Play Ball

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Bob Levey/Getty Images

The stadiums draped in red, white, and blue banners, the five-year-olds experiencing it all for the first time, baseball in one hand and sharpie in the other, and the quiet hum of anticipation that can turn into a deafening roar in an instant.

Opening Day provides something that isn’t really explainable, but rather, simply felt.

The anticipation of 162 games in front of us, all being played for the right to play just a few more, is more powerful to some than spring fever or Christmas morning.

Baseball brings summer, and summer brings baseball. America’s pastime is just as alluring to us in 2016 as it was when our dad first brought us to the ballpark.

Captivating, magical, unexplainable love at first sight.

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Photo by Daniel Berman

The stadiums are always packed for that opening series, especially Opening Day. Everyone’s ace is on the mound, and the best lineup is on the scorecard. Fans ooze with anticipation to see their team after the cold, long winter.

We get our first real glimpse at free-agent signees and kids that can potentially compete for a Rookie of the Year Award, along with all of our returning favorites.

We get to see the Mike Trouts, the Clayton Kershaws, the Bryce Harpers. The .330 batting averages and the sub-2.00 ERAs are nice to watch throughout a season, but on Opening Day, we get to see where it all begins.

Everyone starts out with the same stat line. What defines their legacy is where they take it from there.

Opening Day has a certain factor to it — a “what if” factor. Anything is possible, and the fans know it. Last season’s heartbreak was just setting up the triumph that this year will surely provide. 

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Jared Wickerham/Getty Images

Wrigley’s ivy outfield is not yet green, but it still holds a promise of life in the summer months to come. You can still see your breath at Target Field, but Minnesotans are used to the cold. And the chilly air at Safeco Field is nothing for a fanbase anxiously waiting to get behind a team that finally returns to postseason play. It’s easy to pack a stadium in sun-soaked California or indoors at Miller Park in Milwaukee, but fans across the country are willing to endure the cold and the long lines and the nosebleed seats for one common reason: it’s Opening Day.

There’s nothing quite as magical as a major leaguer taking the time to sign a ball for a five-year-old at his first trip to the ballpark — at least for the kid. His cap doesn’t quite fit him yet and partially covers his eyes, and his mitt hasn’t been removed from his left hand since he got out of the car. And as he extends his ball as far as his short arms will allow him to, the big-leaguer grabbing it to sign it means so much more than just putting his signature on the baseball.

Bug-eyed, the five-year-old looks on as his brand new favorite players signs his ball. His ball. And when he gets the ball back, he can hardly contain himself. He runs back to dad, who was watching on from four rows back, and proudly displays his new treasure. The smile won’t leave his face until well after he sings along during the 7th Inning Stretch.

Perhaps most fans aren’t five anymore, and perhaps we don’t all seek autographs during batting practice anymore. But when we did, we fell so hard in love with the game that the joy we felt will never really leave at all.

There will be loses throughout the year — and some real tough ones at that. But Opening Day is a promise of hope, an escape from real troubles, even for just nine innings a day. Opening Day makes us forget about the loses and makes us remember the feeling of joy, that five-year-old feeling of joy.

As we sit in the stands, or watch along from home, we know that the ensuing 162 games played between the chalk lines will all be different. But this one, the first one, will always be a bit more special.

All the five-year-old fans will cheer when the umpire finally calls out “Play ball!”

Even though most of us aren’t five anymore.

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3 thoughts on “Play Ball

  1. Awesome post! When I was younger, I lived and breathed baseball. I would watch nearly every televised Twins game with my dad in my family’s living room with the same excitement that you described in this post. While I’ll still catch a game every now and then on TV, it seems like there is always something else vying for my attention. Still, thank you for the trip down memory lane and for bringing up those long lost feelings towards America’s game .

    Liked by 1 person

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