For the first time in a long, long time, Major League Baseball kicks off a season gloriously free from both labor strife and off-the field distractions, writes Howard Bryant at ESPN. The league has a well-chronicled history of labor unrest, but right now, it's in good shape compared to the NFL, which is in the midst of a lockout. Sure, the ongoing Barry Bonds trial is a reminder of baseball's embarrassing steroid era, but a new generation of talented young players is also cleansing the sport of its drug-plagued past. Here, an excerpt:

As improbable as it sounds, baseball — with its eight work stoppages and enough deep, historical grievances to be worthy of a college course on labor relations in the 20th century — opens the season in the ironic position as an oasis of stability in the otherwise unsettled world of professional sports...

At a time of the year when the sports fan can choose from a bounty of alternatives — the Final Four is this weekend, The Masters is next week and the NBA and NHL seasons are finally gearing up for the playoffs — baseball might be the most appealing option.

Read the entire piece at ESPN.