I’ve always enjoyed sports. I’ve never been much good at them, but I enjoyed playing.

When I was a kid, spring was time for baseball. In the fall, you switched over to soccer. I loved both. Still do. I probably watch more soccer than baseball on television, but that’s partially because I don’t have the nerves that come watching a baseball game. It was and always will be my first love in sports, and watching the Cardinals will inevitably tie my stomach into knots.

Dad took me to a Cardinal game each year. We never had great seats, but it was a chance for me to see the game firsthand. There’s just something about being in the ballpark. Back then it came with the peanut shells underfoot and the smell of cigarettes in the stands. No one in my family smoked, so I associated that smell with a place where I was around smokers. An odd association, perhaps, but a strong one.

Those games were back in the second version of Busch Stadium. The one that I refer to (mostly) affectionately as a stone donut. It held heat, had astroturf and had a huge outfield. These were the days of Whiteyball, when manager Whitey Herzog built his teams around speed and slap hitting. You’d go to a game, watch Ozzie Smith flip on his way to shortstop, and hope he pulled off one of his highlight reel plays.

My freshman year of college spring break happened to coincide with the Cardinals’ home opener. One of the guys in my dorm and I headed over, got bleacher seats and watched. This was 1996, the first game after major remodeling at Busch. The grass was back. Tony LaRussa was in the dugout for the first time. He got ejected late in the game for arguing after an Expos’ baserunner blatantly interfered with the play, allowing the winning run to score in the 10th inning.

We drove back after the game, tired, a bit annoyed at the outcome, but happy to have finally seen in person the spectacle that home openers are.

The years have only broadened my appreciation of the game. There are few things I savor more than a sweep of the Small Bears or hearing in early February four of the most beautiful words in the English language: pitchers and catchers report. The season is young, but the Cardinals are doing reasonably well. Hopes are high for 2019.

Today opens the Little League season for Ottumwa. It has been the better part of four decades since I put on my team’s uniform, grabbed my glove, and headed out to the field. My teammates and I didn’t have the electronic distractions today’s players do, but I’m sure most love the game the way we did back then.

One of my goals with this season is to get more Little League coverage into our pages. That starts with the photo you saw today in print, which came from our archive. You can see more than 50 more on our website.

We’ll be out at games snapping photos. Most will go into photo galleries on our website. Some will be printed in Tuesday’s papers. Baseball remains a vital, living part of many communities, including Ottumwa, and that’s something to celebrate.

So I’ll see you at some of the games. Good luck to the players, coaches and umps. Have fun. Play hard. Baseball is a glorious game, and I’m glad to see the next generation picking it up, bats in hand.

Matt Milner currently serves as the Courier's Managing Editor. Milner is a trained weather spotter and is usually outside if there are storms. He joined the Courier in 2002.