Spring training is in full swing -- in Jupiter and O'Fallon.
I managed to get out on a couple of recent days that the temperature was pushing 40 and, I have to admit, it's going to take me a while to get in game shape.
I could immediately see I was a little rusty. That's because I left the hoe and shovel on the patio instead of bringing them in after the last fall potato dig. I thought a good oiling would bring them back to life, but I might have to break in some new equipment.
Pitchers and catchers were the first to report. The garage was so full it was getting tough to open the car doors. So we had to play catch-up and pitch a lot of the junk that had accumulated over the winter.
There were plenty of calisthenics involved. Pushing boxes up the ladder and into the attic. Squats to pick up trash and leaves. Stretching to put things on the high shelves. Jumbo Jacks (oops, that was lunch).
There were even wind sprints when those 20 mph gusts got hold of the papers I was carrying to the car for recycling.
I looked around the neighborhood and it looks like we're going to have a pretty good lineup this year. There are a couple veteran lawn and garden guys in the neighborhood who had good stats last year. Tomatoes and turnips the size of softballs. Thick, lush turf. The kind of guys who give 110 percent and you can count on to produce in the clutch.
Then there are the rookies who moved in next door. I don't think they've had a big-league garden before. But they look like they have a lot of potential. They're young and quick and have a lot of enthusiasm. The real test will be to see if they can handle the curves Mother Nature throws at them -- drought, too much rain, hail, wind.
I'll be happy to give them a few pointers if they ask.
This is a comeback year for me, though. I struck out with pole beans last year because the rabbits kept nibbling off the sprouts. And I was in a bit of slump at the end of the season when borers got to the crookneck yellow squash before I did.
I was afraid I was going to have to have Tommy Smothers surgery in the off-season. I had pulled a muscle smiling that silly Tommy Smothers grin when I showed off the first red tomato of the season around the neighborhood. But after a lot of rehab and frowns following a rotting onions disaster, it went away on its own.
If I'm going to have a winner, I'm going to have to work on my defense. De fence I toggle together every year to keep the rabbits from eating all the garden profits. It also keeps my son's dog from trampling the lettuce when he's chasing a tennis ball or using the leeks patch for ... well ... never mind.
My top priority is finding a big, strong closer. I'm great at starting lawn and garden projects --- digging the garden by hand as soon as the soil is workable; planting grass seed, vegetables and flowers; watering, fertilizing and weeding. But I tend to run out of gas down the stretch in summer's late innings when the weeds and bugs get the best of me.
I had a promising lefthander in the farm system but he became a free agent, moved to St. Louis and is starting a garden of his own.
Don't worry. By the time the Cardinals head north from spring training, I'll be ready for the real thing. Most nice days, you'll find me out digging in the garden, Cardinals cap on, the radio blaring Mike Shannon and John Rooney's call of the Cardinal games.
With any luck, this year we'll both be on top of our game come October.
Pat Kuhl is the features and sports editor of the News-Democrat. He can be reached t 239-2537 or at email@example.com.