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Currents of Hope

A Case for February

February is, by all accounts, the bleakest month.

When I worked in an office, a lifetime and several degrees ago, these days were desperate. We had passed the winter holidays and had nothing to sustain us, no breaks until Memorial Day. We drove to work in the dark and came home in the dark. What weather we had was rarely snow and most often slush, the kind that soaks into your sneakers on the way to the office and leaves them dirty and freezing for hours.

This is, however, is among my favorite times to be a sports fan.

No, it's not the golden evenings of early June, when the weather's nice and most baseball fans still feel their team has a chance, when the luckiest basketball followers are still rooting on their guys and excitement about a World Cup or the Olympics is building. It's something subtler, calmer -- and maybe a little more desperate, too.

The Super Bowl is done. Leftover party-sized jars of salsa have been stashed in our fridge doors to be forgotten for a few months, until we feel both hopeless and guilty enough to kick them out. March Madness is around the corner, but seeds haven't been named yet, and anyway, the thrill of those successive games never quite kicks in until the first upset. We are in the thick of the sports quiet period, the fallow weeks when football fans lick their wounds and baseball devotees have barely begun to think of opening day. Basketball's on, but it's the part of the year when standings begin to crystallize, when we know who's beset by season-ending injuries and who's headed to All Star Weekend, which is mostly a break for everyone involved and universally regarded as some of the worst television around.

But I love these days. I love their bleakness and the quiet charge that roils beneath them, the impatience for what lies around the corner -- warmth and whirlwind competition, fight songs and twelve-dollar beers in plastic cups. I love these them like I love Octobers, when crisp air and shortened days give me permission to be the kind of sad I always already am. So February feels good to me. It's the underdog of months, and I have a taste for hopelessness.

See, I'm from Baltimore. The youngest of three. My sister and brother, eleven and fourteen years ahead of me, came up without a football team to root for at all. By the time I came of age the Ravens were solid, but I've always felt a greater kinship with the Orioles. My father's law practice held season tickets every year of my life until his death in 2021, I am a child of brim-shaped sunburns earned alone in empty stands, of first-name relationships with ushers, of the echoing din of even the most modest crowd as they file through concrete columns. I'm a child of losing records and foolish, Icarian hope.

This year, February feels especially good to me. I am leaving the city I've lived in for the last six year and languished in for the last three and returning, if not home, at least to the East Coast, where people are mean to your face but still hold the door for you out of habit and where I see far fewer guns on hips in the aisles of Target. At the tale end of January, news broke the the Angelos family had finally sold the Orioles, hopefully ending years of belt-cinching and star-losing. I'm a Cavaliers fan, having married a Clevelander, our stars aligned in part by a mutual love for rusty cities, for shrunken husks of prior greatness, for holding out hope that the prodigals will one day return and lift our sunken fortunes. The Cavs are 17 of their last 18, with their starting lineup finally whole again after months of injuries and a pre-holiday dip that had analysts urging for a Donovan Mitchell trade. The World Cup is, frankly inexplicably, coming to New Jersey. Things are looking up.

Underneath the low-hanging clouds and slowly-lengthening days is the hint of a new beginning. The tree across the street is yawning into greenness. A gaggle of scrawny nobodies is running suicides and gathering around palimpsestic whiteboards, not yet aware that in a month's time countless gamblers will be cursing their previously-unknown names. A host of top-ten draft picks are stretching their muscles and eyeing their new ownership under the Florida sun. Currents of hope, everywhere. A charged air.


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