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Summer’s Balm Here at Last: Play Ball!

It was last April, and things weren’t looking good for our boys in uniform. Full of expectations after a winter of planning, they were faltering. The opposition proved tougher than expected, and the best-laid plans that had looked so promising on paper weren’t paying off on the field. The news media were asking tough questions. Five months later, the fumbling start was forgotten. On a sunny November day in Anaheim, thousands gathered and, in a raucous musical celebration, lavished adulation on their returning heroes.

This is by way of saying that, as it always does, the baseball season has rolled around again. It will be full of joy and agony and surprises and disappointments, because that’s how all baseball seasons are.

For those of us who follow the game and love the game -- and mark another ring around our trunk with each new opening day -- it always takes too long to get here. Even in the Jet Age when everything else comes and goes in a flash, a new season still arrives by stagecoach.

This one arrives late as ever but, oddly, just in time. We need the respite from the daily mental drudgery of war news and life’s other challenges. In a time of inconstancy and potential peril, the return of baseball to the sports pages is time-tested balm for millions.

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The “war” that is a baseball season is the playful kind of war -- where the word doesn’t really mean what it means -- but it’s OK to use it because everybody knows it.

Tonight, the Angels and Rangers open the 2003 season, and baseball fans everywhere can unplug CNN for three hours.

Speaking of fans, are any as eager as those here in Orange County, who a lifetime ago (five months by the calendar), turned the parking lot at Edison Field into Woodstock West in toasting the Angels?

Doubtful.

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Yet, so many questions. Can the Angels repeat? Will success spoil the Rally Monkey? Could it ever be as fun for Angel fans as it was last year?

For the answers, you’re probably thinking you should flip to the sports pages right about now. Before you do, let me pose a question.

Who wrote on opening day a year ago that the 2002 team would win the fans’ hearts? (“I’ve got a weird feeling this is the year of second chances between fans and Angels,” were the actual words, in case you’ve forgotten.)

Here’s a hint: the same scribe who a few sentences later wrote: “The Disney people aren’t spending Arizona [Diamondbacks] dollars, but the Angels still might have a better team this season than the defending [World Series] champs.”

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It’s not that the ultimate fulfillment of that brilliant analysis wasn’t marked by a burning early-season desire to recant it. The newspapers on April 24 told us the Angels were 10 1/2 games behind first-place Seattle and, at 6-14, off to the worst start in franchise history. Reporters had to ask manager Mike Scioscia if he was feeling the heat. “We still believe in this club,” Scioscia said.

So it goes in a baseball season. He who is last can later be first.

A year ago, I wrote that my patio had a rotting lemon in one corner and a fresh lily in the other. Nobody knew what I was talking about, but those are my favorite kinds of metaphors.

“With this Angels team,” I concluded, “I see lilies in the field.”

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Naturally, you want my prediction for the 2003 season. Can our boys do it again? Were they lucky last year?

Yes, they can do it again. No, they weren’t lucky.

But, oh guru, will they do it again?

Sorry, I’m out of the predicting business.

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Which means that now would be a good time for you to turn to the sports section.

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Dana Parsons’ column appears Wednesdays, Fridays and Sundays. He can be reached at (714) 966-7821, at dana.parsons@latimes.com or at The Times’ Orange County edition, 1375 Sunflower Ave., Costa Mesa, CA 92626.


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