Monday, March 28, 2011

What Opening Day Means To Me

With the 2011 Major League Baseball Opening Day literally days away, I thought I'd take a moment to let everyone have a look within my psyche to let them know exactly what it is that opening day of baseball season has historically meant for me.

While it's clear to a regular reader that my number one sports love is hockey, there was once another.  Yes, my nuptials may have come with a curved stick and a rubber puck but my first love started out with a mere aluminum bat and soft leather ball back in Mechanicsburg, PA.

I was lucky enough to have my birthday always fall around the opening day of Little League so my birthday was always a promised awesome time.  For several glorious years I took the field and when not playing with grass or acting like my glove was a mask I'd do my best to shag fly balls or ground balls (I played every position but pitcher and first).

Every time I stepped into the batters box I had never been more nervous.  Even now few events can match the nerves of when I'd step into the box.  It was fear of being hit and fear of wasting my chance to shine.  It was an adrenaline rush my little body loved and craved more of.

My first likely concussion came at the hands of baseball when a hard hit grounder struck a stone and caught me in the forehead as I was playing third base.  I had the seams of the ball imprinted in my skin for at least a day.  My first broken bone came during baseball, a line drive caught me unsuspectingly in the nose.  Perhaps the hot corner was not the best fit for me?

Baseball set me up for the long run in my life.  I'd never hit a home run.  Ever.  I hit a lot of singles and doubles.  I hit for average.  With this, ever at bat became about the minor victories.  A single or a double was just fine with me as long as it drove someone else in.  The one time I hit a triple, it was one of the better days of my young life.

Sadly the cheer and joy of Opening Day faded as the years went on.  My reason for loving baseball, my Pittsburgh Pirates, became a punch line.  Though they're making strides, they remain one to this day.  My move to South Carolina and the sudden advent of the curve ball meant less playing time, meant more bench, meant less fun.  The point of the game was ruined for me.  I was done.

Through the years my appreciation for baseball has regained.  I have some batting gloves I'll strap on sometimes as I head to the batting cage to regain that joy of that fear.  In that time where I hit single and double off of the automated pitcher I remember how special it once was and for five minutes, or 15 pitches which ever comes first, I feel young again.

While politics and steroids have ruined the game for the masses, salaries and ticket prices sky rocketing, it's still comforting to drive by a baseball field this time of year and see what made me fall in love with the sport: twenty or so kids on a field, covering their faces, sitting down, taking hacks.

Most of them have dreams of being in the big leagues one day.  For all but a tenth of a percent of them, that dream will fail.  Like me, however, the dream can alter and become something else.  They won't feel like a failure because they weren't able to connect with a curve.  Instead they'll feel like a success because of where they first realized they could be something other than in the moment.

To me, that's what Opening Day means.  As I assuredly wait to see another 162 games of semi-mediocrity from the team I still catch when ever I can, I also know that everywhere kids are taking their first steps into a world that will become much more.  Even though their reason for being may not lie on a baseball diamond, their first realization that they can dream and look forward starts there.  And it all began on Opening Day.
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