"Remind us that baseball will never die, for its everlasting rhythms lie rooted in the soil, and its passions in the smell of the new grass, in the hot sunshine of the deepest summers, in the enduring chatter that ripples through the bleachers . . . ."
- Willie Morris
A Prayer for the Opening of the Little League Season
As the 2011 MLB season got underway, I watched several Opening Day games on television. New York on March 31; Philadelphia, Tampa Bay, and Texas on April 1. Opening Day was still happening a week later in many different locations on Thursday, April 7 and Friday April 8.
The Red Sox observed Opening Day as visitors in Arlington, Texas on the April Fools holiday, then celebrated their “real” Opening Day in Boston the following weekend. March 31 marked the home opener for the Yankees, Royals, Nats, Reds, Cards, and Dodgers; the Indians, Phillies, Rangers, Cubs, Rockies, Marlins, Rays, Jays, and A’s were welcomed home on April 1. The Pirates, White Sox, Brewers, and Orioles opened on Thursday, April 7, while Friday, April 8 accommodated eleven teams, including my own: SD, AZ SEA, NYM, BOS, SF, DET, HOU, MIN, ATL, and LAA. That’s 30 ceremonies in all, with many ball clubs participating in the ritual at more than one ballpark, home and away.
All the opening days stretched into something called Opening Week, as a once-magical concept lost some of its luster and mystique.
Back in 1984, Tom Boswell elegantly reasoned that time itself begins on opening day. His esteemed collection of baseball essays is now an out-of-print collectible. Why Time Begins on Opening Day. Paperback: Used from $0.01. Hardcover: Like New. $125.54. Satisfaction guaranteed.
When the Red Sox opened the 2011 season in Boston, their record already at 0-6, it was still "Opening Day." The inaugural ceremony at Fenway Park was something of a disconnect and anti-climax. You could see a certain weariness, maybe even worry, in players’ expressions as their names were announced one by one. Applause from the soldout crowd sounded more tentative than usual. Opening Day didn't feel much like ritual or sacrament. More like an obligatory marketing event, and the concept didn’t have much to do with winning.
I love Opening Day. It’s long been a holiday in our family, as it is for many other fans, a precious and significant event. Indeed, Opening Day 2001 remains one of my happiest memories. I was fortunate to share that occasion with my younger son, then age 6. He left his first grade classroom very early that day, beaming, thanks to baseball.
Attendance: 33,525. Temp. 51, cloudy. Wind 7 mph R to L.
Designated hitter Manny Ramirez steps up to the plate for his first at-bat in a Red Sox uniform and sends the first pitch he sees over the left field wall. From our seats high above right field, we witness its perfect arc over the Green Monster. Nixon scores. Offerman scores. Ramirez scores.
Time of game: 3:06. Red Sox 11 – Tampa Bay Devil Rays 4. After the game we journey along Storrow Drive under a murky sky, and my young son keeps thanking me for this day. Mom, thanks so much. Thank you so much, Mom. Thank you so much for taking me to Opening Day.
When I was in elementary school, Opening Day of major league baseball was a holiday we observed pretty seriously in the classroom. In grade 4 with Mrs. Luna, grade 5 with Mrs. Pepper, and grade 6 with Mr. Painter, academic work was suspended for the entire afternoon, and we took a vote: Yankees or Mets. And then we sat quietly at our desks, listening to Opening Day on the radio. And time did in fact begin again.
During Opening Week 2011, every major league team had some version of the MLB logo painted on its field. The logo must have been some kind of corporate requirement. To my eye, the image stamped on the field looked plastic and falsely enthusiastic. It homogenized baseball with messages that read "Opening Week" and "Opening Weekend." The temporary hues of red, white, and blue weren’t quite true, maybe because they were latex colors sprayed on fertilized green. I seemed to remember a time when soft drapes of cloth bunting were enough to make your heart beat a little faster.
During the first two weeks of the new season, I saw so many painted MLB logos that I forgot what game I was watching, what town I was in, and whose Opening Day it was. The picture on my television resembled a video game, and baseball was starting to feel like a chain store in a nation where there’s a Walgreens on every corner.
Friday, April 15. Red Sox vs. Blue Jays. The words “Opening Week” were still visible behind home plate at Fenway Park. With Toronto leading 7-3 in the top of the seventh, I got to thinking . . . somebody really needs to cut that grass.
Opening Week was the week that wouldn’t go away.
Last month I was so excited for this new season to begin. Every time I entered a ballpark during spring training, I was in a hurry. We had to get there before the national anthem. Had to see that first pitch. I was in such a hurry to see Pujols and Damon and Heyward and Reyes and Manny and Tony and all the big guns in uniform, and I was on a roll all the way to Opening Day.
We hurried to the “Will Call” window at Roger Dean Stadium, my sister and I, but we were unexpectedly delayed by someone who was almost too shy to speak: “Would you like to donate . . . ?” She stood in the jasmine-scented shade in her royal blue team t-shirt, reluctant to ask for money, but I said a quick hello, dropped a few dollars into her Little League can, wished her good luck, then hurried toward the turnstiles. As the steel bars thrust me forward, I realized I’d just passed up an important opportunity.
I should have talked baseball with that small girl who was too shy to ask for money. What position do you play? What’s the name of your team? Where is your field? But I missed my chance.
Little League has Opening Day, but it’s not yet a nationalized, highly orchestrated event managed by corporate offices on Park Avenue. Little League opening days are spread across four months of winter and spring. Sarasota, Florida: February 19. Hermosa Beach, California: March 5. Issaquah, Washington: March 26. Sparks, Nevada and Harlem, New York: April 2. Pittston, Pennsylvania: April 16. Hingham, Massachusetts: May 1.
Thank goodness those holidays are over. The Red Sox, their record at 4-10, are now on a roll with a 2-game winning streak. One hundred forty-eight more games to go. They face Toronto one hour from now, the teams gathering early at Fenway Park for the traditional 11:00 a.m. Patriots Day start. Who knows how this game will end, but whatever the outcome, when the game is over, I'm going to take a walk.
I'll walk the mile over to Depot Street toward the elementary school, closed this week for spring break. I'll head over to the playground and the Little League field, sit in the dugout for a while, and wait for one more opening day.