Opening Day–Our National Holiday

The Mets home park, Citifield.

Today is a time-honored rite of American life, one of the few of the BS, jingoistic trappings I actually adhere to. It’s baseball’s Opening Day. Baseball has its detractors, and for many good causes. Yes, the game was juiced for about fifteen years and all of its most hallowed records were beaten by cheaters. Yes, for those who don’t have the patience for the nuances of the game, it can seem like a three hour exercise in tedium. Yes, the money is so out of whack that ¾ of the teams don’t have a snowball’s chance in Miami of winning a pennant coming out of spring training. Granted.

But still. There is an anticipation of this day that is unlike any other sport. There’s the whole hopeful “everyone is tied for first place” cliche—but the truth is deeper than that. It has to do with fathers and mothers having a catch with sons and daughters. It’s watching your child swinging a whiffle bat at an oversized ball and praying for contact. It’s buying a mitt for their first birthday. There’s a connection that transcends logic and exists as pure feeling. Teaching a game that was taught to you, that was taught to your father by your grandfather, whose father taught it to him. It is sentimental? Absolutely. But it’s also real. Grown men playing a game that we played, with the same rules, the same necessary skills, the same pressures and in some cases the same joy.

We are a country that rejected its father figure, a remote king who was aloof and didn’t care for us the way we thought he should. As a country we are probably somewhere in our early twenties—past our awkward stage, our rebellious stage, but still young and headstrong. We’re struggling to identify our values, to separate acting manly from being a man, to assume a sense of responsibility to those around us. In many aspects we still have a ways to go before we can safely call ourselves grown.

Baseball is not a perfect model for achieving maturity, but it’s one of the few we have that crosses all boundaries. It is a game where the young are mentored by the older coaches and players. It’s a game where white Irish fans in Boston root their hearts out for athletes from Venezuela and Santo Domingo and where whites, African Americans, Latinos and Japanese compete on equal footing. It’s a game that honors its veterans and its elder statesmen. On the other hand it is a ruthlessly competitive game, and one that sometimes piles unreachable expectations and pressures on its youngest players, who exist in a fishbowl of media criticism. There is a huge discrepancy between the teams that have and those that have not. Those drawbacks sound awfully familiar.

But while Opening Day can be a time to reflect on the past, it is also a day that is relentlessly in the moment. The drama is happening right now, unfolding right in front of us. There’s no time limit, and the winning team has to get that last out to win. There are never any guarantees. Fathers and daughters, mothers and sons, watch athletes do what we endeavor to do in our backyards and Little League parks. There is a shared language, a shared set of rules, a shared passion. People who wouldn’t be able to talk to each other about anything else can talk about what’s going on on that green, green ballfield. No matter the weather, the skies are blue.

In 1986, the year my Mets won the World Series, I had just turned 16 when Opening Day came around. I declared it a personal holiday and stayed home from school to watch the game. Another time I had just gotten back from a surgery and was trying to sleep in a recliner because I couldn’t climb the stairs to our bedroom. I couldn’t sleep well, so I was awake when the Mets played their opening game in Japan at five in the morning. Opening Day is a day of beginnings, a harbinger of Spring and a promise of the summer that is sure to follow. It is the resumption of a friendship that retreats with the onset of cold weather and comes back in the thaw. It’s as American as President’s Day or Labor Day or Veteran’s Day or Independence Day. Opening Day is our unofficial national holiday. For those of you who feel as I do, happy Opening Day. I hope you have people to share it with.

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    • Joel Flowers
    • March 31st, 2011

    OK, I have to admit that I didn’t read all of this. I stopped at the part that said “…it crosses all boundaries.” It never crossed my boundary.

  1. Well…baseball’s not quite as testerone-driven as, say, football. Except for the steroids.

    What I meant was it doesn’t matter who you are, if you’re good you play. Anyway, I can’t listen to opera and I know you love it–I guess I wouldn’t make it through an ode to The Magic Flute either.

    • Kae
    • April 12th, 2011

    Beautiful piece, Brian! All so true!

  2. Thanks Kae.

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