Upper Midwest residents know it’s been a very long winter — which still lingers like a peripatetic cousin who takes up residence in your guest room. And if you live, as I do, at nearly 46 degrees north latitude, you saw the mercury approach 50 degrees on Sunday for the first time since October.
Which is actually perfect, because though more snow arrives later this week along the tundra, a day of relative warmth segues nicely from the conclusion of last year’s baseball season into Opening Day 2014.
Though raised in a southern climate, I’ve now lived nine winters in the Heartland. And I’ve learned nothing begins seasonal life anew like baseball.
The mercury slowly rises, tree buds sprout, fathers and sons play catch, kids eventually get out of school, families take vacations, the days are longer, and life becomes slower and simpler. That all coincides with baseball — a game you need not love to enjoy, especially in person.
The aforementioned tidbits, along with the casual atmosphere at every stadium (from high school and college to the Independent Leagues, Minors and The Show), the affordability of tickets, the entertainment on and off the field throughout each performance, the uniqueness of each ballpark, and the arduous mental and physical grind through the depths of summer to the ultimate climax of autumn, makes today more than just another incredible Opening Day for the greatest game I know.
Really, Opening Day is a preview of six solid months with a new slate of games to enjoy daily, a newspaper page (or computer screen) filled with box scores, and the ongoing summer intrigue that only baseball provides. What’s changed in a century? Aside from instant replay, not much, thankfully.
Opening Day seemed like it was a long way off in December, January and February when you shoveled your driveway daily. Early March brought spring training and, despite more sub-zero temperatures, you sensed hope on the horizon. And the celebration is now here.
Unless you live in New York or Boston, must it even be a good season for your team to enjoy our pastime? Bad baseball is far better than no baseball at all (or any other sport, for my money).
As I drive 700 miles to southern Missouri today, I’ll feel that fresh start with a new season unfolding, no matter what results transpire.
The late Ernie Harwell elaborates more in an epic poem.
Baseball is a spirited race of man against man, reflex against reflex. A game of inches. Every skill is measured. Every heroic, every failing is seen and cheered — or booed. And then becomes a statistic.
Happy Opening Day everyone.