Monday, April 6, 2009

Opening Day

I'm a baseball fan, though I was never the kind of fan who would get a little dewy-eyed around Christmas and say things like "Hey, pitchers and catchers report to spring training in only eight weeks."

Baseball fans do that, more than you know. And I'm a baseball fan. My Dad was a passionate Yankee fan, even though we lived 300 miles west of the Bronx. He brought the NY Daily News home every afternoon to read about Mantle and Maris and Yogi and Whitey Ford, and I was right there with him.

We had a hometown team for a while, the Corning Red Sox. It was "A" ball, the NY-Penn League, then the lowest rung of the minor-league hierarchy. But we watched the locals take on Batavia and Wellsville and Bradford, Pa., on warm summer nights. Joe Daley, my Yankee-hating maternal gtandfather, Paul Lovette, and me.

Many of my best friends of both genders are passionate about the game as well. They are fierce in their devotion to the Yankees or the Boston Red Sox or the Chicago Cubs or the White Sox, maybe the Baltimore Orioles and, lately, the Washington Nationals.

They have rules, or at least guidelines. They never leave the park before the game is over. They hate goofy mascots, $8 beer and the incessant wail of rock music and/or country music that seems to infest the modern ballyard.

They hate Barry Bonds and steroids, love Cal Ripken, Jr., and Ken Griffey, Jr. They loath the designated hitter and are conflicted about inter-league play. They're convinced today's ballplayers are better athletes but somehow lesser human beings than the players they grew up on.

I'm comfortable with most of that. But for reasons I can't quite determine, Opening Day leaves me cold, as cold as Chicago, where Opening Day this year was scrubbed because it was, well, too cold.

This disenchantment may spring from advancing years, though many of my Baby Boomer amigos have not lost anything off their rooting fastballs. It may stem from the six or so years I spent in a great job as a sports columnist for the Chicago Tribune and, before that, at a paper in Palo Alto, CA.

That experience of actually spending time around major league baseball players will change a man. No other way to say it.

When I was writing sports there were a host of bright, talented men wearing the uniform. Two managers, Jim Frey, then of the Cubs and Tony LaRussa, then of the White Sox, come to mind. They were savvy, interesting guys, fun to talk to, though equipped with the wariness that everyone ought to employ when talking to the press.

Not surprisingly, players at the margins tended to be better company than the All-Stars, though not always. But five or six years of hanging around sullen, spoiled, overpaid lads possessed of an arcane skill set will chill the romance.

I imagine most of them felt the same way about me, except for the overpaid part.

These days, many years after I stopped getting into the ballpark for free, I refer to myself as a recovering baseball fan. LaRussa, now in St. Louis, and a handful of graying coaches may be all that's left of the era I got to witness. i never met a single Washington National, and while they are a dismal baseball lot at this point, I find it possible to root for them without equivocation.

Still, I'm happier with the concept of Opening Day than with Opening Day itself.

It's a good thing, it brings some joy to millions, it cements families and friendships, it can galvanize communities in a positive way.

Most of the players don't care about that, believe me.

But if the box scores and the fearless prognostications and the possibility that the Cubs will end their World Series futility in Year 101 leave me stranded at third, I guess that's my problem.

Play ball.


  1. Ah, Squire -- grand to see you spin these electronic pearls and show these blogster amateurs how a True Pro does it.

  2. Some where in Chicago lives a gal who is still waiting for her dream series, Tigers vs Cubs. Those damn Padres snatched it away in 84, but hope springs eternal and she thinks this may be the year. She is obviously delusional.
    Nice piece, looking forward to more.

  3. What a wonderful way to get in the mood for baseball! Spent a great evening on Saturday watching the Os and the Nats go at it in a half-empty stadium, but enjoyed gazing over at the Capitol dome at dusk. There's nothing like being there in person -- especially when you're right near the Dippin' Dots stand!

  4. A graceful piece you wrote there, Daley. Mantle is always "Mantle" or "The Mick," never full name. Maris is "Maris," not "Roger." Yogi, well, there's only one. And you have to use two names for Whitey Ford, because using just one could be confused with others by the same names. (No one is named "Whitey" anymore, for obvious reasons. Instead we get "Lastings Milledge." But he didn't last.)
    I've never been to an opening day. But each one inspires dreams. Until 2004, they never came true. Go Red Sox!