DSC02709 Baseball is back and spring is in the air, or at least on some days. Chicago has experienced a rather cold spring this year, making me wonder where the impact of Global Warming is in the snow and cold of the last few years. (Please smile, this is not a political statement!)

My hopes often spring eternal when baseball returns but I fear my two favorite teams, the Atlanta Braves in the National League and the Chicago White Sox in the American League, are not going far this year. The Braves have a very full cupboard in the minors and could be on the cusp of another good run soon. (Watch for the 22 year-old pitcher Tommy Hanson when he comes up later this season.) The White Sox have some huge holes in their lineup but could have good starting pitching again. They also have a great closer in Bobby Jenks. But both teams need middle relief, a huge problem in many places it seems. (This is the area where teams try to save money and it shows!)

The Yankees once again bought the best free agent talent on the market but there is no guarantee that this will make them a winner. (Does anyone give Joe Torre the credit he really deserves for winning in New York?) The Tampa Bay Rays are young and for real. I do not think they will fall back to the bottom of the AL East anytime soon. Boston will be there as always. But the Central and West Divisions of the American League seem weaker and could be anyone's to win.

In the National League the Cubs have the talent to roll but I have seen them flop so many times that I wouldn't hold my breath if I were a die-hard Cubs fan. They are the team to beat in the Central, for sure. The West seems wide open again but Los Angeles, with Joe Torre at the helm, has to be the favorite. The East is where the talent seems to be with four teams having a shot at the post-season: Philadelphia, the reigning champions of baseball, the Mets, the Marlins and (maybe) the Braves. No one can look at this season, at least at the beginning, and say, "This is THE TEAM to beat!" I think this is good for the game. It seems MLB got its problems, or at least some of them, worked out. Revenue sharing helps and small market teams can build in the minors and find ways to compete.

I will personally see a lot of minor league games once again. My nearby team, the Kane County Cougars, plays good baseball (Oakland A's Class A team). I can sit right by the field for a very small price. I plan to enjoy major league games on television now and then and see the Cougars in the sunshine. I might even get to a few MLB games courtesy of friends who pity my need for free tickets. (Hint, hint, hint!!!!)

DSC02732 If you love the boys of summer like I do then enjoy this season. My granddaughters carry on our family tradition, as the accompanying photos will show. The White Sox player in the photo at the top left is pitcher Gavin Floyd, a rising young star. The girls enjoyed seeing the third game of the season, even though the Sox lost to Kansas City 2-1. (The photo at the right is Abbie, who loves the Sox mascot Southpaw!) Which reminds me, Kansas City is much improved. I would love to see them enjoy some success again. The same goes for thePittsburgh Pirates, who have the longest string of sub-.500 teams in Major League history, at least if my memory is correct.

"Play ball" is in the air. This is the best time of the year, except for perhaps the fall when college football kids off in prime time.