And it is Opening Day of baseball season, which, in a just world, would be a national holiday. Even though I could never play the game a lick, I love baseball for more reasons than I can count, not least because, every spring, it conjures a history that means everything to those who care about it, who participate in it, who swear an allegiance to a team. It is a history of fathers and sons playing catch in the yard. Or fathers and daughters. Or mothers and sons. Or the whole family in the yard playing Wiffle ball, with the dogs playing outfield, chasing down the ball and refusing to bring it back. Another home run for the home team!
It evokes memories of late nights under the covers with a flashlight and two stacks of baseball cards, two 12-year-old boys working out complicated multiplayer deals while Vin Scully provided play-by-play of the Dodgers/Braves game, his mother’s snoring blended with Johnny Carson’s monologue seeping through the wall.
“And there’s a drive off the bat of Garvey, past the diving shortstop and into left field. One run will score, the runner from second being waved home and a play at the plate…”
Opening Day unites the past, the present and the future. The season the Dodgers lost to the Yankees in the World Series after winning the first two games. The season Orel Hershiser, who looked more like a college professor than a professional athlete, dominated every batter he faced and Kirk Gibson, propped up with a pregame cortisone shot, hit a home run on his one good leg to give the Dodgers the win in Game 1 of the 1988 World Series, which they would go on to win in five games against the heavily favored Oakland Athletics.
Every fan of every team can recite chapters of their own private “baseball book” from memory. Every fan can show you the path, no matter how circuitous, from here to the World Series, even those fans whose teams are in a “rebuilding mode” — which means that they will be terrible this year, but not in a year or two when their prized prospects are old enough to shave and wise enough to lay off those sliders in the dirt.
One of the very best things about baseball is that you just never know. You can never be sure of anything. Teams that should win often do not. Teams that should not be able to compete often do, whether on the major league level or any other level. A kid who hasn’t had a hit in a month might take the other team’s ace downtown, squaring up a fastball with his eyes shut tighter than a submarine hatch. You never know.
In baseball, we all live in a town called “Hope.” On Opening Day, everybody has it. Our records are wiped clean and everyone has the same chance. What you did last year doesn’t matter. What you did in your last at-bat doesn’t matter. Because here you are in the batter’s box again, with runners on the corners, the wind at your back, the sun peeking around a band of grayish clouds tinged with gold, the pitcher shaking off the sign from the catcher, the third base coach giving you the green light on a 3-0 count. Got to be a big old fat fastball across the middle of the plate, doesn’t it? He can’t load the bases, can he? You’re going to hit it to the Bojangle’s across the street. You’re going to bring those runners home in a trot. All of those days in the batting cage hitting one ball after another off a tee are about to pay off. You are locked in your stance, eyes sharp, hands steady, your bat waggling like a dog’s tail. Finally, the pitcher goes into his windup from the stretch, and you can see the doubt in his eyes before he releases the ball.
In baseball, anything can happen. It always does. Now let’s play ball!