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posted: 3/31/2013 8:00 AM

Spiegel takes a swing at the return of baseball

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  • Baseball is back, and both the Cubs and the White Sox will swing into action on Monday.

    Baseball is back, and both the Cubs and the White Sox will swing into action on Monday.
    Associated Press/Matt Slocum


Welcome back, crack of the bat. Welcome back, 6-4-3.

I'm ready. Are you?

In some years, baseball's return is more welcome than others. Sometimes the stink of a basketball or hockey season is best smothered by fragrant hopes of spring. This year, however, you could make the case that we don't really need baseball for a while.

The Blackhawks are the best team in the NHL (probably), and the Bulls, Roseless as they are at the moment, will be a playoff team, too. Plus, the post-season hopes for the Cubs are inconsequential, and the White Sox' ceiling is likely second place in the AL Central.

But still, I'm ready.

Welcome back, stand-up double to the gap. Welcome back, called strike three.

Here's part of why I'm ready: The World Baseball Classic. There was some high drama, genuine baseball tension, with games played by the planet's best players here in March. The Latin American fan's fervor was irresistibly contagious. If spring training is a slow simmer toward Opening Day, the WBC was a flash fry.

Welcome back, can o' corn. Welcome back, Stats Sunday.

Hawk Harrelson and Steve Stone get back into our lives, and many will be listening for signs of the tension that nearly drove them apart in the offseason. Sometimes you can hear the 6 feet between them in an 8-foot booth. Hopefully, Stone's cerebral dissections will continue to balance Hawk's frequent historical corollaries nicely.

Meanwhile, Len Kasper will fuse brains with new partner Jim DeShaies, and the loss of Bob Brenly will make for some grumpy Cubs fans. DeShaies, beloved in Houston and respected nationally, talks pitching extremely well. Give him a chance; it doesn't mean you loved Brenly any less.

Welcome back, box scores. Welcome back, MLB At Bat app.

Carlos Pena is an Astro. So is Philip Humber. Marlon Byrd made the Mets. Juan Pierre is once again a Marlin. Tom Gorzelanny is in the Brewers bullpen. Kevin Youkilis is a Yankee, Ryan Dempster is in Boston, while Brett Myers and Nick Swisher are in Cleveland. Got it? Also, just about every ex-Marlin is in Toronto, including Mark Buerhle. The Jays play at the Cell June 10-12.

Welcome back, Jim Leyland's hallway smokes. Welcome back, Iowa/Kane County/Daytona websites.

The Tigers are everyone's pick to win the Central, with good reason. Closer is their only big weakness, and they'll trade for one if they must.

As for the Cubs' chances, well ... Javier Baez and Jorge Soler are in Daytona, Albert Almora broke his wrist in camp, Dan Vogelbach will be in Kane County, Jose Paniagua is having visa problems, and Brett Jackson may return soon from Iowa.

Cubs fans must continue to widen the focus, zooming out to see the impressive big picture work . If the product in the middle of the screen is enjoyable, that's just a bonus.

Welcome back, Paul Konerko's brain. Welcome back, Anthony Rizzo's swing.

I can't wait to watch these two hit. Rizzo's first full season, knowing it's his job and that pitchers will game-plan for him, will be interesting. And how long can Paulie continue to tweak his mechanics and outthink people?

Other objects of my targeted eye: Darwin Barney's fielding, Dale Sveum's infield positioning, Starlin Castro's pitches per plate appearance, Dayan Viciedo's leg kick, Jeff Keppinger's K rate, Alex Rios' gorgeous power swing, and Chris Sale's oft fluctuating velocity.

This is part of the beauty of the game; there's always plenty to see, acres of information to dissect, myriad avenues of conversation to explore.

Welcome back, baseball. It's time.

• Matt Spiegel co-hosts "The McNeil & Spiegel Show" 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Monday-Friday on WSCR 670-AM. Follow him on Twitter @mattspiegel670

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