(The following blog was written by Dan Genzler of Sioux Falls, S.D. He produces The Genz blog found at www.genzmani.blogspot.com. Please enjoy the following piece).I am starting to feel it.

With all of this NFL lockout talk coming to a head, college previews hitting the Internet and magazine racks, and high school football in the conversation, I am antsy for the start of football. Believe me, I have a great passion for baseball as the races heat up. I also became a bit involved in women’s soccer during the World Cup.

All of that aside, football is the game that captures my deepest passion.

It was a while ago when I was one of those teenagers heading down to the Gettysburg (SD) Park to do a bit of off-season football training. A few sprints,a lot of kicking and throwing the football, and then across the street to the High School gum for late afternoons weight sessions, all in preparation for the fall football season. I probably did too much of the throwing and kicking and not enough of the weight room. Still, those days seem as if they were yesterday.

It is interesting how the football focus gets real for players as late July soon becomes August. Today’s off season preparation is much different than when I tried to figure out my own workouts to be ready to play football for the Battlers in the late 1970′s and early 1980s. The game is more scientific or strategic; football camps are part of nearly every players schedule in the summer; and participation in acceleration training is important, so I am told.

Regardless, when you get down to it, football is still…well, football. At its root, the game is about blocking and tackling, throwing and catching, running and jumping. Those that do it better, win.

It is funny as I reflect about how and why every late-summer the itch for the game comes back. It is if I have a scratch that never seems to heal.

Why is it that the dog days of July and August fail to dissuade those with the passion for playing the game. Physically grinding two-a-day practices shouldn’t be anybody’s idea for fun. Punishing the body endlessly, why?

I mean really why get up at 5:30 a.m. for a 6:30 a.m. practice and putting on shorts and ripped t-shirts that should have been washed a week earlier. Then, two hours or so later, you and your buddies are at a local watering hole for a Coke, Dew, Pepsi or whatever, talking and venting about the uselessness of 4×4 drills, gutbusters, and meaningless run through of offensive plays. Really, doesn’t the coach realize, it is time to hit? Don’t they know we know this offense and defense? Why do they constantly lecture us about repetition being the key to success? I mean this isn’t school – it is just a game, right?

After about an hour in the local establishment, you head home for a nap or just jump in your beat up truck to waste away the afternoon, cruising nowhere except to engage in a few water balloon fights. All in fun – though when your coachfinds out about your “grab ass” behavior, you find a few more sprints and calisthenics in the practice mix.

He doesn’t just understand boys will be boys.

I still want to put on some pads and spikes right now — but only in dreams or thoughts. I mean really, the muscles are a little old and easily injured now. Plus, I like my couch, or seat in the stands.

Still, as I think about the start of games, the adrenaline still fills my insides. It is a feeling, a passion that never goes away.

Sometimes I think that is why so many of our heroes play beyond their days. Understandable but we all need to move on.

As fans (and players), we can’t wait to head to the games on Friday, Saturday or NFL on Sunday, ready to give our all whether it is on the field or in the stands. We invest time into our Steelers and Vikings, Chargers or Packers, Colts and Pats. Or, our Battlers, Knights, Warriors, Eagles or whoever we favor in high school. And, of course, on Saturday there are the Sooners, Huskers, Coyotes, Jacks, Vikings, Cougars or whoever.

I love this feeling. I don’t play anymore but my passion still runs deep. I can talk to the TV as much as I want. I can sit in the stands and cheer or jeer. I can head to a local watering hole and debate why this and that was done or wasn’t.

Yep, I can feel it – football is back…almost.

Now to a Hall of Fame discussion on Jim Thome… I was watching the the mother ship yesterday and ESPN commentators began discussing the candidacy of Jim Thome, a member of the Minnesota Twins, a classy guy that is quickly approaching 600 home runs.

J.A. Adande, who I usually agree but not this time,suggested that Thome had a long career of good stats but was never the defining player for any of the teams that he has played on.

Thome has been member of the Cleveland Indians, Chicago White Sox, Philadelphia Phillies, L.A. Dodgers and now seems to be finishing a long successful career with the Twins.

I find it disconcerting how some people seem to overlook or downplay guys that deserve a spot in baseball’s hall. Guys like Bert Blyleven (finally inducted this year) and Ron Santo, now deceased but not inducted, who are deserving but put through years and years of frustration. I am glad for Blyleven, he is a class guy who deserves enshrinement. Yet, I am a bit miffed that Santo, also deserving, wasn’t vote in while he was alive. He will never be able to enjoy the moment that a lifetime honor like the HOF brings – sad, sad, sad.

Back to Thome, a lifetime .277 hitter who ranks in the top 30 all-time in RBIs with 1,646. Eighteen times he has had 20 or more home runs and 12 times at least 30. He has been in the top 10 of MVP balloting four times. For a nine year period (1996 to 2004), he hit more than 30 home runs every year. He isn’t yet up for the Hall – he is still playing. But to suggest he wasn’t and isn’t feared disrespects one of the true gentlemen in the game.

Remember, I am a Tigers fan, a team that Thome has brutalized over his career. Just as I listened to many deride Derek Jeter’s quest for 3,000 hits and his candidacy for the HOF, I feel the same about Thome. Both men deserve a spot in Cooperstown.

Jeter has been one of the game’s great ambassadors and a Yankee’s captain, who has performed at a top level over one of the great runs of that proud franchise. And, Thome, wherever he has been, he has produced.

Is Thome feared? Maybe not.

I bet if you ask managers, or better yet, pitchers, what they are thinking about when the 40-year old power hitter steps into the batter’s box in a crucial moment, “fear” might not what they are feeling, but “scared’ is etched on their faces.