Is there anything more majestic, more momentous, more magnificent, than Opening Day?
I am old enough to remember when Opening Day was always the first Monday in April, with the first pitch being thrown by the Cincinnati Reds. That tradition went away in 1994 when ESPN began airing a Sunday Night Baseball game ahead of “Opening Day” the next afternoon (it was slightly altered in 1990 when the Reds opened the season at Houston). And this season the ESPN tradition was expanded to three games on Sunday (morning, noon, and night on the West Coast). But, regardless of the changes, the beauty of Opening Day remains.
Opening Day represents renewal, a reset when — for one day at least — “this is our year” still holds promise. For some teams, it is the beginning of something magical (the 1984 Tigers started the season 9–0 and ended the season World Series champions); while for others, it is the beginning of an inexorable decline into utter catastrophe (the 1988 Orioles started 0–21 on their way to a 54-win, last-place season). But for us fans, it is the birth of Spring and the harbinger of the long, easy days that lie ahead.
Contrast Opening Day with the beginning of the NFL season. The most popular sport in America, which is inextricably linked to the Frozen Tundra (read in John Facenda’s voice) and Thanksgiving and the dead of Winter. This past year, the average temperature in the cities hosting Week 1 games was 90.3 degrees — with six games fielding players in temperatures of 95 degrees or more. Nothing screams football like heat stroke and massive sideline fans (and water shortages in the stands). It takes a full month or two before football actually gets into “season”.
How about basketball? It starts quietly on a mid-week night in late October, competing against the baseball playoffs and the now-in-full-swing football season. People often lament the length of the baseball season, but remember that basketball begins before Halloween and ends around Father’s Day. Does anyone outside of the NBA, Bill Simmons, or Chad Ford even know when the NBA officially tips off?
But everyone knows about MLB Opening Day. That is something special, something sacred. Thomas Boswell once wrote a book called Why Time Begins on Opening Day.
On that first Monday, otherwise reliable employees feign illness to leave work for an afternoon in the sun; kids play hooky to spend a few hours at the yard with mom and dad; fringe players vie for that last roster spot just so they can line up on the chalk while armed forces veterans unfurl an American flag across the entirety of the outfield, before a famous singer or a local icon sings the National Anthem. And, with the toss of a pearl, a swipe of the plate, an adjustment of the mask, a man (to date, it has only been a man) says those two words that start the proverbial engine; that change everything for the next seven months; those two words that inspire hope and engender heartache; that are as old as the hills but as fresh as the infield grass; those those two words that embody a kid’s game; and that remind us that there is beauty in simplicity and purity in potential. Those two words…