Spring training isn’t just for baseball players; it’s also for baseball fans. February and March are a time for fans to condition themselves – and perhaps their wardrobes – for the coming season.

Not even the NCAA’s March Madness can dilute the fervor of true baseball fans. The off-season has prepped them well to believe that this is THE year for “their guys,” that Opening Day will be “the start of something big.”

So, while their heroes are tuning up in the lands of cactus and citrus, baseball fans, up north and elsewhere, are conditioning themselves for the season that is taking shape.

Here in Cubbie-land, fans’ conditioning regimen is all too familiar. As always, there is  an excitement of “What if …?” in the air, but also the indelible expectations of a June swoon, July slide and the inevitable September sorrows.

The Trib, Sun-Times and assorted media provide updates on old injuries, contract negotiations, new players offering mainly positive scenarios for the months ahead. Cubs fans can always be “had” this time of year. They will believe anything that hints of hope, that tells them, “This IS the year!”

But Cubs fans’ hopes are like crocuses in early March: any finger of sun perks them up, seduces them into full bloom only to wither with harsh reality. Still, Wrigley keeps selling out while Cub fans manage to see post-season possibilities in every win until the numbers tell them otherwise. They know that in baseball hope is always stepping into the batter’s box or taking the mound and that any blue W means World Series possibilities.

There’s no changing how Cubs fans get themselves ready for the grueling season ahead.

While their team may be “lovable losers,” their fans are “incurable dreamers.” They cannot help themselves to be otherwise. The meaning of baseball is as much about tomorrow as it is about today. Yesterday’s score – or last season’s disasters – are nowhere in sight for the true fan. History? Certainly. A hundred-year drought is impossible to ignore. And heroes?  Of course. What would any fan be without them?

Baseball is all about “the flowers that bloom in the spring, tra-la” and fans do their own spring training humming that ditty. It’s their way of coping with winter’s woes, no doubt. But Cubs fans also have a cathedral – with ivied walls and an ancient scoreboard, in a wonderfully accommodating neighborhood – to house their hopes and soothe their sorrows, allowing them to believe in an afterlife called “Next year!”