It's almost here. Can you feel it?
Teams are fine-tuning their rosters and players are shaking the dust off from the near 5 month layoff. Meaningless spring training games tease fans with a glimpse of the excitement that has yet to come. The World Baseball Classic attempts to hold our interest until spring bestowes upon us that gift that comes once per year with alarming regularity.
Yes, Opening Day - a day which marks the beginning of the long distance marathon known as the Major League Baseball season. A day where people flock to stadiums in order to sneak a peek at new faces and admonish those of years past. As excitement builds for the first pitch, I can't help but ask myself one thing:
What are we really excited about, anyway?
Don't get me wrong - I love baseball and all the excitement created by the Opening Day festivities. I love the intrigue and speculation that goes into naming the Opening Day starters. I love the extra effort down first base, the added concentration at the plate, and how skippers manage like its game 7 of the World Series. I love all of these things except for the actual game that's being played.
That game is meaningless .
In a 162 game baseball season, the first game counts just as much as the 25th, 85th, or 155th game does. The first 9 of over 1,400 innings of play means no more than the last 9, yet for some reason to us - they do.
Cleveland Indians' shortstop Jhonny Peralta creates a lasting memory for a lucky fan.
Again I pose the question: where does this unfounded fascination with the first game of the year come from? Why should the first 27 outs be any more special than the remaining 4,347?
The answer to this question goes deeper than any statistic I could raise in defense.
For millions of Americans around the country, Opening Day is more than just another baseball game - it is a new beginning. For the proud father taking his son to Fenway Park for the first time, it's the beginning of a family tradition. For that son, it's the beginning of a dream. For the elderly couple who've held season tickets at Wrigley Field for 30 years, it's the beginning of another baseball-filled summer of hot dogs, laughs, and memories both old and new. For that casual fan sitting in Mezzanine section 321 of Progressive Field , it's the chance to reacquaint with familiar faces while creating new friendships all the same.
Unlike any other professional sport, baseball is just as much about what happens off the field than what happens on it. The conversations and experiences that go into the three hour session at the ballpark often times mean more than anything football, basketball, or hockey could ever hope to create.
The reason for this lies mostly in the nature of the game itself. Compared to its fall and winter counterparts, the slow-paced game of baseball generates little "action," and that often times alienates the casual fan in the process. Any action on the field involves only 3 of the potential 12 participants - the rest of which appear to be doing more than standing around in the grass. Those factors in addition to the exhausting length of the game itself create the makings of what many consider a total snoozefest. Right?
Going to the ball park is an experience in and of itself strictly unique to America's National Pasttime. To many who follow the game, Opening Day is about so much more. It's about complaining over $8 beers and parking prices with friends and fellow fans. It's about booing for the 'bad guys', rooting for the 'good guys', and neglecting everything else inbetween. It's about Jimmy, Paulie, and Raffie. It's about praying that foul ball somehow manages to find its way into your section of the bleachers. Put simply - it's all about things that surround the game that go beyond just balls and strikes.
In the grand scheme of things, Opening Day does little to define a team's success on the baseball field. What it does define are the beginnings of traditions that transcend the events of the sport itself.
And that makes this the most important game of them all.