By Ernie Palladino
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Pitchers and catchers to Mets camp today. Check.

Kate Upton on Tuesday. Check.

Yankees pitchers and catchers same day. Check.

Right there, encapsulated in those three events, we see why this week is the best one on the sports calendar. Baseball begins, and the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue comes out.

Since we can all agree to agree on the merits of Miss Upton gracing the cover for the second consecutive year, we can feel free to move on to the thornier questions surrounding the other two events. This is the beginning, after all, of the foundation-building of the baseball season, a year that could go in two vastly different directions for the locals.

The whole world seems to be gearing up for the great A-Rod debate in Tampa, but he’s not going to be the real story with Joe Girardi’s bunch. The hip surgery Alex Rodriguez went through likely won’t make him available until after the All-Star break, and perhaps not even then if Major League Baseball suspends him. In fact, he may not be a Yankee by year’s end because of the new PED allegations that popped up the last few weeks.

A-Rod, then, is pretty much a non-factor, existing only for sensationalistic voyeurism. Far better to see what his replacement, Kevin Youkilis, looks like.

Better yet, keep an eye on 43-year-old Mariano Rivera. He’s coming back from ACL surgery, and the Yanks are basically allowing him to fly without a net. Once Mo announced he was coming back, they sent the extremely capable Rafael Soriano away. Assuming Rivera’s knee will remain sound, will the great closer become his old, automatic self again, or could this year become a swan song borne out of the ravages of age?

If that’s the answer, be prepared for a long year. About the only other closing option besides David Robertson — he’s still better as a setup man — is a righty farmhand named Mark Montgomery. He is said to have a live arm, but whether he’s ready to close major league games is the question.

One might want to take a close look at Derek Jeter, too. His rebound from that broken ankle will tell a lot about whether we see him or Eduardo Nunez at short most of the season. He’s been working out the upper body, but has yet to really test the ankle.

Keep in mind that the Yanks go into the spring as the major league’s oldest team.

The Mets are their usual mess. Or are they? All eyes should be on the youngsters, especially Zack Wheeler. If he can at least give the pitching rotation the hope of him joining it after a brief stint in Triple-A ball, there may be some hope. This is his first major league training camp, so his poise and work ethic will be scrutinized closely. What isn’t in doubt is that if the kid can progress fast enough, he could make a nice complement to Matt Harvey, definitely the future and probably the present of that staff.

The other kid worthy of attention is Travis d’Arnaud, the Toronto farm catcher who was so pivotal in the R.A. Dickey trade. If the kid looks good, he’ll bring a lot of uncomfortable fans around to the view that shipping off the Cy Young winner wasn’t such a bad move anyway.

Even if d’Arnaud doesn’t make the show straight out of camp, keep an eye on him, anyway. He’s the future backstop for Harvey and Wheeler and Jon Niese and Dillon Gee. As for Johan Santana, enjoy him now. He probably won’t be here next year.

To sum it up, baseball returns, and that’s always a good thing. And SI swimsuits models to boot.

Yep, good week ahead.

(credit: Sports Illustrated)

(credit: Sports Illustrated)

Best. Week. Ever? Baseball, swimsuits — it’s all up for discussion in the comments…