MIKE BURKE

Allegany Communications Sports

Well, it’s now baseball season, I suppose, given the owners’ vindictive 99-day lockout has been over and spring training has been under way for a couple of weeks and they’re finally playing spring training games in Florida and in Arizona.

It’s always a good thing when baseball is in the air, even for casual fans, who are neither diehard in their allegiance nor students of the American pastime, because from this point on, through October anyway, there is going to be baseball on the television or the radio. And that’s a comforting feeling for many of us, which is what makes this game a pastime.

It doesn’t matter if we get two feet of snow before the first Robin chirps, it is now spring. Spring, I tell you, when, in the words of the late A. Bartlett Giamatti, “everything else begins again, and blossoms in the summer, filling the afternoons and evenings, and then as soon as the chill rains come …”

Stop right there. Baseball season is just beginning; it’s not stopping and leaving us to face the fall alone. Let’s not even talk about fall. Let’s talk about spring, for unless I live at the ocean, I want no part of fall.

Fall brings the southward flight of birds. It brings #NFLTheTVShow, cool evenings, cold mornings, a new school year, and the inevitable segue to (please don’t say it) winter. And in the immortal words of Jessica Tandy in the movie “Best Friends,” winter kills. At least it tries to.

When it comes to winter, I’ve never been a buyer into “What doesn’t kill us makes us stronger.” Bull. Winter’s sole objective is to try to eat away at us, to break us and to make us take the garbage out when it’s below 20 degrees and all we’re wearing is a sweatshirt and gym shorts.

You know what winter’s most clever, yet devious, trick is? Say it’s January 11 and you leave your house to go to work and the sun is shining brightly, the air is still and clear and you can see for miles away. Subconsciously you find yourself filled with hope, as though it’s an early March day rather than an early day in January, and as you take in the fresh air, you ever so briefly allow yourself to believe that more of these beautiful days are finally coming.

But they’re not. At least not for roughly 80 days when the first pitch on Opening Day is thrown.

And you know what another maddening aspect of winter is? When people say to you, “I’m sure you’re excited that pitchers and catchers are reporting to spring training tomorrow, huh?”

Oh, yeah, I’m thrilled beyond words living here in Western Maryland in the dead of February that large groups of wealthy young men are reporting to Florida and Arizona to play baseball and be in the warm sun all day while I chip ice off of my windshield with a large Sheetz soda cup. What good does that do me?

A handful of years ago, we had been hit with an enormous snowfall in mid-February. Now enormous snowfall to me is dusting, but this one was legit — something like 18 inches, right? So when there are 18 inches of snow on the ground, I don’t try to fool anybody or be Mr. Man. I walk to work.

So it was actually Valentines Day that year, and I’m walking to work. And I’m just at the intersection of Brookfield and Kent when my phone rings and, like an idiot, I answer it.

“Hey, buddy,” my friend says. “What are you doing?”

“Walking to work.”

“I’m not going in today,”

“Good for you.”

“Are you pumped?”

“For Valentines Day? Mm, no.”

“No,” my grown-up friend said with all of the exuberance and wonder of a child on Christmas Eve, “pitchers and catchers report today.”

My friend lived on Brookfield at that time, but rather than stop by his house and deposit a big pile of my excitement on to his living room floor, I simply did the adult thing and hung up on him.

In fairness to my friend, though, I did get where he was coming from. The anticipation of any coming baseball season does bring excitement. Even for old frumpy guys like me. I just wasn’t in the frame of mind to count my baseball blessings at that particular moment while I was freezing my stump off.

Yet the stability of knowing there is a game every day and every night and being able to count on it, then adjusting your entire day and night around the first pitch provides great comfort, whether you are attending the game, watching it on TV or listening to it on the radio.

Baseball is every day. It is something new every day. During every baseball game you ever watch you will see something happen that you have never seen before. You see things that continue to provide you with goose bumps, no matter how many decades you’ve already been a baseball fan and no matter how late into a lost season that moment may occur.

Almost as soon as the season is over, you miss it. Just weeks before another one is to begin — or in this case, two weeks — you crave it, and you can taste it.

It is the companionship, and baseball is the only game that has that kind of companionship. It’s the companionship of what you are familiar with and what you love that you never look forward to missing. Because when you have it, you have it every day, and you have it every night.

Just a lonely guy? You bet. Every year from the last pitch of the World Series to the first pitch of Opening Day.

“I see great things in baseball,” wrote Walt Whitman. “It’s our game, the American game. It will repair our losses and be a blessing to us.”

So let it snow. Spring is here. Baseball is on the way.

Mike Burke writes about sports and other stuff for Allegany Communications. He began covering sports for the Prince George’s Sentinel in 1981 and joined the Cumberland Times-News sports staff in 1984, serving as sports editor for over 30 years. Contact him at [email protected] and [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter @MikeBurkeMDT