prime for imitation by the kids who see it again and again over 162 games.
And kids imitate what they observe. (That, by the way, explains the spitting. Long ago, players chewed tobacco and spit out the juice. This led to generations of Little Leaguers spitting, too. When they got to the big leagues, they kept on spitting. The actual tobacco chaws are long gone, but the spitting goes on, a vestigial habit in a never-ending cycle of expectoration.)
But we digress. So if a kid can't believe in Barry Bonds, then who? Why, Dad, of course. He's the instructor, the mentor, the No. 1 fan and the voice of encouragement in the stands.
Or (sigh) not. Because with spring comes another annual rite: the obnoxious Little League parent at a kids' game, behaving like a jackass. He screams at the umpire. He hectors the other team. He second-guesses the coach. He berates his own child. And he can't claim he was doped covertly.
He's a dope all by himself.
None of this is lost on the Little League itself, which is airing a PSA on ESPN designed to discourage Bleacher Rage.
A short but pointed 15 seconds, the spot from DCode, New York, focuses on a 10-year-old at the plate. From the stands, we hear the kid's father chiming in, more or less perfunctorily, "Come on, son. Hit the ball." The boy rolls his eyes and spins around to face his dad. Then he starts hollering:
"DAD, IS THAT THE BEST YOU CAN DO?! THAT'S PATHETIC. I DON'T EVEN KNOW WHY YOU BOTHER SHOWING UP! WHY CAN'T YOU BE MORE LIKE JIMMY'S DAD?! ALL THE OTHER PARENTS ARE GOING TO LAUGH AT YOU! YOU MAKE ME SICK!"
The title cards punctuate the obvious: "Now you know how it feels. Just let them play."
Well, yeah. And the turnabout does nicely sharpen the point, along the lines of the 45-year-old "Like father, like son" PSA, which showed a little boy mimicking his cigarette-smoking pop. With other role models performance-enhanced and reputation-diminished, more than ever we need Dad to set the right example. Could the prospect of creating pint-size douche bags be a moderating force?
Not likely. This spot is a game effort, but boorishness is not an affliction much sensitive to consciousness raising. In all of human history, this conversation has never taken place:
Person 1: "Don't be a dick."
Person 2: "My, have I been? My error. I shall endeavor in future not to shame myself."
People behave like dicks not because they are uninformed, but because they are dicks. And they won't be eradicated, least of all by advertising. Like daffodils and misplaced optimism and wads of spittle, they are perennials. They pop up every spring.