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Pitchers and catchers and banh mi

We all have our offseason rituals. Mine involves a Vietnamese sandwich.

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We are now exactly three weeks away from the day that Pitchers and Catchers report for the Cardinals. For many fans, this is an important date because it signals that the baseball season is... at least coming. I’ll probably note the date and send a tweet or something, but if I’m being honest, it’s never meant that much to me.

Back in the day when ballplayers worked in a menswear shop or a lumber yard during the offseason, sure, the opening of spring camp was a notable signpost. But in a world where ballplayers are working our all year round, often at the team facility, and posting it to their Instagram stories, it’s a little underwhelming.

For me, the real mark that baseball season is approaching is the banh mi.

Like many of you, baseball for me provides the ritual that marks the passage of time from year-to-year. From the start of spring training at the end of February through the conclusion of the World Series at the start of November, the sport provides a reliable daily ritual. But there are four other months of the year where it doesn’t do a whole lot for us.

We prop-up the Hot Stove Season as something worth following on a daily basis, and we’ve got a few token events like the Winter Meetings and the Hall of Fame announcement. By and large though, it’s a slog. And that’s probably never more the case than at the end of January and beginning of February.

For many years, I plugged this hole with fantasy baseball. I’ve played in the same league with a group of buddies from high school for 20 years now, and back before I had kids when I had more time on my hands, I would devote late January and early February to fantasy baseball preparation.

It was usually around this time of year, as most of the free agents were settling into their teams, that various publications and podcasts would begin analyzing the coming season in earnest. And I would fill my free time devouring all of it.

That was never more true than one particular offseason, just after I graduated from grad school. I had just picked up my first college teaching gigs, with my mornings at Fullerton College and my afternoons at Cerritos College.

Just a few blocks from the Fullerton campus was one of many locations of Lee’s Vietnamese Sandwiches. For those who have never had the pleasure, Lee’s is a chain which deals exclusively in banh mi, that delectable combination of french baguette, roast pork (or whatever your jam is) and spicy, pickled vegetables.

I had at least two hours between my morning and afternoon classes, so most days, I would pickup a couple sandwiches and pass that time eating and building fantasy baseball spreadsheets in what passed for a teacher’s lounge at Cerritos.

It was only one season, but that was enough for me to develop a Pavlovian response to those sandwiches. In the dead of winter, if I start scrolling through baseball stats, my mouth starts salivating and my mind begins calculating the logistics of getting to my nearest banh mi shop. And if I pick up a couple sandwiches, I have a primal urge to listen to the Fantasy 411 with Cory Schwartz and Mike Siano.

I am a primitive creature and this is how I am wired.

There’s no logical connection that would translate to anybody else, but for me, for more than a decade, banh mi have been an intrinsic part of my annual baseball ritual. And I’m guessing I’m not the only one that has something like that to get them through this time of year.

How about you? Any odd or seemingly random pieces of your annual baseball ritual, particularly at this darkest time of year? Let’s let our freak flags fly in the comments.