3Qs: Spring training’s magic

Northeastern’s own Ryan Maguire jump-started the Husky’s baseball season with an unforgettable leadoff home run in a spring-training game against the Red Sox. Journalism professor Charles Fountain, whose book, “Under the March Sun,” examines the spring training season, offers his insights on Maguire, spring training’s survival in the economy and the innocence it manages to maintain.

In the two years since your book was released, how has spring training changed and how will it continue to evolve?

The biggest surprise to me may be how it hasn’t changed. Despite the economy, which has been particularly ruinous in Florida and Arizona, spring training communities continue to build new and ever more lavish facilities to keep and attract teams.

Lee County, ground zero in the Florida housing collapse, is nevertheless going ahead with its plans for a stunning new complex for the Red Sox. In suburban Phoenix, the Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community built a beautiful and expensive new complex on tribal land there, luring the Rockies and Diamondbacks up from Tucson this year.

This investment of money, both public and private, shows that communities still believe that spring training is an economic stimulus, and civic investment in baseball will generate tourism and related economic growth. There are economists who will debate the point, but spring training communities have been putting money into baseball in the belief that it grows their economies since the 1920s. That is really what most of my book is about.

What is the difference between a spring training game and a regular season game? What about this year’s spring training is getting you excited for the 2011 season?

There is innocence and an absence of care in spring training games because they don’t count. You can enjoy the game for its own sake, without becoming overly exultant over a win, or feeling the need to find a window ledge if the Red Sox lose three in a row to the Yankees. But for someone from the Northeast or the Midwest, the principal beauty of a spring training game is that it is generally played in weather the likes of which we seldom see in the middle of June, never mind the middle of March. I’ve always held that the secret to spring training’s magic is the gray skies, raw winds and dirty snow banks of a New England March. Knowing that baseball is already being played somewhere warm is knowing that our winter misery is nearing its end, and our world too will once again soon be green.

This year, Northeastern returned to Fort Myers to play an exhibition game against the Red Sox. Amazingly, Northeastern third baseman Ryan Maguire hit a home run on the opening pitch. How is an exhibition game against a professional team beneficial to a college team like the Huskies?

There were only four or five other colleges in America that got to play an exhibition against a Major League team this year. So a game against the Red Sox is a big hole card for our coach, Neil McPhee, to play when he’s talking to a recruit. It’s a special moment for the whole Northeastern community, too. It’s hard not to have special feelings for your school when you’re sitting at that cookout on the practice field beyond the left field fence before the game. As for Ryan Maguire, not only is he now forever a part of Northeastern University sports lore, you can bet that there are generations of Maguires yet unborn who will hear the story of the forebear who once hit a home run against the Red Sox in spring training in Fort Myers.