They are packing now, all over America, or else they're already gone.

That favourite bat or glove is chucked in the car trunk on top of the coffee maker, the golf clubs and the swimming trunks.

If you are pitcher perhaps a special tube of grease for the old spitball goes in a corner of the suitcase, or for a hitter some of that illegal Superball putty to carve into the barrel of the bat for extra distance on hits.

Woho says the pitchers are ahead of the hitters in the spring?

It's time to head South FOur months is too long to go without baseball, even if you play it in hte bigs and say you're in it for the loot.

"I'm chomping at the bit to get to spring training", said Oakland A's Dick Bosman, who lives in Fairfax. "Been getting in shape for two months.

"I turned 33 this week. Like old Teddy Ballgame (Williams) said, the older you get the earlier you got to start."

So yesterday, or the day before, bosman left for his native Wisconsin to say hello to relatives and pick up an old buddy, Milwaukee coach Frank Howard, for the long drive to Arizona.

"Frank'll pound that beer and tell some great tales all the way to Sun City," said Bosman.

Kenosha, Des Moines, Council Bluffs, Omaha, Abilene, Pueblo, Sante Fe, Mesa. That's the Bosman-Howard rout. "Yeah," Bosman grinned, practicing bending over, legs split, until his nose touched the ground. "I'm ready to go."

So are the Montreal Expos with new star Dave Cash and new manager Dick Williams. Their spring training starts today in Daytonal Beach, Fla. They are the first.

By Tuesday the California ANgels - you'll remember that Gene Autry bought Joe Rudi, Don Baylor and Bobby Grich to make his pitchers Nolan Ryan and Frank Tanana happy - will be at work. And by week's end team will be in camp from St. Petersburg to Holtville, Calif.

Baseball is in a justifiable rush to throw out the first grapefruit.

After all, except for the Cincinnati Reds' lopsided pre-eminence, Chris Chambliss' penant-winning home run and perhaps Mark Fidrych's antic moundscaping, the Bicentennial baseball year was short on memorable moments.

Perhaps a few fervid fans in 2001 will remember Ken Brett's tainted batting championship, won by 0007 point.Or the Oakland A's 341 stolen bases. Or that a stumpy, socre-footed walrus names Thurman Munson and the way he defied the Reds, 25 men against one, not so much for the sake of Yankee victory in the end, but just out of sheer cussedness.

but 1976 will probably be remembered, despite its record attendance of more than 31 million, as a year when the pennant races were virtually over by June 1 and the talk thereafter was of free agents, legal suits, collective bargaining, disloyalty and greed.