Spring is the time of renewal, of rebirth. Winter’s icy tendrils recede, the false sunlight of January replaced by the real life-giving warmth of May. Grass that has lain dusty and barren reemerges in deep hues of green. Days grow warmer, nights grow longer, and life becomes that little bit brighter.

After a pandemic winter of 13 long months, this spring feels all the more reinvigorating.

Oh, sure, we had a summer last year. The sun still rose, as did the temperatures–which rose too high, come to think of it–and yes, the boys of summer wielded the leather and the lumber, the crack of the bats and the supple thwack of the ball hitting the glove providing the idyllic soundtrack as kaleidoscopic sunsets melted into warm, moonlit nights.

But really, was it summer? Was it the season of our childhood fantasies, our nostalgias made manifest? Far from it. Beach parties were socially distant; weddings, as joyous as they were, were held under anxious conditions; and in baseball parks across America, live audiences were replaced by two-dimensional cutouts, the reverberance of the crowd replaced by the canned proclivities of a nameless audio engineer.

COVID-19 has taken so much from us; opportunities, milestones, and–the most painful of all–our loved ones. Still it rages on. Two days ago, 950 Americans lost their lives due to the virus. More will surely follow.

But the Four Horsemen of Vaccination have arrived. Pfizer, Moderna, AstraZeneca, and Johnson & Johnson bring with them the ticket to normalcy. We are not over the hill yet, but the horizon is coming tantalizingly closer.

To talk about baseball in a time like this seems trivial. What space is there for a simple game in a world of insurrections, pandemics, and comically big boats blocking global trade?

To us–and, perhaps, to you, dear reader–baseball is more than a game. Spring Training portends the imminent end of winter; Opening Day the unquestionable arrival of spring. This season, it feels all the more special. Gone is the 60-day sprint; returned is the 162-game marathon. Fans–in small quantities, at least–will be back in the bleachers to support their teams. The beers are still overpriced, the restrooms still smell like the seventh level of Hell…it’s like we never left.

One of the cliches about Opening Day is that hope springs eternal. Every single team, even my lowly Tigers, will finish today no worse than one game out of first place. Each and every player can dream of a pennant, a playoff berth, a World Series trophy.

That is true this year, as every year; but this year, we share the hope of our teams, in more ways than one. Opening Day means spring is here, and summer is just around the corner, with all the adventures and memories to be had. This year, unlike the last, they’re ours for the taking.

So stay safe; get the vaccine; and let’s shed the winter coats in favor of sunglasses, shorts, and baseball caps. Play Ball, America; baseball is back. And so are we.

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