Opening Day has come and gone.
Yes, they played a baseball game in San Diego last Sunday night. Yes, two games were played in Australia last week that for reasons known only to the lame brained Commissioner of Baseball will count in the standings, but yesterday was really opening day.
There is a comfort in knowing that baseball is back and will be played nearly every day or night from now until October. The Standings are in the newspaper, the injuries and transactions recorded there with the box scores in agate type to be pored over at our leisure. The men in the funny pants with the round bats trying to hit a round ball traveling in excess of 90 miles an hour from 60 feet 6 inches away are back and as the old saying goes, everyone was equal on Opening Day. No matter how television and the constant soap operas of contracts, performance enhancement, and instant replays try to screw it up, it is really about the fact that the Pirates “own” the Cubs because they already beat them once this year.
Baseball asks its fans to deal in trivia like that, yet it also allows them to relax more than any other sport. The long season, the long game, is like a train. You get on and off at will and mainly miss very little. There are innings to be missed when nothing more than six outs are recorded and there are others we tune into because six runs are scored. You can miss a game and not feel badly about it. There is tomorrow and the next day and then another one and another until they play 162.
This is the relaxation of baseball. It is not something afforded to fans of many sports. Until the gut wrenching games in late September and October, there is no sense of life and death. No one except managers and coaches watch 162 games. Players will be injured and leave for weeks and come back and still have what can be considered a “good” year. This is not football or basketball played in prime time, it is a slow afternoon or early evening anytime between now and October at the ball park watching those who know how to do it far better than we ever could in front of 15,000 hard working stiffs who gave up their Monday afternoon/evening to see why.
Yes, it can be spectacle, but how many of the 30 teams play out the season in a spectacular way? For the fans of the game this is a comfortable time. For the fanatics who live and die by the won and loss record of one team, who are narcissistic enough to lean over a dugout to try to get an indecipherable “autograph” on a ball or cap, it is perhaps more than that. I do not identify with them. If the standings are missed for a day or two, it doesn't matter. Things have a way of evening out in the game.
To watch as those of us who love the game, you really only need to know a few things:
a) Pitching and defense wins pennants although scoring runs is nice.
b) If everyone stays healthy, the teams with talent all have a chance.
c) The doctrinal belief in baseball is that games in August and September somehow mean more than those in April and May. I do not know why that last is true. A win is a win, yet players and mangers repeat the mantra daily now, “It’s early, we’ll get better.” and
d) Some team will rise like a phoenix from the ashes of last year and win the Division or League Championship or scare the hell out of whoever was supposed to according to the talking heads on the sports channel and those ink stained wretches known as “beat writers” that travel with the team for the local paper. Of course, the fact that they never predicted it would ever happen will not stop them from delivering an oration or writing an obligatory column claiming “I knew they would be better than everyone thought,” replete with facts and figures they had overlooked in the spring when they picked them to finish dead last.( See Pirates, Pittsburgh 2013).
I settle in now after my trip to the desert to see the talent available (it is getting older and more predictable and seems to be getting hurt more regularly) and ready for the long and lazy days of the season. In the cold of the late October nights when it is all decided, I will be sad to see it go as always. But if I am here in the spring when the sound of the turtle is on the land, I can get aboard the train again and love it just as much.
It is, after all, only just a game.