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Three little words. Eight little letters.

OK, technically, four little words and 25 little letters. Five little words and 31 little letters, if you count when pitchers and catchers report, today. But you get the idea. Pitchers and catchers report. A beautiful little set of words.

Feb. 14, Valentine’s Day, is one thing, and a fine thing it is, but to half the population, “pitchers and catchers report” is as anticipated a phrase as “I love you” is to the better half.

Feb. 14 was all right, I suppose. No rings were purchased, so at least there’s that. And you know what they say: “it ain’t over till the…” fill in the blank.

Feb. 15 is the special day, as far as I’m concerned. Not quite a religious holiday, like Opening Day (proper noun, to be displayed using uppercase letters always, AP Style be damned), but close. And no, while I guessed right on flowers, dinner and romance for her (like, duh), there was no MLB Extra Innings package all wrapped up pretty for me this Valentine’s Day. So clearly, there’s work to be done on the relationship.

Whatever. Pitchers and catchers report today — finally. FIN-AL-LY! The off-season never seemed longer than it did this year, and I have absolutely no idea how I made it. Your team goes out in the first round, the winter just seems longer. And agonizingly so this time.

A full slate of Cactus League games are scheduled for Thursday, March 1, with the Padres and Seattle playing the first of three against each other. It’s a home-and-home for both, sort of, since the clubs both train at the Peoria Sports Complex. Including the opening set, games will be played daily, with a couple of split-squad arrangements, straight through to March 31, when San Diego rounds out exhibitions at Phoenix, against the Diamondbacks. Thirty-three games total.

Major League Baseball celebrates the 2007 beginning with the Mets at St. Louis, on ESPN’s Sunday Night Baseball, April 1, at 8:05 p.m. With nothing to do but watch a bunch of Openers on Monday, April 2, San Diego gets going, and pardon the cliché, for keeps, Tuesday, April 3, 1:05 p.m., at San Francisco.

And if you’re thinking, Pads-Giants, grudge-match, with ex-mates all over the bleeping place, yep, that’ll be the day. Of course, if you can’t wait for that one, there’s always Frisco at Peoria, Sunday, March 25, 1:05 p.m.

Remember, glove conquers all.

— HOWARD COLE

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