“I think there are only three things that America will be known for 2,000 years from now when they study this civilization: the Constitution, jazz music and baseball. They’re the three most beautifully designed things this culture has ever produced.”

— Gerald Early

MIKE BURKE

Allegany Communications Sports

I believe it was John Fogerty who said, “I beat the drum and hold the phone, the sun came out today. We’re born again, there’s new grass on the field.”

That’s right. It’s Opening Day, the day we have been impatiently waiting for through the past 146 days, but who’s counting?

“I see great things in baseball,” Walt Whitman, the great American poet, essayist and journalist is attributed to have written for the Brooklyn Eagle in the late 19th century. “It’s our game — the American game. It will take our people out-of-doors, fill them with oxygen, give them a larger physical stoicism. Tend to relieve us from being a nervous, dyspeptic set. Repair these losses, and be a blessing to us.”

(They said things a little differently in the 19th century, but the sentiment remains.)

For a baseball fan in these parts (and we’re all baseball fans), the time of the year has come when our obscene monthly cable bill begins to give back a little bang for the huge buck, as we have daily and nightly access to the Major League teams that make this area 2 Hours from Everywhere – the Baltimore Orioles, the Washington Nationals and the Pittsburgh Pirates.

Not only that, you can listen to the WASHINGTON NATIONALS right here on WCMD 1230 AM.

Due in large part to the pandemic and in larger part to the massive teardown of a world championship roster, it seems like closer to 20 years than the actual three years that it’s been since the Nationals won the World Series.

A roster that not long ago featured Max Scherzer, Juan Soto, Anthony Rendon and Trea Turner, not to mention the injured Stephen Strasburg, who might not be able to pitch again, now features a bunch of young guys we only began to know and get a feel for in the second half of last season’s dreadful 107-loss first step in the rebuild.

The Nationals, who seem to be about where the Orioles were roughly two years ago, are not likely to win many more games this season (of course, the same was said about Baltimore last year at this time), but they’re really going to have a lot of talented young players to keep an eye on, because general manager Mike Rizzo did very well with his returns when he unloaded all of the veterans.

Joey Meneses, 30-year-old first baseman/outfielder, might not be part of the rebuild, but he sure showed good power last year when he got to D.C.

The Soto trade brought shortstop CJ Abrams and pitcher MacKenzie Gore, while pitcher Josiah Gray and catcher Keibert Ruiz came in the deals for Scherzer and Turner and will likely get full shots in D.C. this summer.

The Nationals will also have the No. 2 pick in the draft this summer and high picks for the next couple of years, which, as the Orioles can tell them, will be a good thing.

It may take a while, but Rizzo has done this before in D.C., and I wouldn’t bet against his doing it again. Keeping the reality of it in mind, this could be a lot of fun for Washington fans to see from the start, just as they saw it from the start the last time.

The Nationals open today, 1 p.m., at home against the Atlanta Braves.

The BALTIMORE ORIOLES, who started their rebuild a little sooner than the Nats did, had their breakout season last year, winning 83 games; but then didn’t seem to do a whole lot over the winter, if you consider adding starting pitchers, today’s starter Kyle Gibson and lefthander Cole Irvin, bullpen depth in Mychal Givens and lefty Danny Coulombe, second baseman Adam Frazier and veteran backup catcher James McCann to be not doing a whole lot.

We’ve covered this before, but, truthfully, at this stage of the rebuild and given the rapid influx of talent and depth we began to see last season, I don’t know that the Orioles needed to be much more active than they were. Besides, depending on the circumstances of the season, GM Mike Elias is still likely to be very active, so the Orioles aren’t finished there.

With catcher Adley Rutschman coming off such a real-thing rookie season to establish himself as the best player on the team and with the full-time addition of third baseman Gunnar Henderson, the top prospect in all of baseball who is poised to push for top-player status himself, and the eventual addition of top starting-pitcher prospect Grayson Rodriguez, who was optioned this week, it feels like something very special is about to unfold.

The rotation, of course, will provide the most questions until younger arms can become established, but Gibson and Irvin provide solid experience and innings, with some younger guys having gained valuable experience last year. Now, will the bullpen be absolutely lights out the way it was last year? Doubtful, but once the Orioles get some guys back who are nicked up, it will be a strength of the team once more.

It wouldn’t be unusual for the Orioles to stumble a little after taking such a huge step last year. With all of the young talent ready to emerge at the big-league level, though, not to mention the talent in their top-ranked farm system not being far behind, this season, which begins today, 2 p.m., in Boston is going to be well worth the watch.

The PITTSBURGH PIRATES are coming off two 100-loss seasons, but I’d be surprised if we don’t see improvement this year. Of course, for that to happen, they’re going to have to avoid a third straight second-half collapse, but I believe there is improving starting pitching for that to happen.

The Bucs brought back veteran Andrew McCutchen over the winter for something other than old times’ sake. McCutchen is likely to be in 100 or so games in center, at the corners and DH, and was the biggest reason for the Pirates’ turnaround the last time which led to three straight postseason appearances in 2013-15.

For the Pirates, it all starts with shortstop Oneil Cruz, who is a flat-out freak in the way you want your most exciting player to be a freak. The ball comes off his bat and out of his hand at over 100 miles per hour. He hits, hits with power and runs like a deer. He is one of the most thrilling players to watch in the big leagues today.

There is also third baseman Ke’Bryan Hayes, who the Bucs signed through 2030 last Opening Day, and All-Star center fielder Brian Reynolds, just 28, who asked to be traded over the winter, but who would likely prefer a long-term contract, which the Pirates would be wise to give him in an effort to show fans they are losing their tight-fisted ways.

The Pirates’ farm system has improved each year, as it should since they’ve had so many high picks, but the talent is coming and is likely deepest at catcher.

I don’t know that McCutchen will still be in Pittsburgh to see it, but the Pirates will return to the playoffs sooner than you might think, and I believe we’ll see them begin to move in that direction this season.

The Bucs open today, 4 p.m., in Cincinnati.

Thus, there is no reason to be dyspeptic. It’s baseball season.

And, so, as Tiny Tim once said, “A Merry Opening Day to us all; God bless us, every one!”

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