The Major League Baseball season begins in earnest this week, and with it comes the renewal of spring, a season of hope that is particularly welcome this year as a replacement for our long, cold, bitter winter of discontent.
Both the Cubs and the White Sox open the 2014 season on Monday, and we predict pennants for each. In fact, we predict an all-Chicago World Series not witnessed since the glorious classic of 1906 when the Hitless Wonders surprised Mordecai Brown and the legend of Tinker-to-Evers-to-Chance.
Well, OK, probably not this year. But maybe at some point in our lifetimes. OK, maybe not.
But at least baseball is here again. And with it spring, the promise of sunshine and above all, the spirit of hope and optimism.
There was a time when baseball was America's dominant sport. It played out in spring, summer and fall and then was talked about incessantly in the hot stove leagues in winter.
The World Series then was a national event, dominating newspaper sports pages coast to coast, no matter who was participating (and granted, usually it was the Yankees, and often against the Giants of the Polo Grounds or the Dodgers of Brooklyn).
Baseball is still popular, as attendance and ratings clearly show, but it has fallen for various reasons to a second tier below pro football, and it probably will not be resurrected to the national passion it once was.
Sadly, the World Series now is largely a regional event, much like the NBA and NHL championships. Not that the rest of the country doesn't notice. The purists do. But in general, the World Series is now a pervasive event in the two cities that host it, but a sidelight of sorts for the rest of the country.
But there still is a magic about the game that the other sports can never quite capture. Despite its bouts with performance enhancing drugs and multimillion-dollar free agents, it remains both a sport and a form of relaxation that the speed or prevalent gambling of other sports fails to duplicate.
The pristine beauty of the game and its conversations, the bubble-gum folklore, the parent-and-child bonding, these all are part of the wondrous summer days and evenings glorying in not just athletic exploits but also in summer itself.
It is, as Roger Angell so exquisitely described it, "the summer game."
From time to time, we'll hear the disparaging phrase "meaningless game" on a sports talk show or read the words in a baseball column. From time to time, we'll hear Cubs fans knocked because "they go to Wrigley Field for the ballpark."
Those critics don't truly understand baseball or, for that matter, sport. Because winning and losing isn't the only thing, despite what Leo Durocher so famously said.
Yes, the runs and hits are precious ingredients. The plays you never saw before are part of the allure. But only part. Baseball is more than a game. It is an atmosphere. It is an experience.
And it's an experience, on this season-opening week, worthy of some celebration.