The streaming sunshine, chirping birds, and balmy air belied the 37 degrees Alexa told me “the current temperature in Norwalk” was at 7:30 a.m. as I headed out for the morning walk with the dog. Spring was definitely in the air and, despite my increasing years, that same charge I felt as a boy ignited in this bright, warm morning --- like those early spring walks to South Country Elementary School. And that weather could only mean one thing: baseball. Yes, at 1:10 p.m. this afternoon my beloved New York Yankees will be facing the Tampa Bay (formerly “Devil”) Rays and the 2017 baseball season will begin!
There is an age-old connection between the beginning of spring and baseball season. Just as Easter and Passover are Rites of Spring, Opening Day also has symbolic "renewal" value. Every team is 0-0 and the possibility of the World Series may be in “our” team’s future this year. Just as the shoots of plants begin to emerge, so do the spirits of fans in the North and South East, the Midwest, the Rocky Mountains and Arizona desert, as well as up and down the West Coast. For those of us who have been fans for a lifetime the flood of memories roll back over us, the great seasons, the disappointing finishes, the “if-not-for-that-injury- to - . . . .” year. I clearly remember marching through Bay Shore in my uniform, up Fifth Avenue to the Little League field behind the Fifth Avenue Elementary School on opening day in 1961 when my Windsor Fuel sponsored team would play “Rotary,” a squad we had vanquished for the championship the previous summer. I got the first hit of the season (a bunt up the first base line) but we had a disappointing year and did not return to the championship. (photo above, right, with my brother)
Later that summer, though, my brother and I got to go to our first baseball game at Yankee Stadium (with our Dad and his Uncle Bill --- the first “Wilbur” in the family ---see the ticket & box score below). We sat in the front row of the Upper Deck in left field, looking down on Yogi Berra playing the outfield with Mickey Mantle in center and Roger Maris in right. I can still name that entire team, which went on to win the World Series that year. Opening Day releases those floodgates of memories from your 12-year-old self, when the whole world was out there waiting for you and you had no idea where you were going and what was going to happen.
So, it’s Opening Day 2017 and another summer will follow this spring and, with some luck, this year’s edition of the already-dubbed “Baby Bombers” (because of a preponderance of young players) will make the playoffs and provide Yankee fans with the hope of a 28th championship. It’s not likely, of course, but, as Joe Garagiola put it in his 1960 autobiography, Baseball is a Funny Game. Our language is replete with baseball aphorisms ---“That’s the way the ball bounces,” “out in left field,” “three strikes, yer out,” ”throwing someone a curve,” “hitting it out of the park,” being “a heavy hitter,” being “off base,” giving someone a “rain-check,” as well as “right off the bat,” or “touching base”( with someone) and, of course, “big league” --- all of which show how deeply ingrained the game is to our history and culture. So, as Opening Day is upon us once again, and as spring rolls into summer, turning into fall, remember to enjoy each of these days, rain or shine, as this season rolls along, enjoying the warm sun and the hot dog, the cold drink and your cool times. And appreciate this Opening Day as it ushers in another spring filled with that hope that, indeed, this will be “our year!”
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