FOR many people, the return of spring means the arrival of sumptuous foliage, the desire to book tickets to Paris, maybe the oft-delayed time to get serious about shaping up for summer clothes.
For seam-heads such as me and maybe you, spring means something else: that baseball season is finally here.
There will now be lots of thrilling games and me cheering so loud that I can't talk on the way home; of tailgating in the parking lot with friends and beverages while chucking balls at each other's dried-up gloves near new SUVs; of lazing on a sofa and watching a televised game as the air conditioner plays its ugly tune in the distance, and of sipping stealth-bomber-colored coffee over the newspaper's box scores in the morning.
And of course, all the same ol' cheesy and stale things writers describe when it comes to the sights, sounds, and smells of baseball, such as the crack of the bat, the scent of freshly mown fields, the aroma of a condiment-overloaded hot dog.
In the cold confines of winter I walk around like Herman Munster and wring my hands like the crotchety Mr. Potter from "It's a Wonderful Life."
But when spring flowers, I'm a chrysalis emerging with a breezy gait and fluid gesticulations. Thanks to the vernal equinox and baseball, I live again when spring has sprung.
Addiction to baseball is a strange affair. Why do some of us obsess over the game while others call it the most boring sport on the planet?
For those who dislike the game, let me say that something wonderful happens with baseball if you hang in there.
For many people, I guess baseball is like an uncomely "blind date." Actually, you might find the date ugly upon introduction. But within short order, you're strangely, inexplicably attracted, and you can't figure out why.
A certain magnetism occurs; a tractor beam goes into effect.
We have all seen passionate relationships develop between two people even after one (or both) of them originally was not attracted to the other. One goes on to recognize the stunning beauty of the other, who once seemed so plain.
Baseball has beauty, too, but those of you who hate it might have to hang around its homeliness for a while to see it.
Trust me, there is an inner beauty.
By chance, if you are not yet smitten with baseball, you should be warned - as this new baseball season begins - that it's entirely possible that you could be grabbed hard, at any given moment, and become addicted to baseball like the rest of us diehard fans.
Before you know it, the televised games become entertaining.
When your chosen team's game is televised, especially if it's playing a rival, you'll ditch friends early and flake on appointments. You'll start following your team as it travels around the country.
The color and play-by-play announcers might even become, as they did for me, the 13th and 14th disciples, teaching you intimate details of an expanded religion.
Truly hooked, it will be too late for countermeasures. You'll find another new friend, the jocular buddy of baseball, the sports pages.
If you've always loved numbers and facts, you're in luck because baseball is chock full with them. You can chat with other baseball fans for hours about the baseball affliction we all share via the sports pages.
We're connected to the common bond of the sports pages, which have some of the best writers around, men and women you love reading every day for their off-the-wall wit and creativity, their truculent views on the color of the game and their soul-searching introspection into baseball's reverie. They are perfect for readers who have been sucked into baseball's gravitational field.
Before you know it, you'll be rattling off batting averages, pitch speeds, slugging percentages, and talking about who hit the latest 462-foot towering shot.
The sickness gets worse. You'll speak in tongues, uttering sounds of gibberish, but to other baseball fans, we'll know you're just talking about earned-run averages, on-base percentages, rotator-cuff injuries, and about how darn ugly a woman Barry Bonds would make.
With shameful guilt, I admit that I once bought a baseball glove long ago for a girlfriend so we could play catch on romantic picnics.
Who cared if she looked like a Macy's model and had long French fingernails?
Baseball will make you do such things - at least that's what my ex-girlfriend told me after she threw her new, open-webbed, deep-well pocketed RBG-50 Rawlings glove into a pond.
Robert Ward is a writer living in Santa Cruz, Calif. He retrieved the ballglove from the pond and still has it.