Best season ever on baseball horizon?

The 2011 World Series was exhilarating and memorable and everything a baseball fan could have wanted. But the time for reflection is over. Nearly four months have passed since the St. Louis Cardinals stomped on the Busch Stadium infield. We have waited long enough. It’s time to apply a dollop of sunscreen and say the magic words.

Pitchers and catchers.

We can argue about which sport is the best. But there is no doubt — at all — as to which has the greatest prelude. There is little romance in layup drills, blocking dummies or exhibition hockey. The same people who wouldn’t drive 20 minutes to see the NBA or NHL gladly travel 20 hours to watch big leaguers stretch under the sun.

It’s a national ritual. And it’s here again.

I have covered spring trainings since 2005. I have been a baseball fan since I was 5 years old. And this year, there are more reasons for unbridled anticipation, in more cities, than I can ever recall.

I want to see one of the greatest baseball seasons of my lifetime.

I want to see the throng of media following the every move of Japanese sensation Yu Darvish as he goes through his first workout with the Texas Rangers.

I want to see Darvish actually pitch.

I want to see Miami Marlins manager Ozzie Guillen put on a glove and work with the left side of his infield, Jose Reyes and Hanley Ramirez.

I want to see Big Z become the Big Nice.

I want to see what Dustin Pedroia has to say on the first day of Red Sox spring training.

I want to see the first Detroit Tigers lineup card that has “CABRERA” listed above “FIELDER.”

I want to see Josh Hamilton stay sober.

I want to see the soon-to-be 45-year-old Omar Vizquel whir around second base, the way he did as a rookie with the Seattle Mariners — in 1989.

I want to see Bryce Harper, who was not yet born in 1989, dig in against Justin Verlander in a Grapefruit League game.

I want to see Harper do one of two things: strike out or wallop a 500-foot home run.

I want to see Buster Posey wearing catcher’s equipment.

I want to see Jim Thome play first base for the Phillies — seven years after he last played first base for the Phillies.

I want to see how the defending champion Cardinals look without No. 5 and No. 10 — but with No. 50 (Adam Wainwright).

I want to see Ichiro Suzuki bat somewhere other than leadoff, for the good of the team.

I want to see Jamie Moyer, 49 years young, inspire middle-aged athletes around the country by making the Colorado Rockies’ Opening Day roster.

I want to see the fans at Angel Stadium go berserk when Albert Pujols jogs to the third-base line on April 6.

I want to see an optimistic home opener at Dodger Stadium, free from the violence and ownership drama of 2011.

I want to see Mariano Rivera jog toward the mound at Yankee Stadium as Metallica blares, because records are made to keep growing.

I want to see Jose Bautista make fans across Canada stop what they’re doing whenever he comes to bat.

I want to see the classy Paul Konerko get his 400th home run.

I want to see Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau healthy again.

I want to see Joe Maddon continue defying — and defeating — The Book of Conventional Baseball Wisdom.

I want to see Ryan Braun step into the batter’s box at Miller Park, whether it’s early April or early June.

I want to see Kansas City shine as host of the All-Star Game, the first jewel event at Kauffman Stadium since the 1985 World Series.

I want to see the Pittsburgh Pirates have a winning season — on the 20th anniversary of their last one.

I want to see the sport pick up where it left off — after Game 162 and the best World Series in at least a decade.

I want to see one of the greatest baseball seasons of my lifetime.

And I think I will.

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