Cheap Seats

Let the games begin

The Cardinals kicked off their Grapefruit League schedule Monday afternoon with a 6-3 loss to their Roger Dean Stadium roommates, the Florida Marlins.

On most days when the Cardinals lose I’m in a foul mood. But not on this one.

Besides the fact that spring training contests don’t count, which takes a lot of the sting out of being on the short end of the score, it’s good to know that baseball is again being played somewhere on a freshly mowed field.

And I’m especially excited that we can once again think about hits, runs and errors instead of free agency, $300-million contracts and the checks we had to write for tickets.

For three months we’ve scratched our chins and supposed about what Lance Berkman would look like in right field after a five-year layoff from the outfield or how the pitching would hold up. Now we can finally put all that talk to rest and let things take care of themselves on the field.

Berkman took his place in right field Monday and the pressure of returning to a position he hasn’t played in years didn’t seem to carry over to the plate. He was 2-for-2 in his St. Louis debut with the Cardinals’ first home run of the spring.

Because of the importance of his bat in the Redbirds line-up, it was great to see Berkman make a splash in his first opportunity.

The pitching hiccup — the Cardinals gave up four runs in the first two innings — isn’t even something to bother getting worked up about.

Minor league journeyman Raul Valdez, 34, was tagged for all four runs. If the lefty Cuba native is on the Cardinals’ opening day roster, then there will be something worth worrying about.

But those matters have four weeks to sort themselves out.

I used to think that attending the World Series was the ultimate baseball experience. And I’m not just jaded as a Cardinals fan who has been to five Fall Classics when I say it’s actually more fun to go to a spring training game.

In addition to the treat of getting to see the young, hungry players who are fighting for major league jobs it’s just an exhilarating experience to feel the sunshine on your face, smell the grass and hear the crack of the bat after a long, cold winter.

There’s no drama because the games don’t count. You can actually appreciate the play on the field for what it is — not for the implications to the playoff picture.

No matter what Albert Pujols’ contract status is or how Adam Wainwright’s elbow is recovering from Tommy John surgery, it’s hard not to be optimistic about baseball when the calendar turns to March.