There is no one event as special and nearly sacred as baseball’s opening day. It is much like Mardi Gras, a celebration of the last time one can be carefree and hopeful before eventually beginning the arduous journey of trials and sacrifice. Opening day really is the first game of the rest of the season, where perennial bottom dwellers can still believe they have a shot at a World Series crown before hurtling back to reality. More than that though, opening day also becomes a day to look back, to remember the last time (if ever) your team won something special. To remember players from your youth, the ones that somehow become greater the farther they are from their playing days. Much like a photo album, opening day allows – and almost requires you – to flip through, page by page, and watch baseball grow and evolve until finally looking at that last photo and seeing all the subsequent pages yet to be filled.
Sure, The World Series is made to be a huge deal. Endings to everything are given more significance than anything that has happened along the way. However, nothing is quite like opening day for baseball. No other opening day for any sport has more fanfare surrounding it. In fact, no other opening day may require you to miss work that day. Baseball’s opening day is the last great gasp before getting into the seemingly never ending grind of the regular season. In fact it may be the last celebration until a team wins its league’s pennant.
Baseball is a curious beast. You would think having the best record in the regular season would be a greater accomplishment than winning the World Series. Being the top dog after a grueling 162 game schedule, that resembles an actual work week (unlike the other sports), should garner its own sense of achievement. Unfortunately it doesn’t. Winning isn’t as much of a celebration as it is equal parts relief and pride. To get to the end of the season as a division winner allows the players to relax, to be able to take a deep breath while taking solace in the fact that their best efforts after such an arduous journey have been successful. There might be a bit of a celebration but for the most part it is allows you to feel a sense of accomplishment because the previous 162 games were not a waste. Meanwhile, the devastation for losing is immense. Having invested so much time and effort into what ends up being a frivolous pursuit is heartbreaking. Even for those fans who root for teams that have been out of the race since mid-May, nothing is quite so cruel as having to endure loss after to loss, day after day for four months.
Opening day also gives fans a reason to reminisce on past triumphs (or almost triumphs). Taking a look back at all of the times your team has won in the past creates even more hope for the future and present. Due to baseball being such a sport that is entwined throughout history, it is almost required to re-familiarize yourself with the foundations and evolutions of the game. Opening day is as much a celebration of baseball’s past as it is of baseball’s present and future. Opening day reminds us that while numbers and names are forever changing, baseball does not. It is apt that one of baseball’s bases is called “home” because that is what baseball really is, no matter how much you may have changed from the wide-eyed, innocent child you once were there is always a place you can return to that feels the same as it ever has.
Baseball may not be as popular as it once was. As baseball has evolved over the years so have the core values of America. No longer are we a nation that takes personal accountability for what we do. No longer are we expected to be prepared at all times, waiting for something that is equal parts chance and design. No longer is a multitude of failure punctuated by a successes (some greater than others) allowed. Instead of being a part of an egalitarian whole we are now expected to pool our efforts for the greater glory of a few. Instead of being content in being equal we are told to either strive for the pinnacle or fall in line to help those that are capable of reaching that zenith. Unfortunately, this is another topic for a different time.
Bask in the glow of opening day. Let the greenest green of the outfield grass become emblazoned on your retinas. Salute the pristine whites of the home team pants that will never look as clean again. Imbibe the creamy draught of the bat’s crack on that rare occasion the ball hits in just the right spot. Call in sick, take an extra long lunch, or sneak out early so that you can witness sport’s greatest day. Celebrate the continuum of life, the once and future greats, and the unfettered hope and faith that can only be felt on the opening day of baseball.