COULD there be a more popular American expression than the one uttered each year this day: "Play ball!"?
The days are still cold; cleats are biting semifrozen soil. But soon the climes will warm, it will be July, and we want to cheer the clean single to right. We want Nolan Ryan in his last season to burn a strike three on the corner. We need the dusty thriller-slide into home; even the umpire's outrageous call when our man gets the hooked thumb, "out." We don't even mind it when Hostess introduces, as it has done, a baseball-shaped twinkie.
The game had a definite renaissance in the '80s. "Field of Dreams" and all that. Being from Boston, we date this to the glorious Red Sox pennant run of 1986 when our boys of summer played the New York Mets in the World Series. (It's always hard to remember who won that Series - we'll get back to you.) But as Humphrey Bogart said in a much-replayed ad, the appeal was to "go out to the ballpark and forget your troubles."
That's getting harder to do: There are too many troubles right in the park. It's the owners. It's the players. Baseball should be about baseball. But money is killing the game.
Congress held hearings last week aimed at owners' immunity to antitrust laws that permit carving the nation into TV markets that control baseball. And Steinbrenner is back.
As for the players, a fan put it well: "I can't see .240 hitters making a million a year charging kids for autographs. That's too much."
We cheer baseball's memory and hope for better times. So does "Peanuts" artist Charles Schulz. After 40 years failing, last week Charlie Brown hit a home run, yes, and won the game! The world needs a few home runs right now.