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From 1997 through 2004, the Giants contended every year. There used to be a beautifully annoying stat that people kept on how many meaningless games the Giants played in the Brian Sabean Era, and they weren't just talking about Giants/A's games.

In 2005, Barry Bonds broke. That was not supposed to happen. Apparently Mrs. Bonds held him by the knee when she dipped him into the River Styx, possibly because she was distracted by the amazing groove of "Renegade." Bonds missed all but a couple of weeks of the season. The Giants replaced him with Pedro Feliz. Mistakes were made. The streak of contending seasons was over (though there was some September silliness in an awful division, but that doesn't count).

Before the 2006 season, then, there was hope in the spring. Everything was as it should be, and Bonds was going to lead the offense again. In retrospect, it seems silly that reasonable people expected that. Bonds was a year older, and there was a rubber band and some old chewing gum where there once was a ligament. It was sort of insane to hope a 41-year-old player could come back from a serious injury like that at anything close to 100 percent.

Even more insane: Bonds was awesome. He wasn't as good, but neither was anyone else. He had a .454 OBP and 26 home runs -- no Giants player has hit more homers in a single season since. Well, Bonds hit 28 the next year, but other than that….

It was so crazy that it just might have worked. And it did. And the Giants were still terrible. But that's not the point.

This keeps popping into my head when it comes to Buster Posey's return. Hear me out. The 2006 Giants were something of an abomination. There was Shea Hillenbrand. There was the beginning of Noah Lowry's end. There was Mike Stanton, closer. It wasn't good times. I'm not suggesting that the 2012 Giants will be as bad -- or come anywhere close to being as bad -- as the 2006 Giants. But when I read this:

Buster Posey virtually brought batting practice to a halt with a long, towering homer into a tree beyond the LF barrier. He just hit another

… it brings me back to the hope that I had with Bonds before the 2006 season. It was unrealistic to hope a 41-year-old player could recover as well as he did. It's unrealistic to hope that a catcher can bounce back from a serious leg injury without any complications or ill effects. I don't care. When I read that tweet about Posey hitting a long, towering home run, it was the first time spring training felt real to me, with all the hope it offers, unrealistic or otherwise. The other stuff -- Player reports early, player throws off flat ground, player gives interview filled with platitudes and clichés -- doesn't make me fell like baseball's coming.

Posey hitting dingers deep into the Arizona horizon makes me feel like baseball is coming. And it makes me think good thoughts about the Giants, even if there's a very logical case to be made that Posey's first season back will be more Jason Kendall, 2001 rather than Jason Kendall, 2000.

That pesky 2006/2012 Giants comparison isn't especially useful. They share the story of a star coming back from a serious injury. Other than that, they're two different teams, especially with regards to the pitching staff. The path the 2012 Giants take will be up to them. Can Brandon Crawford hit as well as a 39-year-old Omar Vizquel? We can hope.

Spring has sproinged. Didn't feel like it until news broke of Buster Posey's first batting-practice homer. And that reminds me of the last time there was this much anticipation over a star's return. The last time turned out just fine on an individual level, but it was awful on a team level.

We still have a a few months to figure out if the Giants' offseason rely-on-Buster-to-fix-everything strategy is a successful one. In the meantime, I'll pretend it was successful, and that we already know this because Buster Posey is hitting dingers, everyone. Buster Posey is back, and he's hitting dingers.