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Down the Right Field Line

A Baseball Fan's Guide to Opening Day

In the fantasy land we call the sports world there are many days that we might consider holidays. These are not really official holidays, but that doesn't stop us from celebrating them. Sports Holidays might include Super Bowl Sunday, New Years Day Bowl Games, the Daytona 500, the NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament's First and Second Rounds (10 hours of basketball for 4 days straight!!!!), the NCAA Men's Final Four, Master's Sunday, the Indianapolis 500, and the Baseball Holidays.

The Baseball Holidays include Home Run Derby Monday, All-Star Tuesday, we could almost include the Future's Game, the World Series, and of course the closest one... Opening Day!

Opening Day is April 5, and it is coming up fast. So I thought I'd write about what makes Opening Day great, what I do every Opening Day, some Opening Day Fun Facts, and why baseball's Opening Day is so much better than that of any other sport.

Why is it that Opening Day is so special? What makes the first game of the regular season any more important than any other regular season game? It counts the same in the standings as any other game. And in reality, since it is first, it is the one game that should have the least impact of any game on the 162 game schedule.

It could be because the games are... well they are real now. No more split squad games. No more seeing Ryan Howard for one at bat and then watching a bench player clean up. No more watching AA pitchers get pummeled by Major League hitters. No more hearing the words Grapefruit League and Cactus League. No more watching Major League teams in minor league stadiums. Don't get me wrong, I love Spring Training. But it is early for baseball and it gets old fast.

But April is the beginning of spring. And with the beginning of spring comes new life, new opportunity, and new growth of every kind of plant. The days become longer, and we hope for a good summer to come. But what April really signifies is new hope.

Maybe Opening Day is so special because it is just that: the beginning of a new year. It is a time for every baseball player and fan to rejoice and hope that this year might just be next year! (You don't have to tell Cub Fans this.) It is a time of new hope, new dreams, and new opportunity. Maybe it's because whether you are a David or Goliath, you know that the same exact opportunity is in front of you.

But those are not the only reasons why Opening Day is so special. Every die hard baseball fan has their Opening Day traditions. For me, Opening Day is a holiday. (And if my Cubs are playing in the afternoon I make sure to take it off from school.) I count down the days to Opening Day like a little kid counts down the days until Christmas. (For example: I know that while I am writing this it is 12 days, 20 hours and 9 minutes until Opening Day.) I'm a little embarrassed by this, but when I'm alone, I will even make up songs about Opening Day. I'll even change the lyrics to some Christmas songs and substitute the words Opening Day in.

On Opening Day I wake up and the day smells and tastes like baseball everywhere I go. I shower, put on my lucky ballhaking cargo shorts, followed by my favorite Aramis Ramirez Alternate Jersey, and finished off by my Red Billed Cubs Road Hat I bought at Wrigley Field. I wear the hat to school. Then I wear the hat in school, defying any teacher that tells me to take it off! I think "they just don't understand". I only take it off when they warn me that I will go to the office if I do not take it off. Still I am disgusted! I'd like to say it is against my religion! (I've always joked that baseball is a religion. I love it like a religion, and this is one of the Holy Days of Baseball.)

I get home, and watch the pregame coverage, and then eat the pizza my dad has ordered while watching the game. By the 4th inning I've usually cursed the Cubs at least 3 times. I usually want to end the pain and switch to another game, but I watch the rest anyway. Depending on the result I've either had a good or bad day.

You know Opening day has had some unusual things happen on it, so here are some Opening Day Fun Facts.

  • 1940 Bob Feller throws the only no Hitter in Opening Day History for the Cleveland Indians.
  • 12 U.S. Presidents have thrown out the first pitch on Opening Day. The First Being William Taft on April 14, 1910.
  • In 14 Opening Day starts for the Washington Senators, Walter Johnson pitched 9 shutouts including a 1-0 15 inning dual with the Philadelphia A's Eddie Rommel.
  • The St. Louis Cardinals were the first major league team to open the season with a night game, beating the Pittsburgh Pirates 4-2 on April 18, 1950.
  • The longest Opening Day game in major league history was a 15-inning game played at Cleveland Stadium on April 19, 1960. The Detroit Tigers defeated the Cleveland Indians 4-2.
  • Tom Seaver has started the most Opening Day games in Major League history, starting the Opener 16 times for the Mets, White Sox, and Reds.
  • The Cleveland Indians Home Opener against the Mariners was snowed out on 3 occasions. The Indians moved their weekend series to Milwaukee for their new "Home Opener" against the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim. The Indians had their Official Home Opener on April 13.
  • In 1907, the New York Giants opened against the Philadelphia Phillies following a heavy snowstorm. In preparation for the game, groundskeepers were forced to shovel large drifts of snow onto the outer edges of the field in foul territory. After falling behind 3-0, the disappointed fans at the Polo Grounds began hurling snowballs onto the playing field, disrupting play. After being hit with a snowball Home plate umpire Bill Klem called a forfeit in favor of the Phillies.
  • Hank Aaron tied Babe Ruth hitting his 714th Career Home Run on Opening Day 1974.
  • Ted Williams hit .449 on Opening Day with 3 HR and 14 RBIs. He also hit at least one home run in every Opening Day game he appeared in.
  • Greg Maddux was 6-0 in 7 starts on Opening Day.

So now that you know that, what about baseball's Opening Day sets it apart from the other three major sports? Well the NBA and NHL openers are not usually hyped up by the media. Both seasons tend to just start and go on throughout the winter. The regular season isn't as important, as in MLB or the NFL, until late in the season. The NHL's opening night is usually right at the beginning of MLB playoffs and tend to draw few viewers, including hockey fans. The NBA has, by far, the worst regular season of the four major sports. And the basketball season tends to just start.

The NFL's "Kickoff" is a whole weekend. It is a Thursday, Sunday, Sunday Night, and Monday Night of football. So while it is exciting. It is way more drawn out than MLB which often has one game the Sunday Night before Opening Day. The Media also over hypes the Thursday game only to do the same thing to the Sunday day games, the Sunday night game, and the two Monday Night games.

The NFL's "Kickoff" weekend also comes at the beginning of September when it is still hot and feels like baseball season. I've just experienced a whole spring and summer of non-news football stories that the media tries to make into stories. At the top of this long list would be the following: (I wrote my opinion in italics.)

"Tebow has new throwing motion"

...Still to be covered for another 4 weeks. I'm already sick of this one.

"Will any team take Tebow?"

Yes, shut up. If we are asking a team will take him.

"Who had the best performance at the NFL Scouting Combine?"

I don't care! It is for NFL scouts! Not me!

"The Rams took Ndomakong Suh over Sam Bradford in the NFL Draft."

Interesting. Check in with me in 5 years and tell me how that worked out.

"What are the players experiencing at Training Camp?"

It's baseball season.

And then my favorite... And I am a Packer fan so I once worshiped this guy.

"TONIGHT ON FAVRE WATCH: What did Brett Favre have to eat for breakfast and what does this mean about his return to football?"

"What is the time table for Brett's Return?"

"When Will Brett be at Training Camp?"

Just Shut up Brett and make up your mind.

I guess that by football season I'm already burned out from all the non-news stories in the "non-playing season". (The NFL is so cocky they don't even officially call the summer the off season anymore. They call it the "non-playing season".) In MLB the division races are in full swing, and I'm also tired from playing High School Football. It's September, but all that I want to think about is baseball.

While football has its history we usually do not associate it with Opening Day. The modern NFL is only 40 years old. And let's be honest, unlike baseball, the playing field is not quite as fair. In both sports, the bad teams are bad, but a bad team can never beat a good team in the NFL. So Opening Day does not necessarily mean a fresh start in the NFL.

At the end of the day baseball has far more history than football. It has been around for hundreds of years compared to a few decades. Opening Day is a big part of baseball's history and ultimately that is what Opening Day is about. It is the first day each year that millions of baseball fans all over the world can celebrate and give thanks to God for creating such a great game.

And then...Well, after Opening Day life goes on. There are still 161 games left in the Regular season.

Sources:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Opening_Day
http://www.baseball-almanac.com/opening_day/opening_day.shtml
http://cleveland.indians.mlb.com/schedule/index.jsp?c_id=cle&m=4&y=2007

Phil Joens is a contributing columnist to myGameBalls.com and also maintains a Blog.

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