Wednesday, March 30, 2011

The Joy of Opening Day

Part of the tragedy of getting older is that places, events, and activities lose their luster. The magic of Christmas morning slowly fades. A Saturday night spent watching late-night movies, eating delivery pizza, and drinking soda by the liter, once the highlight of the kid week, starts to seem dull. Playgrounds start to look smaller and smaller until you don't notice them at all. And digging up worms starts to sound gross like a gross way to spend a summer day.

Those rare things that retain the luster through the years, then, become that much more special. Exhibit A: The start of baseball season.

Every year, without fail, Spring Fever sets in while March tries to make up its mind whether it wants to be a winter month or a spring month. The sun peaks its way through the gray skies, the last remnants of snow melt into muddy streets, buds start to appear on the once barren tree branches, and soon enough, you can smell the aroma of freshly cut grass and hear the sound of a baseball plopping into a glove. Baseball season is around the corner.

Opening Day offers hope for new beginnings each year after a long cold winter. Monotonous months spent hibernating indoors take a toll on the pysche. The outlook from your window is not the only thing clouded in bleak shades of blue, as your own outlook gets cloudy once your mind starts to ponder an endless winter routine. With Opening Day everything immediately seems more colorful and more cheerful.

Whether you actually are blessed with the opportunity to get out to the ballpark or just watch at home is irrelevant. Because even from the couch at home, you can sense the buzz coming from the fans on the television, you can see the pep in the players' step, you can see how grand the American flag looks waving above the perfectly cut grass, you can almost smell the sizzling hot dogs, and you can almost feel the peanut shells crackling beneath your feet. Whether you're enjoying a beer at the game or from your couch, that first glorious sip tastes like the first beer you've had in months, even though you've been averaging a case a weekend all winter, solely because of the glory of Opening Day. Everything seems to have a meaning for the first time in a couple of months.

Sure, I will always miss the days when I was younger and had the opportunity to get out and play myself. In fact, my picture of heaven would probably be the sandlot where my friends and I would go to play ball almost every summer day, eating hot dogs and sipping coca-cola's in between games as the sun beat down on us.

But the magic of baseball season never fades. Last summer, I remember sitting out on the deck in Petoskey with a few beers as I prepared for a rather uneventful night by myself. A couple hours later, a relatively unknown pitcher for the Detroit Tigers threw a should-have-been perfect game; what would have been a quiet night turned into a night I will remember forever, a night I will tell my grandkids about, because of the magic of baseball.

More importantly, though, even the games where nothing happens are special. It's enough for me to sit down with a couple of beers and listen to the calm story-telling tone of the announcers, to the crack of the bat, the thump of the ball in the catcher's mitt, the roar of the crowd. It's enough for me to watch the relaxed pace of the player's leisurely chewing tobacco and sunflower seeds. Baseball's deliberate pace provides a pleasant counter to the fast-paced world of everyday life; it provides a sense of peaceful satisfaction that's pretty rare once you're grown up.

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