Today is Opening Day in America.
The grass is freshly cut, the lines newly painted. Logos adorn the outfield grass and home whites are crisp and bright. Some fans will shiver through the first nine innings of the home team’s first game, others will bask in the glorious sunlight that is Opening Day. Can you smell it? Can you see it? Can hear the dull roar as you approach the ballpark in your mind’s eye?
Then you’re a baseball fan, and this is your day.
Oh sure, a few teams played a couple games in other countries. Major League Baseball is attempting to go global, to not just be America’s past time but the world’s sport. But today everyone plays. It’s a weekday. Most games will be played under the spring sun and not the lights. This isn’t a day to work on expanding audiences, but to reward the faithful who have loved baseball for years and years.
Do you have your team jersey on?
The NFL took aim at the American sports audience a couple decades ago. To be sure, it has surpassed MLB in viewership. Some think that baseball is dying. I disagree. While other sports come and go, baseball has been there all along. Like a faithful friend, like your first love. We move with an ever-increasing speed in a chaotic orbit around our obligations. Interests and hobbies rise and fall. But millions of Americans keep finding themselves returning to baseball.
Is it the nostalgia that returns us to the game we first loved? When I was young I would spend hours outside pretending I was a big league player. I would throw the ball up in the air with one hand then smack it with a bat as far as we could. I had a front porch and a radio and lightening bugs and a porch swing and the voice of Jack Buck and Mike Shannon. It was idyllic, really. A slice of Americana that seems to’ve disappeared. I don’t just miss it. I love it. I need to recall it.
Is it the familial nature of the game? My kids take a passing interest in watching sports on television, but they are learning how fun it can be to go outside and play catch. It brings families together. The iconic picture of a professional football pre-game is a group of buddies standing around a grill drinking beer in a parking lot. The iconic picture of a professional baseball pre-game is a dad hoisting his little son or daughter on his shoulders and processing toward the stadium with a bunch of other dads and daughters and dads and sons.
Do more people watch football? Certainly. It’s appointment viewing.
For a baseball fan, though, the relationship goes deeper than a once-a-week fascination. It’s a long, half-year grind from start to finish. There are sorrowful valleys and ecstatic highs over the course of a season. This is no 16 game sprint, it’s a 162 game marathon. It’s cold outside and then it heats up and then it gets cold again. There’s a pennant race. There’s the sharp sound of the crack of the bat and the sights and smells that show up every day for 162 days. In the end, there’s one team left standing.
Today, on Opening Day, everyone hopes it will be their team.
I don’t have a front porch swing and a radio broadcast and I won’t be catching any fireflies tonight. I’ll watch the game online amidst the hustle and bustle of my day and I’ll root for my team–the Cardinals–to whoop the Reds because I don’t like the Reds.
More than once, I’ll think about my first game in 8th grade. I’ll think about my team’s success. I’ll think about my team’s failures. I’ll think about taking my mom to a game for her birthday. I’ll remember my daughter’s first game and my son’s first game and a thousand other things that I have loved about baseball. And I’ll love it still.
In a world that is quickly changing, baseball hasn’t moved on me. It’s not perfect. But it’s not dying either. Above all, it’s there. I don’t place any hope in it. It is, after all, a game. I do get a good bit from it, though. I enjoy it. It has given back in its own unique way. I’m not sure someone can have a friendship with a game. If so, then baseball is my friend. A faithful, ever-present friend. I’ve got a feeling I’m not the only one who feels that way.
As the hopes of a new season dawn all across America today, may we all be taken out to the ballgame. Hear the sounds. Smell the smells. See the sights.
Happy Opening Day.