I tend to keep Yaz close by when the season starts.

Opening Day — for our purposes, this falls on April 1 this season — is a little more than two weeks away. Between reading up on the team in Spring Training and psyching myself up for a couple of games where I have tickets, I’ve built up a decent amount of excitement.

So, what better place to share that excitement than here. If you’re not completely geeked out about the return of baseball, here are some ways to get there.

1. Read up on your team

I imagine most healthy, functional people don’t commit quite so much energy to following their favorite teams in the offseason, occupied with the likes of football, basketball, hockey, families, jobs, eating, etc. But March is the perfect time to read up on who your team picked up for 2011, who’s been let go, and who’s trying to make the team.

If you’re reading this, then there’s no doubt that you’re aware I pour all of my baseball obsession into the Boston Red Sox. They made a big splash with Adrian Gonzalez and Carl Crawford, and reinforced the bullpen with Bobby Jenks and Dan Wheeler, among others. They also said goodbye to Adrian Beltre (signed with Texas), Victor Martinez (Detroit) and Mike Lowell (retirement).

But don’t stop with your boys. Learn what you can about the rest of the league. I love talking to friends who root for a team other than Boston. A good friend of mine was baptized by the Bash Brothers and is an authority on all things Oakland A’s. Another follows my National League team of choice, the Arizona Diamondbacks, religiously. One rides the Atlanta Braves to disappointment every year. My Chicago friends are split between the Cubs and the White Sox. My boss is a New York Yankees fan. We throw lineups and trade scenarios back and forth, and it’s always in good fun.

2. Embrace rituals and superstitions

As I gear up for a new season, I usually queue up a few baseball movies. Bull Durham is the primary flick, and I might put that one on twice before April 1 rolls by. Field of Dreams, Eight Men Out and Major League might also get some attention. (Why did all the best baseball movies come out between 1987 and 1989?)

But by Opening Day, I’m usually in full crazy mode. If the Red Sox need a rally, it’s not inconceivable that I’ll grab my Jason Varitek figure and position him strategically on the couch. I’m also known to grab the 1972 Carl Yastrzemski baseball card, shown above, off my desk and keep it in my hands or next to my seat if I’m feeling antsy. It’s a kids’ game, and I let myself act like one when appropriate.

Speaking of which…

3. Go find some baseball cards

If you collected cards as a kid and haven’t junked them, pull them out, flip through the Pat Listach and Kevin McReynolds cards, and remind yourself how other-worldly the game felt at first.

But don’t be afraid to stop there. If you’re out at Target or a drug store and spot a pack of 2011 cards, don’t feel ashamed to plunk down $3 for a pack. Just remember: they’re not worth anything, and they never will be. If you look at cards as an investment of any kind, you’re binding yourself to disappointment. As it turns out, most cards printed after 1980 aren’t worth squat. To prove the point, I recently bought a 1980 Carlton Fisk baseball card on eBay. Fisk, you might remember, set the record for most games spent behind the plate, is an icon in Boston and Chicago, and is a member of the Hall of Fame.

I paid a penny for Fisk’s image, plus 99 cents shipping. A Lady Gaga song costs more on iTunes.

4. Get your reading list in order

I have a decent list of interweb stops every morning, where I get all my Red Sox news, as well as anything else that’s notable in the majors. Some of these include:

ESPN Boston’s Red Sox blog: This is mostly tended by Gordon Edes, the veteran Sox reporter who brought his good-natured style to ESPN last year. It’s a good, quick catch-all for everything that happens to the team.

Better Red Than Dead: Jon Couture reloads each game every morning, compiling the best links and quotes from the previous day while offering his own smart and sometimes snarky take on the Sox.

(Disclaimer: Cooch is a very good friend, and has been for some time. But don’t hold that against him, he’s still awesome.)

Essence of Baseball: Another friend, Cee Angi, will be covering the Red Sox all season, and has gotten off to a solid start this spring. She brings her delightful and occasionally hilarious point of view on all things Sox, and updates on all the essentials, including lineups, injuries, moves, and so on.

Also, don’t be frightened, but she actually likes Jason Varitek more than I do. I know. Scary.

Cardboard Gods: I’ve written about him before, but Josh Wilker likely has the most poetic mind of anyone writing about the game today, and all funneled through the prism of his baseball card collection. He’s currently writing on all things 2011, predicting each team’s future based on a card he pulls at random from his shoebox.

If you’re new to the Cardboard Gods, check out his entry on Dwight Evans for some beautiful baseball scribbles.

Joe Posnanski: He might have too much faith in Baseball Reference‘s Wins Above Replacement statistic (and if I see it again used as a primary stat, I swear to Dwight Evans I’ll scream), but he’s one of the more thoughtful sports writers working today, and he spends most of his time, it seems, on this beautiful game. And when it comes to the Kansas City Royals, he’s certainly the last word on the club, albeit reluctantly.

Also worth noting: Pitchers and Poets, Flip Flop Fly Ball, the Rob Neyer-run SB Nation, and, of course, Baseball Reference.

5. Remember what’s important

Baseball is leisurely, tense, exhilarating, maddening, frustrating and perplexing, but most of all, it’s long. Games are typically long, and the season is exceptionally long. With that in mind, remember that, above all, baseball is fun. At the end of the year, 29 teams end their season unhappy, but that shouldn’t always make for an unhappy experience from a fan perspective.

Follow your guys, make changes along with the manager, lose your mind when a home run ends a game. But don’t go over the edge. It’s a game, and it should be treated as such.

Advertisements