Country Scribe: Opening day
About this time of year, I ask myself: What is an allegedly grown man like myself doing getting butterflies over Opening Day of baseball season? What mature person would waste time watching a bunch of spoiled millionaires throw around a ball? Who...
About this time of year, I ask myself: What is an allegedly grown man like myself doing getting butterflies over Opening Day of baseball season?
What mature person would waste time watching a bunch of spoiled millionaires throw around a ball? Who cares if Johan Santana's change-up is working? What does it matter if Joe Mauer goes four-for-four?
Well, I care and it does matter.
In this crazy world, baseball is a stable ritual, as inevitable as the seasons. It starts every April, just when the clocks move forward. It ends every October, just when the clocks fall backward.
Baseball provides the background music to the best months on the northern calendar.
After baseball starts, the memory of the winter months seems like a distant blur of left-over turkey, blizzards, naps, icy roads, overstuffed parkas and suppertime sunsets.
With baseball's return, we wake up. Tulips poke through the soil. Rivers swell. Grass arises from the dead. Windows creak open.
In my mind the exhilirating sensations of spring have, through decades of repetition, become tied to baseball. Spring is when young lovers fall in love -- and when Twins fans have hope.
Amidst life's ups and downs, baseball provides a comforting sense of order, a stately annual liturgy. You can have the worst day in the world, but if it ends to the sound of Herb Carneal's voice on the radio, all is not lost.
The historian in me enjoys the fact that Fenway Park looks much the same as it did in 1912, as does Wrigley Field. Baseball at its best is antique, loaded with tradition, a moving museum.
The bases are still 90 feet apart. A double play today is as poetic as it was in 1906, with Tinkers to Evers to Chance. Good hitters still hit .300. Good pitchers still win 20 games.
Baseball's rare gems are still rare. A shutout is infrequent, a no-hitter even more so. A straight steal of home is a once-per-season event, if that. An ardent fan will be lucky to catch a triple play once in a lifetime.
Yes, home runs came cheap there for a few years, when the boys were juicing themselves up with hormones and steroids, but let's hope that sordid chapter in baseball history has closed.
Barry Bonds, Sammy Sosa and Mark McGwire may have been chemically altered when they set their records, but both Babe Ruth and Roger Maris benefited from a ridiculously short fence in right field at Yankee Stadium when they hit their home runs. Call it even.
Baseball will survive steroids, just as it survived the Black Sox scandal of 1919 when gamblers paid players to throw a World Series. Baseball has even survived George Steinbrenner's attempts to purchase every good player for the evil Yankees.
Baseball survives because the beauty of the game overshadows any one of the slobs who gets paid millions to play it. The first high fly ball of a game still brings oohs and ahs from the fans, even if it is caught in short right field by somebody drooling tobacco juice.
Baseball survives because it gives its fans something to talk about, something in common, something harmless to debate.
Talking politics and religion these days is like ice fishing in April. Disaster is likely.
But talking baseball can unite Republican and Democrat, young and old, tippler and teetotaller, Farm Bureau and Farmers Union, Ford and Chevy, educated and illiterate, saint and sinner.
A winning streak can spread happiness into living rooms, cafés, bars, nursing homes and hospitals throughout an entire region.
Even a losing streak isn't the worst thing, as long as you are smart enough to turn off the radio and go mow lawn when the bullpen screws up again. Plus, who can pass up the opportunity to complain about an overpaid millionaire who can't lay down a bunt?
So, Opening Day is more than the first baseball game of the season. It is the beginning of the busiest, most beautiful months of the year. It is the baseball fan's reward for enduring March.