Derived from a French phrase that translates into "Come help me," mayday is not that. It is used by sailors and pilots and, in some places, by police officers and firefighters to signal a life-threatening circumstance, even a near hopeless one.
So where am I going with this? I knew you would ask. As the Phillies take the field against the Astros for their first exhibition game Saturday, their one clarity is that May 1 will hold far more meaning to them than in years past. As Roy Halladay noted this week, they are no longer the big dog of the National League East, able to flip a switch as late as September to chase down the Mets or the Braves or whatever team held their seat for them in that particular season. The Nationals used to make their existence in that division irrelevant by mid-August, and we spent September with our eyes looking westward, hoping for a domino-like collapse by several teams, which actually almost occurred.
The Phillies are pursuers now, and aging ones at that, seeking that one last title like a baseball version of Bernard Hopkins, battling it out against younger and potentially hungrier teams. They need a good start, maybe even a hot start, more than they ever have in this era, for even the most festive among us are hard-pressed to believe that a team with this much tread on its collective tires will not suffer a blowout or two along the way, or that the Braves and Nationals will suffer subpar seasons simultaneously.
So how does a team filled with men who have already made most of their money play hungry? That is just one of an incredible number of subplots to this Phillies season.
By May 1, we should know more about the shoulder issue that last season reduced Halladay from superhero to Clark Kent. Did it signal the end of his Hall of Fame career? Or is there enough arm strength and guile left to allow him to compete at the level he is accustomed?
By May 1, we should know whether Chase Utley is a viable three-hole hitter again, capable of playing a string of games in a row on knees strengthened through yet another offseason of experimenting with alternative training.
By May 1, we should know how much Ryan Howard's increased issues with lefthanded pitching last season - never a strong suit - had to do with weakness in his Achilles' tendon and how much is due to opponents' adjustments over the years and his lack of such. If Mike Schmidt really did offer some knowledge that allows Howard to simply make contact in those late-inning matchups against lefties, well . . . Hallelujah!
By May 1, we should know more about Mike Adams and his rehabilitation from surgery to fix a condition known as thoracic outlet syndrome. The last time Adams pitched in a major league game, he surrendered three home runs in a five-batter span against Oakland. Adams, 34, had allowed one home run in his previous 60 appearances in the season.
By May 1, we should also have an idea whether Michael Young, another aging former Texas star, is capable of regularly manning third base, and whether his productivity dip last season was a reflection of diminished skill or simply an off-year. Young, it should be noted, finished 2012 better than he began it, playing in the 31 games of the season (although not at third) and batting .313.
By May 1, we should know something more about Domonic Brown, even if it's that he just can't stay healthy, or just can't shorten his swing, or just can't track fly balls. We should know whether Ben Revere has the unseen upside with the bat. We should know a little bit more about the long-term reality of Darin Ruf, whether signing underachiever Delmon Young was shrewd or stupid, whether players such as Michael Stutes and Antonio Bastardo can rebound amid reduced roles - or even whether they will be afforded that luxury.
The one certainty is that April will be an exciting time around these parts. By its end, we should have a pretty good idea on whether attending a summer's game at Citizens Bank Park this season will again feel as if we are part of a festival - or part of vessel doomed by age, wear and missed opportunity.
On Twitter: @samdonnellon