To Paul Quarrington <*angel*> with Love
From the last out of the World Series to the first pitch in ball parks across North America six months later, a grey stain flattens the brain of the baseball fanatic. Nothing pierces the lengthy out-to-lunchiness of the aficionado resolutely ensnored in The Deep Sleep.
Nothing, that is, but Opening Day.
Opening Day signifies the return of the green, the only rite of spring, the pinnacle of bliss for the faithful. It represents an end to hiberation and the unkindest wait of all.
True devotees divide the world into a series of dualities, a fact originating in the binary nature of the game itself. Two teams at a time tangle throughout the season; division winners play each other; and, one team's fortune always equals another team's failure.
For the fanatic, the world neatly breaks down into baseball or wasteland, grey or green, feast or famine, fans and fools. It's a case of open or shut-eye, sleep or wakefulness, all or nothing, hit or miss. Baseball's that kind of game. Opening Day's that kind of panacea.
Throughout the winter and early spring, trade talks, statistics, and performance records barely make a dent in the ballophile's mind. Spring training functions as a kind of cosmic alarm clock's snooze button: The sleepy soul opens one lazy eye before slipping back into a hazy hiatus yielding semi-conscious relief.
On Opening Day, all heaven breaks loose. The beautifully manicured field of green, the mathematical precision of baselines and pitcher's mound, the mystical familiarity of the only game in town — all produce a civilised sight for sore eyes. Ecstasy erupts.
To get a fix of the green, the addict runs, walks, shuffles, or creeps along to the nearest ballpark on Opening Day. Transit two-steps? Parking puzzles? Inclement weather? These mean nothing to the true fan on the lam. No armchair spectators these. Only the view from the favourite section, the sweet smells from the favourite concession, the inspired pre-game small talk with surrounding friends, neighbours, and strangers engenders the necessary enraptured response. Gold, diamonds, or preferred shares in Northern Telecom may be well and good; but, if you ain't got a ticket stub in your hand at 1:35 PM on Opening Day, you ain't got diddly squat.
No phrase in sports carries as much weight as Opening Day. Hockey, basketball, football, curling, tennis, lacrosse — each offers its own brand of season opener; but, none boasts the magic or the pageantry of baseball's Opening Day. Since the first professional Opening Day in 1876, the ritual has unfolded according to an invisible plan. The first pitch generally yields to nine engrossing innings and the (sadly mistaken) belief it will go on forever.
Still, with the advent of Opening Day, the world indeed rights itself. The great design slides into place. Optimism rides high. Spirits soar. Significant Form comes home to roost. With 110 years of history, the start of each pro season signals a new beginning with the best of all possible players in the best of all possible worlds. Injuries, strikes, and win-loss records cease to exist. The slates of annual stats are pristine clean (and, of course, our fave team's looking pretty lean and mean).
On Opening Day, the summer stretches before us, glittering on the threshold of our best year yet. It's the time of blind belief and unmitigated fanfaronade. Anything is possible. Jack Morris of the Detroit Tigers will surpass his '84 performance. Bill Caudill of the Toronto Blue Jays will rise above his extended slump. Tim Raines of the Montreal Expos will lead both leagues in stolen bases. Hell, the Indians will win the World Series!
Opening Day's the time to sink your eyes into restful green, your teeth into the season's first dog, and your hard-earned bucks into ensuring you're there to absorb the sing-song cries of the concessioneers, the hiss-boom blahs of the losers, the kill-the-ump trumpeters already in full blast. It's the time to dust off your sneakers, freshen up your mink-lined baseball cap, and lazily reflect upon past victories while anticipating future miracles. And yes, most assuredly, it's truly the time to bask in the glory of now.
It's also the time to make predictions. In Montreal, they're bragging the Expos will go all the way; in Toronto, they're talking equally tough. Seems, come Opening-Day time, every team's got an egalitarian op to rise to the top of the crop.
Natch, it's generally the time one verifies rumours, confirms facts, and sees (or ogles) the boys in the flesh. Who's lost weight? Who's gained? Who's off the roster? Who's no longer batting first in the lineup? Isn't that what's-his-name on the mound? Hey, don't tell me George Stingbummer's still around! And, thank You, Lord, thank You — looks like the wave's finally waved goodbye.
Happily, Opening Day doesn't leave room for discrimination; it provides catharsis for all in desperate need of same. You let off a little steam, applaud heroes, castigate villains, and generally work your way towards waking up. The Day signals spring's been trained and summer's finally arrived; each of 25 teams will be the contender knocking KC off that map; and, when the first sweet notes of the national anthem come scratchily wafting over the PA system, you really and truly understand what it means to rise and shine.
"Opening Day" was originally the cover-story feature of Innings: Canada's Baseball Magazine's 15 May 1986 edition. © 1986-2011 Judith Fitzgerald. Photograph of Jack Morris and Judith Fitzgerald © 1986-2011 Avrum Fenson. Photograph of Sparkie Anderson and Judith Fitzgerald © 1986-2011 Avrum Fenson. All Rights Reserved. (Very special thanks to Avrum Fenson and Martin Levin.)