You know baseball season is almost here when the Cincinnati Reds tell you about the ceremonial first ball. In 1979, it was brought on a 10-day, 200-mile canoe trip; in '80, by foot 300 miles from St. Louis; in '81, by two bicyclists 788 miles from here in Washington; in '82, it had traveled a million miles on space shuttle . . . and April 4, 1983:

Look for a "sinker." The ball has been aboard the sub USS Cincinnati nine months, logging 50,000 underwater miles . . .

All-time home run king Hank Aaron reportedly says he will ask team owners to make him the next commissioner. "Since no one has stepped forward, I will," Aaron was quoted in USA Today. "I'm not saying anything against Bowie Kuhn (whose contract expires in August). I just want his job . . . I finished my playing career on top and I wouldn't mind ending my baseball career on top, too."

But Bob Lurie of the Giants, a member of the selection committee, said, " . . . My first reaction has to be: What is his experience, what are his abilities to administer the game?" . . .

The Montreal Expos, threatened with lockout from Olympic Stadium, have National League permission to explore contingency sites for 1983 home games. Provincial government (landlord) warns: no lease agreement by April 1, no baseball . . .

The NL East pennant race (wherever the Expos) could pivot on the gimpy infielding knees of such as Pittsburgh's Bill Madlock, Philadelphia's Mike Schmidt and St. Louis' Tommy Herr. And, in this day and age, the physical therapy machines.

Schmidt had arthroscopic surgery March 7; Madlock ditto March 14. By night before last, Schmidt was in the Phillies lineup against the Orioles, albeit just as DH (two singles). Isn't that encouraging? Madlock was asked.

"Not really. Have you ever been in their ballpark (in Florida)? They got a complete machine, all kinds of weights . . . We don't have the equipment they have, so it might take me a little longer . . ."

Madlock, making do with ankle weights and bike pedals, believes he'll make the April 5 opener against the Cardinals-- minus Herr. A winter operation fixed Herr's right knee (enough to run the "Superstars" obstacle course, etc.) but second day of camp, his left knee began hurting--as he used an exercise machine.

Torn cartilage, it turns out; arthroscopic surgery set Friday, he'll miss three to six weeks.