They finally agreed to bring back real big-league baseball, at least at the end of April, but can they bring back the poetry they stole from it?
It’s up to the players. Even though they didn’t really cause the strike, most fans blame them because they make so much money, and that leaves it up to them to bring it back the way it was. Or at least the way we imagine it to be.
What we want back - what will not leave our imaginings, for the great hold it has taken on so many of us - is the lazy kind of time that makes baseball so relatively carefree compared with the frenzy of football or basketball.
We want to enjoy.
The residue of rancor from baseball’s screwiest strike won’t go away by itself. The players and, absolutely, the owners, stripped away so much of the cadence and sweetness of our game, including a normal schedule.
Into that void rushed a public sense of being defrauded by both sides.
Now baseball has to be resold, and only one group can resell it - the players. Or do we know someone who goes to a ballpark to watch an owner own?
The players can try a little more friendliness and a little less arrogance. Make fans feel wanted. Volunteer autographs, instead of acting as though the kid is asking for an arm or a leg.
I never thought Marlins replacements would draw an average of 16,000 fans, as Wayne Huizenga predicted, and now we should never find out. But we did find substantial emotional support for the replacements.
You know why? Because they are more like us than the real bigleaguers.
The big-leaguers should take that lesson, that fans love to see athletes bust their butts, love watching players who act like they want to be out there for more than money.
Of course, there is a danger of taking all this too seriously. We’re talking simple escapism, not national security. However, baseball has been a pleasant little part of our springtimes and summertimes forever, and the rupture of it has been practically arterial to a lot of people not directly involved in terms of jobs or income.
Those people are fans.
They will come back because baseball renews itself as no other sport does, but it has never had to renew itself as it will now, because both sides showed such contempt for all of us.
Fans are getting smarter. They no longer imagine this little truce means baseball is all peaches and cream from here on.
They know not to listen to Bud Selig, who is just a businessman feeling a squeeze, not Sportsman of the Year. They know to roll their eyes at the perorations of Don Fehr, the unionist whose chief interest sometimes seems to be spiting the owners.
It’s still a mess, without semblance of clean agreement. The nature of the cease-fire makes it all the more important that players use it to make things right with the fans. At least until the next time.
So give ‘em a smile, guys.
Run out every ball.
Run - don’t walk - to offer autographs.
Tip your hats when they clap.
Because even if baseball wouldn’t be baseball without you, the fans have finally gotten wise to this: You need them more than they need you.