Pitchers and catchers report.
Ah, is there any more soothing phrase in sport than these four words?
Granted, football may have overtaken baseball as our national pastime. Television ratings and attendance figures do not lie. And the time will come this summer that we start counting the days until kickoff to the college season.
But here is the difference. At least by then, we will have baseball to hold our attention. Just when the dog days of baseball set in for the fans whose teams are hopelessly out of the postseason race, football arrives and restores interest.
Baseball, though, arrives to save us from the doldrums of sport's winter. (Pitchers and catchers can report today).
Basketball? Love the game, bored with the regular season. The all-inclusive NBA playoffs and NCAA's March Madness have rendered the regular-season games virtually meaningless. Sure, technically speaking, the regular seasons collectively determine who makes it to the postseason. But it takes just a few weeks to sort the haves from the have-nots on both levels. The rest is filler -- or, to be more succinct, programming for the Disney-owned ESPN.
Oh, the NCAA tournament always has its surprises. Butler, Davidson, Bucknell, George Mason, Northern Iowa. But in the end, there hasn't been a true Cinderella champion since Rollie Massimino's Villanova team won it all in 1985. College basketball has lost much of its charm since the NBA opened its doors to anyone old enough to sign without parental consent.
The NBA is much worse. As much as ESPN tries to pump up every Heat-Clippers game as a "showdown," or offer daily analysis of the Lakers, the fact is you could safely wager your house that one of a handful of teams will win the championship. Decent but limited teams like the Hawks are not among those select few. Even the first round of the playoffs is a mere warm-up.
Of course, there are those who believe the four most soothing words in sports are "Gentlemen, start your engines." If you say so.
Baseball is the renewal of the sports year. I never watched because millions of other viewers are watching.
I don't care of there are sections empty seats at Yankee Stadium for the playoffs. I don't care that our society of instant gratification thinks the game is too slow.
I watch baseball because it's a beautiful game. It's timeless.
The pitcher-batter confrontation has not changed fundamentally in the last hundred years. As football debates whether the pistol offense is a novelty or sign of things to come, baseball remains the same game it was when Babe Ruth faced Lefty Grove.
The season is still a few weeks away. Spring training is nothing but glorified practice and even those games won't begin until the end of the month. But just knowing the players are gathering again in Florida and Arizona to start throwing is comforting just the same.