Happy Baseball! Because no other sport drops off memory and hope at your doorstep like a new phone book bound for the recycling each spring.
The world needs another syrupy 817-word warble about the importance of baseball, the we-need-it-now-more-than-ever significance of it like it needs a fourth Hangover installment.
So I’ll try to be brief: The world needs baseball now more than ever.
Keep in mind I understand wholly the two-facedness of my blind support of baseball. Baseball is a business enterprise. Look no further than the outsized number of promotions and pandering and passive fans of my home field AT&T Park to understand that the game, in order to survive, has had to dangle a thousand pointless distractions in front of its ever-self-serving audience. Those black and white pictures of men in fedoras playing hooky, momentarily unchained from their metal desks and card table-sized ledgers and eternally spinning Rolodexes, is a faint Burnsian memory—repose not rooted in reality and as deliciously from another era that perhaps never existed as imagery of Walt Disney and Vince Lombardi and all the girls the Fonz made out with hanging on the wall above his hide-a-bed inside his apartment above the Cunningham garage.
As I’ve grown into a fuller understanding of the sport, which men can only do when they’ve gone from being the same age as the opening day starter to the same age as the skipper, I’ve fully grasped the notion that it is a completely ridiculous endeavor. The uniforms look as utilitarian as a tablecloth on a sinking yacht. The hats now worn like an accessory, not a bill to block out, you know, the sun. And the stadiums are ever more neat and compact and adept at lifting money from your wallet, card, device and app.
But if I mention Opening Day and someone looks at me dead-eyed and says, “I’m more of a NFL guy,” we might not be sworn enemies, but I also expect the next thing out of your mouth will be to tell me that Trump will rapidly reverse all the “bad things.” NBA guy will tacitly acknowledge that the season actually starts in May and NHL fan, well, the only true hockey loyalists I know live north of the border—and they don’t seem to have much to cheer about lately…unless they’re planning a move to Vegas.
But if I mention Opening Day (the Opening Day) and that nervous half sad half relief, half choked-up grin crosses one’s face (think every father of the bride just before the first dance), while we might not end up being a kidney match—I certainly may be a candidate should you need one. I would also anticipate you never ordering a round of Shock Top, healthy and informed debates about whether George was the real genius and when I say Mario Puzo, you’ll say “Fucking wrote Superman II—the apex of that canon.”
In other words, we will be kindred spirits.
Baseball forced my father and me to sit together, in the same place, for two or three hours a week. Growing up and growing apart is a natural, inevitable and almost effortless phenomenon for most fathers and sons, but we had our routine perfected. We avoided one another in the home like award shows and Chris Brown. From my late teens almost into my 30s, we would sit at baseball games and not say a word. He would pass the time dutifully filling out his scorecard with a golf pencil and I would try to distract myself trying to solve the mystery of that blonde girl with the hat pulled low over her eyes in the third row.
It didn’t matter whether we spoke. He’d still return in the third inning with a hotdog, just the way I liked it, and a souvenir Coke for me. I’d buy him a malt in the seventh. He’d get up to leave in the eighth to beat the traffic and I’d always not budge. We had our routines and even when I started to come around a little, actually holding a job or a relationship down for more than a few months at a time, he never let words get in way of our comfortable static.
And so, like every year, it is always with joy and trepidation I approach the new baseball season. My father and I last went to a game together in May of 2013. The final play he ever saw live was a walk-off inside-the-park homerun by Angel Pagan in the 10th. He was in pretty bad shape then, stage four lung cancer and midway through a cycle of chemo he would never finish. After the celebration he turned to me and said, “It won’t get better than that—till next year.”