For some of us – and it’s been said over and over again by all manner of baseball egghead, including yours truly – baseball is more than a sport or a corporate enterprise. It really is a state of mind. It is both giddy thrill and deep comfort.
It is an imperfect but consoling and cherished companion on the transient existential road and, for some of us, it can be a spiritual salve that, more than religion, imparts a sense of a joyous (or even monotonous) eternal life: extra innings can, theoretically, go on forever.
But not today. Not on Opening Day. The game has been called on account of plague, and I don’t know about you, but I’m kind of messed up about it. I haven’t been the kind of ball fan that hangs on every pitch from every game, not for a long time. Hell, we haven’t had regular TV service (i.e., ESPN and other TV stations that broadcast ballgames) for at least 10 years. When I do take in a game, it’s been on the radio most of the time, or through box scores and stories online.
Even in those rare times when I didn’t give a damn, or I was pissed off at the game, just knowing it was there, marking the seasons, doing its job, gave off a sense of desired normalcy and permanence, kind of like gravity: something you don’t see or think about very often, but you’re really glad it’s there, because when it’s not you float listlessly into space, which is kind of how I felt in 1994, when the season (and World Series, which the Braves woulda won, and Tony Gwynn’s chance at batting .400) was cancelled because of a labor dispute. But this is much worse. At least the labor dispute didn’t cause people to get sick and die.
So, on the one hand, I’m really glad that there is wisdom enough in the world to postpone crowd-heavy events like Opening Day (and March Madness, and the NBA season, etc., etc., etc.) in an effort to somehow corral this historically bad virus. It makes total sense and is exactly the right thing to do. On the other … I don’t have to like it, damn it.
Today is a day I was really looking forward to, the big “Play Ball” to the 2020 baseball season. Well, I still looked forward to today (and look forward to tomorrow), but for entirely different reasons. We’re deprived of Opening Day for now, but it’ll come back. Maybe in May, June. Can’t say right now.
If this virus doesn’t finish us, Opening Day will come back. But since, temporarily, we can’t experience any new games and new statistics and new records (the fantasy baseball enterprise is really struggling, I’m sure), here’s an example of some of the most memorable Opening Days:
1901 – The Detroit Tigers, playing their first game ever, scored 10 runs in the bottom of the ninth inning to beat the Milwaukee Brewers, 14-13, in what still stands as the biggest Opening Day comeback. The Brewers left town the next season and became the St. Louis Browns (who became the Baltimore Orioles).
1910 – President William Howard Taft starts a long tradition with the presidential first pitch on April 14, then sticks around to watch ace Walter Johnson and the Washington Senators blank the mighty Philadelphia Athletics, 3-0. The first pitch tradition lasted a century. The last time it happened was on the 100-year anniversary of Taft’s inaugural toss. Our nation’s last legitimate president, Barack Obama, threw out the ceremonial pitch on April 14, 2010, before the Washington Nationals’ season opener.
1912 – On April 20 the Boston Red Sox opened Fenway Park with a thrilling 7-6 win in 11 innings, just a few days after the sinking of the Titanic.
1923 – Babe Ruth christened brand new Yankee Stadium (known, naturally, as the House the Ruth Built) with a home run on Opening Day (April 18) in front of a record (at the time) 74,200 fans.
1926 – Walter Johnson did it to the Athletics again. This time he hooked up with Eddie Rommel as both hurlers went all 15 innings in a game Johnson and the Senators won, 1-0.
1940 – On April 16, Bob Feller threw a no hitter against the White Sox, the first of a career-high 27 victories for the fireballer.
1947 – Probably the best Opening Day ever was April 15, when Jackie Robinson broke the race barrier in “organized” baseball, starting at first base for the Brooklyn Dodgers. If you ask me, all the baseball records before this date should have an asterisk.
1974 – Let’s just fast forward to April 14, 1974, the day that Henry Aaron tied Babe Ruth’s all-time home run record, hitting No. 714 off Cincinnati’s Jack Billingham.
1988, 2001, 2018 – George Bell (Blue Jays, ’88), Tuffy Rhodes (Cubs, ’01), and Matt Davidson (White Sox, ’18) each hit three home runs on Opening Day.
1999 – The Colorado Rockies beat the San Diego Padres, 8-2, in Monterrey, Mexico – the first international Opening Day (unless you count games in Canada). Since then, there have been a number of other openers in other countries, including Japan (2000, 2004, 2008, 2012, 2019) and Australia (2014).
2012 – The Indians and Blue Jays met in the longest Opening Day game ever, a 16-inning affair won by the Indians, 7-4.
Now that you’re totally bummed out that there will be no Opening Day (I was planning to tune into the Braves at Diamondbacks tonight, but I might watch Eight Men Out instead), let me leave with you some Opening Day wisdom from that legendary philosopher and catcher from St. Louis, who plied his trade in the Bronx, Yogi Berra: “A home opener is always exciting, no matter if it’s home or on the road.”