Opening Day

April 04, 2005
A thought by James Berardinelli

The first Monday in April is Baseball's Opening Day. Once upon a time (as in a fairy tale), this was a day of renewal and rejoicing, of green grass and warm breezes whispering promises of the summer to come. It was a day when every team was in first place (at least before game time) and when there were no losing streaks. It was a day when the National Pastime came alive after a winter of hibernation and when America's values were on display.

But that was then, and this is now. The trophy is tarnished. The unofficial holiday has become just another workday. The temperature in the Northeast hovers in the 40s, and summer seems a good distance off. Football has long since passed baseball as the country's sport of choice and the only American "values" demonstrated are those learned in smoky backrooms: greed, cheating, drug use, and the value of winning above all else.

My love of baseball dates back more than two decades, but this year, it is at a low ebb. The passion has drained away. It's not only the result of rooting for the losingest team in the major leagues (121 out of 122 seasons ending in futility) or the resentment generated by last year's unfulfilled promises. Numbness started setting in in 1994, when the World Series was canceled because egos and money-grubbing got in the way. And now come the steroid revelations - that every home run record established in the last 10 years must be considered suspect. For a game that relies on stats and records, this is death.

The game is at 3:00, and I will watch it. On television. This is the first year since 1986 I will not attend a home opener in person. Saddest of all is that I won't miss it. There was a time when I wouldn't have minded the cold and the wind. But over the last two years (2003 - 20 mph wind and 47 degrees; 2004 - 17 mph wind, rain, 41 degrees), I have learned that my love of baseball no longer extends to where I am willing to endure physical deprivation.

It's not that I no longer care. The fact that I'm writing this is evidence that apathy has not blanketed my sensibilities. There are too many memories for me to casually cut the umbilical cord. And if the team starts winning, I'll be on the phone, handing over my VISA number and ordering tickets. Self-abnegation only goes so far; it's time to try fair-weather fandom. But, for me at least, baseball isn't what it once was. Opening Day is just the first Monday in April. And Monday is the worst day of the week.

For some, I'm sure that this is still a day of renewal and rejoicing. Hey, the grass is greener and the daffodils are blooming. And maybe Opening Day isn't really about April 4, 2005, but about all those Opening Days that have gone before. And about remembering one's youth and friends and family members who have slipped beyond. But, as far as I'm concerned, I'll hold my anticipation for another opening day - one that's six weeks hence, and that has more ties to my youth than baseball. That day is May 19. And if you don't know what I'm talking about, you'll have to wait to find out.