MIKE BURKE

Allegany Communications Sports

Yogi Berra said, “Love is the most important thing in the world, but baseball is pretty good, too.”

No, we’re not into Valentine’s Day weirdness here; that was last week, which means it’s still February, which doesn’t sound like much, but when pitchers, catchers and position players have all reported, and when spring training games will begin any day now, it is now, even though not officially, spring.

It doesn’t matter if it snows from here on in. To a baseball fan, 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 winds come …”

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

Fall, as you know, brings the southward flight of birds. It brings #NFLTheTVShow, cool evenings, cold mornings, a new school year, and the inevitable segue to (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 bought into the “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.” Winter is a state of mind and a state of being (as is baseball — a far better state of mind and of being), and the sole objective of winter is to eat away at you, to break you; or to try to by making you take the garbage out when it’s below 20 degrees.

The objective of baseball, in the words of the great George Carlin, “is to go home! And to be safe! — I hope I’ll be safe at home!”

Winter’s most clever, yet devious, trick is giving us a beautiful, sunny morning in the first week of January. You leave your house to go to work and the air is still and clear and you can see for miles away. Subconsciously you find yourself hopeful, 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 believe that more of these beautiful days are finally coming.

But they’re not. At least not until you find yourself much closer to the first pitch on Opening Day, which will be in just 38 days.

The anticipation of any coming baseball season brings excitement, even sometimes when you find yourself freezing your stump off.

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, listening to it on the radio or merely reading or talking about it.

Roger Angell once said, “Baseball is like joining an enormous family with ancestors and forebears and famous stories and histories. And it’s a privilege. It means a lot.

“And the people who tell me they hate baseball or are out of baseball, they sound bitter about it. But I think that they sense what they’re missing. I think they feel that there’s something they’re not in on, which is a terrible loss, and I’m sorry for them.”

I’m not. That’s their choice. Our choice has always been to be in on it.

Only love is better than baseball, yes, but baseball is love, because baseball is every day. It is something new every day. In every baseball game you watch you see something happen that you have never seen before.

You see things that continue to give you goosebumps, no matter how long you’ve already been a baseball fan; and if the Pittsburgh Pirates’ Oneil Cruz stays healthy, you’ll be able to see that any day or night he takes the field.

For this, almost as soon as the baseball season is over, you miss it. Just weeks before another one is to begin — or in this case, 38 days — 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.

You have it forever.

As Yogi said, baseball is pretty good, too.

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]. Follow him on Twitter @MikeBurkeMDT