Deeper than “Fall Classic,” more inclusive than “October” and less final than “Cooperstown.”
The four most significant words in the baseball vernacular were uttered this week.
Pitchers and catchers report.
Now they don’t mean all that much yet because regular season games are six weeks away.
Jeremy Lin will still dominate 55 minutes of an hour-long SportsCenter. NFL Draft prospects will still rise and fall on the whims quarter inches, single plays against Samford and Chris Berman’s ability to give nicknames.
But new sod has been laid, chalk lines drawn and dozens of dugout floors clean before the coming onslaught of spit, dip and seeds.
Hurlers trek to Florida and Arizona with pictures of babies to show their battery partners and jokes to unleash during long toss.
There’s a few days to enjoy the local golf courses before position players show up and hoot and holler teams right out of respectability with the club pro.
But most of all, pitchers and catchers reporting means erasing the painful memories of 2011 — everywhere except St. Louis — and starting fresh.
Teams begin anew in 2012 with zeroes in the loss column and an opportunity for the Next Big Thing to earn a spot on the Major League roster.
From now until Opening Day, skippers will toy with lineups, stars will feign injury so they can lay by the pool and catchers may wonder whether this minor league invite has every actually thrown a curveball.
America’s Pastime is an arduous, grueling season. The excitement in April tends to fade or increase by August depending on your team’s place in the standings.
But having a baseball game on television in the background enlivens summer nights, sitting in the bleachers makes the beer taste a little colder and that lousy excuse for a hot dog seem tolerable.
You can’t get there without the first step.
And with pitchers and catchers reporting, baseball has peaked over the horizon.
It sees Jeremy Lin, nods at the NFL’s stranglehold on the sports cycle and sighs the way an old man does when he knows something the young don’t.
The tarps, stretched across diamonds in the winter have been pulled back.
Aces, projects and veteran catchers are lacing up their cleats for the first time, for the thousandth time.
Baseball isn’t here just yet but with four words, it’s close.