Baseball returns, like an old friend paying a much-needed visit.
This is the season to be jolly. You need some tidings of comfort and joy? Here is the national pastime, starting all over again, creating its annual restoration of the spirit.
The North American regular-season Opening Days are upon us. This means that winter is officially over.
As these words are written, there is still snow on the home grounds. Behind the garage at the edge of the alley, where mountains of the white stuff were piled up this winter, the snow persists. It is almost April and we are still awaiting the big thaw.
But so what? Baseball is a surer sign of spring than any robin.
The 2014 regular season, of course, officially opened on the other side of the globe, when the Dodgers and the D-backs played in Australia. The Dodgers became the early leaders with a two-game sweep Down Under.
And now, the Dodgers and the Padres will lead the way into the Northern Hemisphere portion of the schedule with a Sunday night game in San Diego. It might appear that the Dodgers are playing a high-profile role in baseball's reemergence. That $235 million player payroll is already into the dividend-paying phase.
Monday is the day when a nearly full schedule arrives with 13 games. They'll be playing in Pittsburgh, Detroit, New York (the Borough of Queens), Arlington, Baltimore, Chicago (South Side), Cincinnati, St. Petersburg, Miami, Phoenix, Oakland, Anaheim and Milwaukee.
It is a very good thing that the ballpark in Milwaukee has a retractable roof. Without that roof, the snow removal would still be a work in progress. With that roof, Opening Day can be March 31 instead of May 31.
But what a fine cross-section of American venues; east and west, north and south, Rust Belt, Sun Belt, major market, medium market, small market -- it's a baseball festival. And with 13 games, weather permitting, that means 13 box scores to ponder, to peruse, to memorize if you so desire and are able.
The Yankees and the Astros open Tuesday night in Houston, thus completing the opening package. These are clubs currently at opposite ends of the expectation spectrum. But they will have identical records going in, and this is part of the beauty of the Opening Day state of mind.
No matter how unforgiving, relentless and downright brutal the climate has been over the last four months, we will now be transformed into a state of optimism. All things will be considered possible, at least temporarily. Maybe this is THE year.
And given the current level of baseball's competitive balance, why not feel that way? Over the first 13 seasons of this century, 28 different teams qualified for the postseason at least once. On the topic of the two teams that haven't reached the postseason in the 21st century, Kansas City would be a completely reasonable choice for a Wild Card berth this season. And Toronto, in a highly competitive, volatile American League East, has the talent to be a factor.
This is not a prediction column, other than to note that, given the track record of Planet Earth on meteorological matters, the weather will become substantially warmer over much of North America by May, or at least June.
On the baseball front, you can see the possibility for another fascinating season. Beyond the play itself, we will all watch the expanded replay system to see if it can be accomplished in a timely manner. And even here we will be hopeful, because the system holds the promise that no more outcomes will be decided by calls that are simply wrong.
"Promise" might be the operative word for any Opening Day. It is another beginning, another season, another time of hope. It is a promise of warmer days and nights spent at the ballpark with family and friends. It is a promise of the game itself, 162 games, a moveable baseball feast, not to mention October for those good enough and fortunate enough to go that far.
It is all good. In other words: Play ball!
Mike Bauman is a national columnist for MLB.com.