As in baseball, the one ball that's big enough to cover all 12 months of the calendar -- all due respect to the other balls, pucks and soaring snowboarders floating around the sports scene this winter.
After ending the season with an October so big it finished in November and then getting down to the business of trades and signings in December, baseball continues to cook at the turn of the year with Hot Stove action. It'd better keep the heat on this January, too, since most teams are still only half-baked about now.
Once January turns its page, everyone knows February means those four little words baseball that set fans hearts aflutter: Pitchers and catchers report.
Until then, baseball -- like the calendar -- doesn't just sit there. It flips to a new month and keeps chugging along, winter, spring, summer or fall.
After a holiday seventh-inning stretch that included a few newsworthy moves and, of course, a hockey game at Fenway Park, what was on the December 2009 agenda continues on the January 2010 page. Teams continue to construct their rosters in preparation for the 162-game, six-month marathon ahead.
So, with the holidays in the rearview mirror, here's a glance at what's up as the calendar flips and baseball continues to spin with the rest of the sports world:
To refresh the nog-bogged, by the time that other ball made its annual voyage in Times Square and the New Year's Day bowl games started ...
... former Angels ace John Lackey had taken his strong right arm to Boston and Jason Bay had landed back in the National League with the Mets, at least unofficially just before the new year and expected to be official this week. But there remain dozens of free agents available -- including slugger Matt Holliday, the third big prize, who reportedly has been spending his holidays mulling a nine-figure offer from the Cardinals.
... the Yankees entered a calendar year in defense of a World Series title for the first time since 2001. Entering '10, they are one team that can say a lot of business is completed already, albeit not in the stratosphere of last winter's spending spree. Before the holidays, they picked up the fourth starter they didn't use all postseason in Javier Vazquez, and they got more athletic with center fielder Curtis Granderson joining the lineup. There's still a question mark in left, though.
By the time the college football season ends Thursday with the BCS National Championship game between No. 1 Alabama and No. 2 Texas in Pasadena, Calif. ...
... the results of the 2010 National Baseball Hall of Fame election will be announced, meaning the fates of longtime hopefuls Andre Dawson and Bert Blyleven as well as first-ballot contender Roberto Alomar will be known. With results from polling of Baseball Writers' Association of America members with 10 or more years in the organization being released at 2 p.m. ET on Wednesday, that and perhaps the temperature of the designated-hitter debate -- with Edgar Martinez making his debut on the ballot -- will be determined.
... there will be some big dollars floating around with players eligible to file for arbitration starting Tuesday. With two-time defending National League Cy Young Award winner Tim Lincecum in position to hit a huge payday with the Giants one way or the other, there's plenty to be settled for a lot of teams and their rising stars. This applies to those with fewer than six years in the Majors but more than three, or in the case of Lincecum and the rest of the top 17 percent of the "Super Two" class, just less than three years of experience. They can file for arbitration through Jan. 15 and any cases would be heard Feb. 1-21, but there's always time for an agreement right up to the proverbial courthouse steps.
By the time the participants for the Super Bowl are decided Jan. 24 with the AFC and NFC Championship Games ...
... you can rest assured that a free agent or a couple dozen will sign with new teams. Whether that includes Holliday by then seems likely but remains to be seen. There's obviously more to be had than just the slugging outfielder. Intriguing position players from Adrian Beltre and Miguel Tejada to Vladimir Guerrero and Johnny Damon remain available, and pitchers still on the market include Ben Sheets, who missed all of '09 but has several teams looking at him, and two-time 40-saves closer Jose Valverde. But one player who'll make a lot of headlines in the coming days and weeks hasn't even thrown a pitch in the U.S. That's Cuban defector Aroldis Chapman, the 21-year-old left-hander who's drawing attention of larger payroll teams and thriftier ones alike with his 100-mph stuff.
... the only major international competition of 2010 will be in the works. The Caribbean Series will be played on Venezuela's Margarita Island on Feb. 2-8, starting with playoffs in the host country, the Dominican Republic, Mexico and Puerto Rico that run throughout January. By then, we'll all be thanking them, just for hitting the fields and reminding us what the crack of the bat sounds like.
And by the time the Winter Olympics light the torch Feb. 12 in Vancouver ...
... well, we'll be hearing those four little words -- pitchers and catchers report -- that make for an easy annual Valentine's Day present for the baseball fan you love. Nothing says it like a diamond, right?
And there's only one, three-word response that fan can give at that point:
Let's play ball.