What Makes Opening Day Important?

What Makes Opening Day Important?

Roger Hornsby is regarded as one of the greatest professional ballplayers to ever play nearly a century after he last appeared in the Major Leagues. However, Hornsby may now be remembered more by fans as the man who’s responsible for the now-infamous quote about baseball and the offseason:

People ask me what I do in the winter when there’s no baseball. I’ll tell you what I do. I stare out the window and wait for spring

On the surface, Hornsby’s quote may appear to be lighthearted¬† and a mere passing comment about his dedication to the game of baseball. When examined, it’s easy to realize why the quote has grown in popularity. To some, baseball is a boring sport that has a season far too long to keep their attention. The game moves at a snail’s pace, the pitcher throws and the batter swings, and anyone can do such mundane tasks. There aren’t the same intense tackles as football, the drama of basketball, and fist fights of hockey. In fact, violence in baseball is very rare and fights often turn into dugout clearing safety nets before any significant damage can be done. Baseball simply isn’t about the elements of a sport that are in your face and easy to hop into. It’s a sport of storytelling, one that has become intertwined with American culture and has rightfully been coined the National Pastime.

It’s easy to see where a hockey fan might become bored with the sport. A fastball high-and-in to a slugger on an 0-2 count may appear as a wasted motion by a novice observer, but the proceeding slider-away that the same batter ends up swinging through for the third strike was set up only by the previous pitch. The observer may question, but those who know the game understand the methodology behind the game. The reason why left-handed specialists exist, the difference that defensive replacements can make, and why a pinch-hitter needs to bat against a certain pitcher. It’s a game of odds, one that can be quantified by computers to an exact decimal. Knowing is more than half the game, and in a world obsessed with the newest application on their smart phone, they may not feel like learning is conducive to anything other than wasting their time until their other favorite club takes the field.

That’s fine. Opening Day wasn’t meant for them, and neither was baseball.
The importance of Opening Day can’t be understated. For many, their experiences rival their best childhood memories. Personally, I vividly recall bundling up for the frigid openers at Shea Stadium with my father and grandfather. My dad telling me that the team had a chance to be good this year, and my grandpa nodding his head along in agreement as we stood in line for Dunkin Donuts hot chocolate (which, in fact, was only warm). There weren’t many days that the three of us got to spend together, so the experience is one that sticks out in my mind. Fast forward to 2010, and it’s a whim to take a trip to Citi Field and miss a day of high school to see the Mets open the season amidst mild expectations. The same story can be said about 2011, 2012, and finally 2013. The events surrounding the game hold as much importance as the games themselves, but if you’re to attend an opener of any team, the Mets boast the best winning percentage in major league history on the date. It’s a win/win scenario for all involved. A win puts the club in first place, a loss puts them only a game out.

Symbolically, the day is representative of the conclusion of spring. The days are longer, the weather is nicer, and there’s reason to be excited about the long summer approaching. The boys of summer are just beginning to wake up, and there’s every reason to believe that this could finally be the year. Concerned about the outfield? Not to worry, Ike Davis, David Wright, and Lucas Duda can easily combine for 90 home runs. Hey, the outfield may even outperform their measly expectations and help push the club toward contending for the Wild Card…or if something goes wrong with another club, for the Eastern Division Crown.

Are these likely scenarios? No. Not at all. As mentioned, baseball is as much a science as it is a game of brawn and grits. Opening Day is a day meant to be celebrated for the fans who have thought about baseball for hours a day since the conclusion of the regular season. Those who stayed up at night to hear about David Wright’s extension, watched as R.A Dickey was traded for a plethora of prospects, and then saw Wright become Captain (America). It’s for those who have spent the days counting down from over 100 to the final hours. It’s for those who feel like the longest time of the offseason is now, only hours before it concludes. It’s for those who become encapsulated from the first pitch of the season until the last out in September or October, blink, and wonder how the last six months happened, if they happened, and when the magical carpet ride of a major league baseball season will begin again.

It’s at that point when the baseball fan looks out the window and the casual observer who could never understand will approach with the most mundane tone to talk about football, ask how they can care so much about a game, and then ask what they do until the season starts.

We’ll leave this one to Mr. Hornsby:

People ask me what I do in the winter when there’s no baseball. I’ll tell you what I do. I stare out the window and wait for spring

It’s time to drive to Citi Field, turn on SNY, or tune into WFAN. The time for staring is over. Let’s play ball!

Photo Credit: Michael Baron