The winter chill has come and gone in much of the country, and it has given way to one of the greatest weeks on the sporting calendar. The teams of Major League Baseball will return to 30 palaces of green grass spread throughout the land to play a game, a game that makes the summer magical.
When we last saw this game, St. Louis Cardinals third baseman David Freese was holding one finger in the air as he rounded first base to end Game 6 of the World Series at Busch Stadium after hitting one of the greatest homeruns in baseball history.
Freese’s 11th-inning homer that October night tied the Cardinals at three games apiece before they finished off the Texas Rangers with a 6-2 win the following night.
Those heroics and magical moments have faded into memories during the winter, and the day-to-day news of Major League Baseball constantly reminds us that this is a business, and that such a huge operation is never as innocent as we all want to believe.
The National League’s Most Valuable Player, Ryan Braun, battled a steroid scandal. The greatest hitter in the game, Albert Pujols, left the Midwest to play in Los Angeles for more money than each of the three lottery winners won this week. Commissioner Bud Selig instituted another wild-card team into the playoffs and helped move the Houston Astros to the American League next year.
All of those issues take the game farther away from its traditional roots, but come the first week of April all of that fades to the background and fans will return to the ballpark for the pure joy of watching a classic American tradition play out before them.
The pageantry of baseball’s first week is fantastic. In many places, Opening Day is a day that feels unlike any other on the calendar. It’s not exactly a holiday, but there is an excitement throughout the city that life is good again. The weather will become increasingly warmer and fans can look forward to enjoying a game each day for the next six months. Some games will be frustrating, but that’s what makes the good games all the more special.
Other sports are great and each one has its special qualities. But, no sport plays every single day the way baseball does. Others have big beginning-of-the season parties, but then they play games once every couple of days or once a week. Their schedules are choppy; baseball is soothingly dependable.
A baseball season has almost the perfect balance. There is always another game following a disappointing loss, but at the same time that statement doesn’t carry enough wait to make the current game meaningless.
So, come Wednesday evening the six bad months of the year will be over and baseball fans everywhere will be able to tune in and watch the defending champion St. Louis Cardinals play the Miami Marlins in the opening of the Marlins’ brand new ballpark.
That night will likely be filled with plenty of joy and excitement because a real baseball game will be played after more than a month of exhibition games in Florida and Arizona, but the night will also be a chance for fans to take a deep breath and say, “Boy, life feels a little better now because the baseball season is back.”
There will be plenty of time to discuss all of the particulars of the game, the teams and the players. This week, however, please take a moment to step back and simply enjoy the fact that there is baseball being played.
There are a lot of issues in each of our lives, but a game of baseball is a chance to forget about everything else and enjoy life for nine innings. Don’t forget that.
Happy Opening Week, everybody.