THE baseball season begins next week as far as we're concerned - the way it used to before everybody got greedy and expanded the schedule at both ends. We just can't get accustomed to the earlier (and earlier) date for the opening game. It's bad enough for batters to have to hit the baseball while squinting into a background of white shirts in the bleachers in July. But when they have to pick up a slow curve in the middle of a snow squall in the first week of April - that's carrying a good thing too far.
Why baseball players can't suffer manfully in Florida until May is beyond us. It's not as if nobody knew what baseball in April is like up North. Back in 1912 , before spring training was invented - April 9, to be exact - snow fell on the first game ever played in Boston's Fenway Park.
New England weather being what it is, even late April can be risky enough. Fifty years later, on April 25, 1962, the temperature at Fenway Park dropped from 78 to 58 degrees in 10 minutes.
Just because baseball is the national pastime doesn't mean we have to attach earmuffs to our baseball caps and enjoy the game 12 months a year.
If we won't feel sorry for ourselves in early April and late September, we should at least take pity on the poor pitchers, burning their fastballs at both ends.
If we were the President, we'd stay away from baseball fields as if they were Central America and refuse to throw out the first ball until the first week in May.
Why this desperate haste to begin the season? It's not as if little else sporting were going on. Here are just a few of the balls a fan has to juggle in the cool April air. Baseballs - coming. Basketballs - getting ready to go. Soccer balls - everywhere. And then some busybody had to invent spring football!
All the traditional boundaries that once separated sports seasons are down. In the old days nobody would start a new season until the departing season had closed - any more than one would dig into one's apple pie before one had finished spooning up one's soup. But now if summer sports like baseball are invading winter, winter sports like hockey are invading summer.
While baseball's superstars are blowing on their blue fingers at the moment, perspiring hockey players are performing the annual Stanley Cup grope. We're referring to the inevitable warm April night when fog rises off the ice, leaving the Guy Lafleurs and Wayne Gretzkys wandering about the rink, looking for the puck, as if they were playing King Lear on the heath.
Athletic overlap is everywhere. While baseball shivered its way onstage, the world championship of curling had Duluth, Minn., in a tizzy. And the strong men of the National Open Wrestling championships were falling all over Virginia Beach, Va., as the very best of the joggers practiced getting on their toes for the Boston marathon.
Talk about your jocks competing against one another! And we haven't mentioned the sports that are always there.
Somewhere Tom Watson is forever teeing off - this week in Augusta, Ga., in still another championship of the month, the Masters.
The professional tennis ball never stops bouncing, 52 weeks a year, day and night. In his much-publicized feud with officials, John McEnroe has had to learn to be a furious man for all seasons.
We have come close to arriving at the endless sports season - not to mention the endless sports day, when you can turn on your cable TV at 3:30 in the morning and see auto racing.
The Romans only had gladiators and chariot races to divert them. We are diverted by every spectator sport ever invented - pretty much nonstop, with time out only for the commercials.
It sounds ominous for civilization. But look at it this way. In a country where we're constantly berating ourselves for our short attention span and lack of commitment, here we are, submitting ourselves to a presidential campaign that goes on for years - and a sports season that goes on forever. Who says Americans are soft?