“Food for the Sowles” Opening Day
Being raised in a baseball family, Opening Day has always held a special meaning to me. As far back as I can remember, there was always something inherently special about Opening Day, although as a youth I could not put a finger on it. There was something subtle that induced a sort of exhilaration at the commencement of spring training, culminating in a restless night’s sleep the eve of Opening Day. As a striving little leaguer, I found myself in awe of the greats of my youth – Mantle, Mays, Koufax, Ford, Yastrzemski, Gibson, and many others. As a kid, I adopted a tradition of placing my mitt (yes, in those days we called gloves “mitts”) on the end of my bed on the eve of Opening Day. At times, when my Mom was not around, my Dad would say I “looked sick” on Opening Day, and alas, with no school to attend, we were left no recourse but to watch the ballgame together. On occasion, Opening Day was celebrated at the very house Ruth built, Yankee Stadium, and I recall my Dad carefully attempting to convince my Mom that missing one day of school was acceptable. On the days when I did make it to school on Opening Day, I was fully armed with a transistor radio, with a fresh battery of course, and an earpiece, the wire subtly run up my shirt collar to my ear. The damn radio would fade in and out at times, but at least I was able to derive an inning by inning recap, if nothing else. I was successful in my covert classroom operation until one day a teacher tapped me on the shoulder from behind and asked me “What’s the score?”
My Opening Day euphoria has transcended the years, and to this day I still share that same enthusiasm I had as a youth. The grass on the diamonds is impeccably manicured. The red, white, and blue piping around the stadiums is both impressive and inspiring. Then we have the obligatory military jets flying overhead before the start of the game, with everybody excited and clamoring for the first pitch (after which, nowadays we immediately begin to peruse our respective fantasy rosters). On Opening Day, every team is a “contender,” even if it’s just for a day. You can hear that optimism in the various player interviews, regardless of validity or substance. I had not attended work on Opening Day when it was traditionally and rightfully so, on Monday, for many, many years. For that matter, Opening Day was traditionally, for many decades, the first game of the season, even if it started 5 minutes before the rest of the ballgames, and always contested in Cincinnati. Although MLB has tried to push upon us an opening “overseas” game halfway around the world in the middle of the night, Opening Day in my heart should always be on Monday; though now I will have to begrudgingly reassess my position with baseball opening in full force on Thursday and Friday this season. Unfortunately, my only sad recollection of an Opening Day was in 1996, in Cincinnati; when home plate umpire, John McSherry, a kind and respected man who never missed a good meal, dropped dead behind home plate just several pitches into the game. Ironically and sadly, McSherry was slated for an appointment with his physician the very next morning, due to some cardiac issues due to his weight.
I have been looked upon with bemused skepticism by my workplace superiors when my absence was noticed on Opening Day, but they have always acquiesced and found reason to look the other way during my Opening Day absences. Today, no matter what the weather is here at home at Lake Tahoe, the heavy front door (which has barricaded me from the harsh elements of winter’s blizzards) yields to the screen door as I watch the games on Opening Day; it’s an attempt, sometimes in vain, to capture that sense of Spring, fresh air, and perhaps a whiff of fresh grass. There have been times when it has been snowing like hell here on Opening Day, yet personal tradition prevails, and the door comes open anyway, even if just for a while. It just seems right to me, and I wouldn’t have it any other way. As far as I’m concerned, Opening Day is so traditional, a case can be made to proclaim it a national holiday (which I have done for myself). I have always qualified Opening Day as being on a Monday. Because to this traditionalist, Opening Day will always embrace itself to the first Monday morning of the season; not overseas in Japan, nor on a solo Sunday night game, but Monday…always Monday. Although again, Wednesday now seems to be the day of choice (at least for the 2012 season), with one solo game on the schedule. All in all, as a baseball fan and purist of the game, there’s nothing more exhilarating and traditional than the first pitch on Opening Day. Good luck with your favorite teams and those fantasy baseball rosters, fellas. Play ball!