Thursday, April 7, 2022

Opening Day

There was a prompt going around yesterday, from the mind of the great Joe Posnanski, asking people to post the lineup of the first baseball team they ever truly loved. It was a fun exercise in remembering some guys, and I learned that most of the Newsletter Slack was born into some really good baseball teams.

Me, I was just a little too young for the 1977-78 Yankees. I remember pieces of the ’78 season -- the first game I can specifically remember attending, and missing the Bucky Dent homer -- but not much more than that. The 1979 season, though...that was my first. The Cliff Johnson/Rich Gossage fight. The announcement of Billy Martin’s return. The death of Thurman Munson. A fourth-place team buried in controversy. I wrote the lineups and linescores for most games in a black-and-white notebook, fell asleep listening to Bill White and Frank Messer calling west coast games, went to my first doubleheader.*

(*Technically. We left during a long rain delay between games, walking into my uncle’s apartment only to find him watching Game Two. I am still a little mad.)

That was my first, 1979, so this is my 44th Opening Day as a fan. I’m 51 now, and well aware that I have more baseball seasons, more Opening Days, behind me than ahead of me. So I try to appreciate each one a little more, try to take time away from the work to be a fan on this day.

See, it’s a fractious moment for our game, for baseball fans. We disagree on a lot, and not just in the old “Willie, Mickey or the Duke” way. Some people like the strikeouts, some don’t. Some like pitch framing, some don’t. Some miss smallball, some don’t. Some want the business to look more like the NFL, some don’t. Some like Rob Manfred, some d.... OK, too far.

Expanded playoffs, defensive positioning, the DH, extra-inning runners on second, ticket prices, game times, pace of play.... We spend a lot of time fighting, emphasis on the pronoun. I’m part of that culture, for better and worse, pushing and pressing to impress my own preferences on the game in a moment I feel that slipping away.

Not today, though. Today is the day we come together over what we have, what we missed for six months, what we’ll have for the next six: baseball games. Great young players. Vets on their farewell tours. Playoff chases. Dingers. Whiffs. Diving catches. Plays at the plate. Fifteen games on a Tuesday night, then 15 more all day Wednesday, 2,430 ballgames stretched out across the calendar like so many flowers in a field.

We don’t agree on anything...except this day. Opening Day is what brings us together, Yankees and Mets, Cubs and Cardinals, Dodgers and Giants. Statheads and scouts. Tastes great and less filling. Box seats and bleachers. D train and 4 train. Brats and Boog’s. This is the one thing everybody who loves this amazing game can agree on: Opening Day is sacred, a national holiday, a celebration of the national pastime.

In a few hours, Corbin Burnes is going to throw that ridiculous cutter. Seiya Suzuki is going to play at Wrigley Field. Bobby Witt Jr. is going to play where his dad once threw an 11-strikeout, 129-pitch complete game win. Shohei Ohtani, who you’d think was out of firsts, will become the first player to throw his team’s first pitch of the season and face his team’s first pitch of the season. Juan Soto will shuffle and Francisco Lindor will smile and Yu Darvish will spin.

Our game is back. Let’s revel in it. Happy Opening Day.