We grumbled all the way to the O's ticket office


Excuse me. Did I miss something?

The way I understand it, baseball is back. Our long national nightmare is over. The baseball poets can safely disengage their life-support systems. In three short weeks, real baseball with real players resumes.

I thought this is what we've all been waiting for.

So, why does everyone seem so miserable?

To me, here's how you react when they tell you baseball's back. You throw a party. You practice spitting. You start an office pool. A possible pool idea -- how much hair will Cal Ripken have left when he breaks the consecutive-game record?

Try to imagine a summer in town without baseball. It would be like Congress without Newt. What would there be to talk about?

Baseball's back. The fools who held the game hostage have returned it to us. I'm thinking, let's par-tay. Meanwhile, everybody else is dressed in ashes and sackcloth, which are not -- and I know it's been a while -- regulation seasonal sports wear.

You've heard the moaning.

Something vital has been ruined, people insist.

A sacred, dating-back-at-least-to-the-Babe compact between the game and its fans has been broken, perhaps forever.

Nothing will be the same, they say, with the possible exception of Sid Fernandez' waistline.

I listen to this stuff and wonder if anyone, other than George Will, actually believes any of it. Or is it just something people feel they have to say?

OK. You understand what's going on here. We want somebody in charge -- anybody will do -- to say the owners and players are sorry. We want it clear that the fans are the victims here.

Since nobody is saying that, people feel like they have to do, or at least say, something, which is basically: Hey, pal, what about me?

In Baltimore, where baseball is more a way of life than a game, we've had the expected post-strike, ticket-buying frenzy. The Orioles sold 25,000 tickets the first day. (I know somebody who's partying: Ticketmaster.)

But even the people standing (and standing, and standing, and standing) in line to buy the tickets had to sound off, saying stuff like: "I hate the players, I hate the owners, I hate everybody but the peanuts guy. What we should do is boycott all these millionaires into the Stone Age. If that doesn't work, we can make them eat the ballpark food."

You hear grunts of agreement until the person actually gets to the ticket window, and then it's: "How many tickets are you allowed to buy at once?"

Of course, that's Baltimore. If we didn't have baseball here, we'd be left with bupkus. We don't have football. We don't have basketball. Do we still have indoor soccer?

What we have is a sold-out baseball mecca. We're addicted to the game and we're addicted to Camden Yards. We got a monkey on our backs the size of the Bromo Tower.

You can talk about how greedy players are and owners are and how they don't care about the fans. Like, this is some revelation? They've always been greedy. They've never cared about us. We're greedy for the games.

There have been plenty of strikes before. People always complain. The fans always come back. The owners -- and talk radio -- depend on it.

Here's the deal. It's a no-brainer. You don't have to think about it. It's not deep. Baseball isn't a metaphor for America and the strike didn't represent the end of a proud civilization. Baseball is -- pay attention here -- a game.

If you still like baseball -- and most people who did before probably still do -- you can now go to the game, or you can watch one on TV or you can listen to one on the radio. That's the meaning of the strike. If you don't like baseball, well, it didn't really matter if there was a strike or not.

I'm a radio guy myself. It's the way I started. I spent most of my youth in a town that didn't have major league baseball. My link was a transistor radio that I tucked under my pillow. Baseball seeped into my brain.

And this is the time of year when I turn on the old AM dial and expect to hear the familiar sounds of, well, beer commercials. Oh, yeah, and also Jon Miller describing a stand-up triple.

That's baseball.

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