CRAWFORD | An appreciation of baseball's Opening Day, when 'dreams are born anew'
WDRB's Eric Crawford with an appreciation for Major League Baseball's Opening Day.
"Opening Day. There is only one, and it's in baseball. The theater has opening nights scattered here and there about the calendar, and there are various opening days of...the fishing season, the race meeting, the NFL season. But there is only one Opening Day, when grandmothers drop like flies and dreams are born anew."
-- Frank Deford, "Spring Has Sprung," Sports Illustrated, April 10, 1978. Read it here.
By Eric Crawford
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- Happy Opening Day. No need to remind me that they played three games on Sunday.
I’m well aware that the official first pitch of the 2017 Major League Baseball season came at 1:12 p.m. Sunday (a 92-mph four-seam fastball from Tampa Bay righthander Chris Archer to New York Yankees’ left fielder Brett Gardner, ball, low and away) in Tropicana Field (Weather: 72 degrees -- dome; Wind: none, yuck).
No, give me Opening Day in Cincinnati, where Opening Day is an event, where they’ve been holding the Findlay Market Parade since 1920, where they first played professional baseball and where the Cincinnati Reds had the honor of batting leadoff for MLB for decades -- and took it seriously.
Cincinnati is baseball’s proper starting point, where the most famous Red, Pete Rose said of Opening Day, “It’s like Christmas, except it’s warmer.”
The Reds open against the Philadelphia Phillies Monday in Great American Ball Park at 4:10 p.m., after at least four others begin on baseball’s second day. But that won’t dampen the festivities.
Nor will the meager expectations for the hometown Reds, who oddsmakers at Bovada sportsbook have at 200-1 to win the 2017 World Series, the longest odds in all the majors.
“It’s like a big holiday,” Reds’ center fielder Billy Hamilton said while in Louisville for an exhibition last Friday. “For us, if we don’t get to the field by a certain time, you can’t even get down to the clubhouse. The whole area is packed out. Reds fans are great. I don’t know if anybody even works that day. It just makes you want to go out and give them a great Opening Day.”
At some point Monday, Reds’ general manager Dick Williams will put aside his work and get out of his stadium office to soak in some of the atmosphere. His family has been involved in Reds’ ownership for a half-century.
“I’m born and raised in Cincinnati, so I’ve had a long love affair with Opening Day there, the parade and the pageantry,” Williams said. “When you get in the business, it’s easy to get swept up on Monday in preparing for the game, and all the loose ends. But I always make a point of taking time to get out of my office and spend some time walking around the blocks downtown, at least within a block or two of the stadium, just to soak up the energy and the enthusiasm. Because it really is a big part of what we have going with the Reds, how our fans take Opening Day so seriously, and how much pride they take in it. And I grew up with that. I love it. I wish I had more time to enjoy it. But when they do open those gates, you can really feel it when they come in that first game.”
Up in the broadcast booth, Jim Kelch, who folks in Louisville will remember as the former voice of the Bats and of University of Louisville women’s basketball, will join Hall of Famer Marty Brennaman and the rest of the Reds’ broadcast crew to call the game.
“Every Opening Day, I’m just thankful to still have a job,” Kelch said. “You really do feel fortunate every day you do this.”
Adam Duvall, a Louisville native and former star at Butler High School and the University of Louisville, said one thing hasn’t changed from his days of playing youth baseball -- he’s still nervous before the first game.
“For me, one thing stays the same every year, I get out there and I get butterflies every, single year,” he said. “It’s something that never really gets old, and you just want to do it as long as you can.”
I’m not sure what it is, but I feel like baseball has something of an opportunity right now. The NFL has become “America’s Game,” but it has some issues. Soccer continues to grow, but the highest level of the sport is played abroad. Basketball has its place. But baseball enjoyed a bit of a revival with the Cubs’ success last season. Game 7 of the World Series between Chicago and Cleveland was the highest-rated World Series game in 25 years, with 75 million watching at least a portion of the game, and an average audience of 40 million.
These are tense times in some ways for our nation. Things are polarized politically. Maybe what we all need is a few more trips to the ballpark. In another polarized time for this nation, after the Civil War, poet Walt Whitman prescribed baseball as a potential salve to some of the nation’s stress.
In a talk with Horace Traubel in the 1880s, Whitman called baseball “America’s game” and said it did people good to get outdoors. “We are some ways a dyspeptic, nervous set,” Whitman said. “Anything which will repair such losses may be regarded as a blessing.”
For a seventh straight year, there will be no presidential first pitch on Opening Day. Barack Obama threw out the ceremonial opening pitch of the season only once during his presidency, in 2010. Donald Trump cited a scheduling conflict in declining an invitation from the Washington Nationals. It marks just the second time since William Howard Taft threw out the first pitch in 1910 that we’ve gone seven years without a presidential first pitch. (Jimmy Carter never threw one, and Ronald Reagan didn’t for the first three years of his term.)
But the absence of politics certainly won’t be unwelcome.
Obama looked the part on the mound, even donned a Chicago White Sox hat despite being in the Nationals’ stadium. But his pitch left something to be desired -- a slow, looping throw that, political observers will note, missed the plate to the left. Still, he didn’t bounce it to the plate, the cardinal sin of first pitches.
“We do a lot of tough stuff as president,” Obama said during an interview later in his presidency. “And by definition you don’t end up being president if you don’t handle stress well. [But] nothing is more stressful than throwing out a first pitch.”
Whatever the case, Opening Day will roll on, and anything is possible. Even for the Reds. The great pitcher Early Wynn noted the importance of winning on Opening Day: “You know when you win that first one, you can’t lose ‘em all.”
Let’s hope he’s right.
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