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Down the Right Field Line

Opening Day in an Independent Baseball Town

In the approximately one year I've written for mygameballs.com, I've written several articles showing major league ballhawks my view from a minor-league perspective. This time I'll hit on the start of baseball season... or lack thereof for me.

I think we can all agree that MLB Opening Day is one of the best sporting days of the year! Sure, others, like March Madness Thursday and Friday, Final Four Saturday, and Super Bowl Sunday, are also great sports days. But Opening Day just seems more special than the others.

On Opening Day the new season's first heroes are made! Opening Day signals the official start of spring as fans in cold weather cities come out to see the bright green grass contrasting the dark brown infield dirt.

Fans of all teams come out in droves, and for one day all baseball fans can stand united, un-divided by rivalries, and say "play ball!".

On Opening Day ballhawks come out from their winter slumber and hunt for their precious eggs. And on Opening Day even the worst teams in the MLB sell out and pack their stadiums.

But Opening Day is bittersweet for a kid from an independent baseball town. I love Opening Day! I have my rituals that I practice for my beloved Chicago Cubs. However, I choke down the game on TV, and in my head I tell myself that I want to be at the stadium now more than ever!

(My parents always tell me that I can never attend an MLB game until school gets out.)

What Opening Day means to me is that it is only 1 1/2 months until my ballhawking season begins. On Opening Day I start to formulate plans to go down to an NAIA college's games and quite literally steal the foul balls that their players are supposed to retrieve.

While I usually only pull that plan off once or twice, it does little to cure my craving for snagging baseballs.

Opening Day means that for then next month and a half my mind will be transfixed on baseball. Until the American Association season starts, my mind will want, need, and crave baseball!

In the next month and a half I will go to those college games, and then sneak down to Lewis and Clark Park, where I am now a season ticket holder, sneaking behind the wall several times during the two week period in May between the start of Explorers camp and the start of their season.

Heck, I'm even putting off a college visit to the University of Missouri until April 5, just so I can have an excuse to stop in Kansas City and attend a Royals game.

But I guess that I also revel in being able to experience Opening Day twice! I love waking up and smelling baseball for the same reasons on two different days. I can't wait until March 31 when I practice all of my Opening Day rituals as I wait for the start of the Chicago Cubs game at 1:20 P.M. And I've already got my whole day planned on May 20 when the Explorers open at home vs. the Fort Worth Cats!

And whereas in the Majors the players will line-up and be celebrated by millions of people in gigantic baseball cathedrals, players in the minors will line-up in the same fashion, along the first and third base lines, but these road warriors will be celebrated by just few thousand at the most.

In the Majors each stadium is wiped down to look its finest. In the minors a few banners are hung and the steps are swept.

In the majors fields may be re-sodded before each season. In the minors the same old turf is shined and groomed to look its best.

In the majors the anticipation builds in each of MLB's 28 cities until the first pitch is thrown each season. In an independent baseball town anticipation may swell for a team's few hundred die-hard fans.

But no matter the time of year, stadium, or level of play, Opening Day means the same thing everywhere. From the big leagues to the little leagues Opening Day represents new life, new hope, and the celebration of God's great game of Baseball.

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

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