Opening Day

Yankee Stadium

Yankee Stadium

The sun came out today, we’re born again, there’s new grass on the field”

For baseball fans like me there are no two better words at this time of year than ‘Opening Day’. Those two words offer an assurance of springtime (no matter what the temperature actually is where you are located), and the hope that ‘this will be the year,’ no matter how poorly your team did the year before.  Just like with the change of weather, the start of a new season of baseball brings a host of changes to the team you follow-new pitchers, new position players, and maybe even new coaches if the previous year was particularly dire. Opening Day promises a new start to your favorite team, year in and year out, whether they have been successful or bottom of the league dwellers most recently. Even the stubbornest and most bitter fans lamenting their teams chances even tend to have hope on Opening Day. If only for that one day!

Like most people, my love for the game was passed down to me from my youngest days by my parents, and especially by my father. Bronx born and raised as he was, I grew up and happily remain a Yankees fan through and through to this day.  I doubt I would have had much choice in being anything other than a Yankees fan mind you. When I realize that Opening Day is drawing nearer though, there is a palpable sense of excitement in the air. For non-players like me (save for some unsuccessful attempts as a kid), the hats and jerseys come out of the closet again. The weathered glove is picked up and the ball stored within its webbing all winter gets its first touch of the year, fingers making the  grip for fastballs, knuckleballs and curves. Usually at this time of year I pick up at least one book about baseball to re-immerse myself in the vernacular once again after a winter of discontent.   Day by day starting in January you begin following the reports from spring training in the newspaper- who is looking sharp and who is struggling to maintain a spot. You read the predictions for both leagues-who has spent the most, who has a roster of aging superstars versus who has one of up and coming kids expected to do great things. Who has the best pitching staff and who is predicted to hit the most home runs.

To me a certain element of the excitement to baseball is about those kinds of predictions. It is also because they are so very often wrong, and the game becomes filled year to year with intangibles. That guy who couldn’t hit a fastball at all last season is now pouncing on them due to a subtle change in his stance. That pitcher who has only one or two good pitches in his repertoire has been working in the offseason on his changeup and now has more in his arsenal to choose from. The kid up from the minors who looks barely out of high school who looks poised to become a star player. The team that gets off to an abysmal start but gets hot just before the All Star Break and carries it all the way through to the playoffs. The beauty of the game of baseball is that those intangibles happen on a regular basis. Imagine being able to start your job off fresh like that every year. The mistakes you made, the things you wish you could do over again are all possible in baseball because although the players are part of a team, it is a sport made up of individual accomplishments.

The start of the season is exciting because like spring itself it builds on that element of renewal. Just as I get excited to see the first buds popping up on shrubs and trees this time of year, so too do I get excited for the first glimpse of the baseball field. The smooth infield dirt held in place by the white chalk lines delineating foul territory. The  glistening white bases and the lush green grass cut in precise and varying patterns.  The crisp and clean uniforms of the players. A clear blue sky at the stadium, flags blowing in the breeze as young and old take in the game. The calendar may say the first day of Spring is on a particular day, but for me, the first day of Spring is actually always baseball’s Opening Day.

Of course, Opening Day also brings back a flood of memories. A lifetime of players names, stats, and memorable plays. The beauty of sports is that those memories are often passed down from generation to generation, yet somehow with baseball, it seems more reachable.  With baseball all you need is an understanding of the game and a good description to feel as if you were there. So  the plays and World Series from my fathers era seemed approachable as part of that history. Other events in history you can read about in a book, but with baseball you can almost imagine being there witnessing the great events- The long overdue integration starting with Jackie Robinson,  Bobby Thompson’s ‘Shot Heard Round The World’, the great Ted Williams and Stan ‘The Man’ Musial, Willie May’s famed catch in 1954, ‘dem bums’ (the Brooklyn Dodgers) winning the World Series in 1955.  Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig,  Joe DiMaggio, Mickey Mantle, Whitey Ford. Roger Maris’ 61 in ’61, the rise of the incomparable Hank Aaron. Ernie Banks, Frank Robinson, Roberto Clemente,  Bob Feller, Brooks Robinson, Satchel Paige, and the list goes on and on.

All of that older history became immersed with some of my own favorite baseball memories growing up-  Carlton Fisk’s  ‘waving’ his home run fair. Chris Chambliss’ walkoff home run in 1976. Bucky Dent’s over the Green Monster shot against the Red Sox in the tiebreaker playoff game in 1978. Reggie Jackson being crowned Mr. October. Mookie Wilson’s blooper under the legs of Bill Buckner in the 1986 World Series. Kirk Gibson’s painful run around the bases home run in the 1988 Series. George Brett and the Pine Tar Incident. These and hundreds of more events became part of my own personal baseball lore that I will pass down myself. Baseball has countless such memories. Though they are usually most memorable come playoff time, in the course of a season, there are dozens of such events that occur for each team.  The cycle continues, and those plays that make the highlight reel are remembered for years to come by fans. We all have our own favorites, but no matter the team, and no matter what year, it all starts off on Opening Day.

Those of you who have been reading my posts for awhile know that I tend to write about artists and songs slightly below the radar. I thought about featuring a song here about baseball along those lines, but I realized that this was one of those times where I really could not do better than an obvious choice. John Fogerty needs no introduction of course. As the lead singer, songwriter, and driving force behind Creedence Clearwater Revival he created some memorable music. On his classic 1985 album Centerfield he not only continued in that vein, but  also managed to write one of the most classic baseball songs of all time with the title track. Replete with  baseball references such as- “I spent some time in the Mudville Nine”,  “So say hey Willie & tell the Cobb, & Joe DiMaggio” not to mention a nod to Chuck Berry’s song Brown Eyed Handsome Man. It is a song heard in ballparks throughout the year, but it always gets me ready for the season when I hear it at this time of year.

My own favorite baseball memory you may ask? Well, there are many, but one in particular stands out. In 1996 I consider myself beyond lucky to have witnessed first hand the start of a new NY Yankees dominance over the next several years. Somehow my father had acquired tickets for Game 6 of the World Series that year and we went together. It had been a tough series for the Yankees against the Atlanta Braves that year,  losing the first two games of the series at home. The Yankees came back to win Game 3, then tied the series after an epic Game 4.  One more game in Atlanta, and the series had shifted to the Yankees being up 3 games to 2 in a best of 7 series. The stage was set in New York for a classic Game 6. The Yankees sent the steely veteran Jimmy Key to the mound against the Braves ace Greg Maddux. The Yankees jumped out to an early 3 nothing lead. By the bottom of the 9th with Yankees closer John Wetteland on the mound he was holding onto a 3-2 lead after giving up a few hits. Tensions were high, and as my dad and I were standing (as everyone else was) down the third base line every nuance, and every pitch was felt throughout the crowd. Mark Lemke drew a full 3-2 count and eventually he fouled one off down the third base line towards us. Charlie Hayes, the Yankees third baseman made a valiant effort diving into the Braves dugout for the ball but it got away from him. Collectively the entire stadium took a deep breath it felt like. Wetteland dealt another pitch.  Lemke swung and again it veered down the third base line, but not so deep this time. I can still picture the sight of Hayes getting a bead on it, waving off his teammates, just a slight glimpse of the Yankees pinstripe uniform in view before becoming obscured by the fans in front of me, whose wild cheers assured me that Hayes had made the catch. As Yankees radio broadcaster John Sterling is famously known for saying. Ball game over. World Series over. The Yankees win. Thuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuu..Yankees WIN!

It was my single greatest moment witnessed both as a Yankees fan, and as a baseball fan. I may be devoted to the Yankees, but I love the game of baseball, and I will happily watch any game I can find, be it a Tuesday night game between the Brewers and the Padres, or a classic Yankees/Red Sox matchup. It is all great to me. And that is baseball. Games change direction in the blink of an eye, losing teams becoming winning teams and vice versa. No matter what the predictions, and no matter how much money was spent on the team, it all begins on Opening Day. And as the Yankees take the field  On Opening Day for the first game of a long season, you better believe I will be following along, just like my dad has always done, and like generations have done before. The beauty of baseball is in those memories, and the dreams of being a part of it all, just like John Fogerty describes in his song. Put me in coach, I’m ready to play!

What is your favorite baseball memory?

DEDICATED TO THE MEMORY OF GEORGE STEVEN HOWE

Centerfield-Written By John Fogerty

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All Photographs By Robert P. Doyle

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21 thoughts on “Opening Day

  1. Beautifully written, Robert! Though a lot of the game technicalities went over my head, because all my baseball knowledge comes from movies. But, I can understand the emotions behind it, and I am glad that even in these highly commercialized times, there are still ‘seasons’ of it. We here have cricket, and I’ve long stopped keeping track, because it’s on pretty much all the time. But, some of my best memories as a child definitely comprise of watching it on TV as a family. These games bring people together like nothing can.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Oh absolutely sports brings people together. So true. I still don’t really understand cricket. Well, I understand but I need to watch it with someone who can really explain the finer points. Baseball is very much like that. There is an awful lot of things to take in, and I think a big part of being a fan of the sport is also being a fan of the history of the sport. At the end of the day though, it is all about hitting the ball and scoring as many runs as it takes to win, 3 strikes and you are out, and 4 balls equals a walk. It all starts from that! Thank you for the comment!

      Liked by 1 person

      • I actually used to know a lot of those rules, mainly through watching films and TV shows around baseball! My favourite was Jerry Maguire, a film I must have seen a gazillion times. I must say though, the best American invention besides deep fried chicken wings is probably basketball. We had it in school, and though I was not athletic in anyway, it is the coolest sport ever!
        I’m not an expert on cricket either, more by choice than anything else. It has just gotten even more complicated in time, with various formats. Used to be a 5 day, four innings “Test” match, then my favourite format “One-day” that comprises of 50 overs six balls each on either side, and the latest is 20-20, which is perhaps the most commercial avatar of it ever. Cricket is part of the atmosphere here, you know? Like politics or cinema. You can’t escape it, even if you want to!

        Liked by 1 person

      • Ah baseball movies. So many they have a classification of their own. On the sillier side I loved the first Major League movie. On the more serious side I still love Eight Men Out, The Natural, and of course, Field Of Dreams. Lol on the deep fried chicken wings! I like basketball too, especially college basketball, but being perpetually the shortest kid in school every year, I never really played it. And what little I know about cricket you just lost me with that comment haha. I do actually know the terms you mention, but not their fine points. Maybe I need to find a cricket film!

        Liked by 1 person

      • I haven’t seen any of those films. Basically, the ones Kevin Costner used to make back in the day. And league of their own was about it too, wasn’t it?

        I went to an all girls’ school, so height was never an issue! In fact, one of our best players was tiny, barely 5 feet, but very technical and gifted.

        Not as many cricket movies, but you can watch the Oscar-nominated ‘Lagaan’. Music by A.R. Rahman, period piece about a match between Indian villagers and their British counterparts. And a good sports movie from here about women’s hockey is ‘Chak De India’. I have to watch Field of Dreams sometime!

        Liked by 1 person

      • Somehow I missed this comment coming in! Yes, League Of Their Own was about the All American Girls Professional Baseball League during WWII, famed for its classic line “There’s no crying in baseball!”
        I’ll check those movies out and you really must see Field Of Dreams with Kevin Costner. I’ve seen some small basketball players in my day, but alas, I was never one of them!

        Liked by 1 person

  2. You’re lucky you were able to see your team win the big one. And to be there! I guess that’s why it was so easy for me to hate the Torre and the Yanks growing up: they always won so damn much! I was an Indians fan (particularly SS Omar Vizquel) in the 90s and saw them come so close to winning the World Series, in ’95 against Maddux and the Braves, and in ’97 against the Marlins. It was especially disheartening when they lost to Florida in the 11th inning of the 7th game, but watching ‘The Tribe’ and learning to play like Omar was always a joy and a big part of my youth.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I know all about what the rest of baseball felt about the 1990’s Yankees! I’m sure if I lived somewhere else I would have thought the same thing. As I say though, I just love the game, and I always loved Omar Vizquel’s playing. Such a good ballplayer and he spoiled many a Yankee hit for sure. Here’s hoping for a good season for Cleveland this year (and maybe those Cubs too!) Thanks for sharing a baseball moment with me!

      Liked by 1 person

    • I remember you saying previously that baseball was not your sport. Its all good of course. Baseball to me is just the perfect combination of skill and smarts. There is so much you can do on any given play. What do I do if the count is 1 and 2? Now its 2 and 2…what now. That type of thing, those variables just intrigue me! I actually grew up outside the city in NJ, but my dad is a Bronx native through and through! And yes, there is always hope every year!

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Rob ,
    Of course , this particular blog brought back great memories of our being at the 1996 World Series.
    The game, the excitement, the 9th nail biting catch by Charlie Hayes to end the game,all as you put
    very accurately to writing. However my memories start both before and after the game and begin with the tickets. I had taken the day before the game off from work- pleasure. Unbeknownst to me our
    office held a drawing for two tickets to game 6. My name was drawn , a call received from our management confirming same and my disbelief thinking it was a joke due to my being a diehard Yankee fan. Then because game was next day how would I receive tickets. Only when Fedex truck
    arrived at our house 11 am on day of game did I believe. Then, after the win you and I just scanning
    the Stadium and observing the high 5s circulating, vigorous back slapping between strangers, paper
    cups of beer, soda spilling in excitement and lastly getting to our car amidst blaring car horns , flashing lights, and again delirious joy among complete strangers.

    Great writing Rob, Mom and I are so very proud of Soundtracks of A Photograph. Btw, gorgeous
    photo of Yankee Stadium. Thanks so much for the memories.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks Mom and Dad, glad you enjoyed, and its all coming back to me the way you got the tickets now! I had not thought about that but I just knew that they were from work. I remember leaving the stadium too. It was a wonderful scene, and if I never get a chance to go to the winning game again, at least I have this memory. PS-thanks for taking me! Thanks for such a great comment

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  4. So you asked for a favourite memory. Well, here is mine and it is appropriate to this time of year but I’m afraid you won’t like the setting. And it is not a memory of specific piece of action but of an overall experience. It is April 12, 2000 and I am in Boston after a week learning to snowboard in Stowe. I am just about 15 years into my love of baseball but I am a Limey (as I have just proved with my spelling of “favourite”) and have had few opportunities to see the game played in the flesh. Indeed my only experience so far was a meaningless end of season clash between two no hopers, the Montreal Expos and the Florida Marlins two years earlier. So although this was intended as a winter sports vacation, I had timed it deliberately to catch the boys of summer and attend the Red Sox home opener at Fenway. But, being a Limey, I had not anticipated the scale of demand for tickets in Beantown and was unable to secure any. It was a crushing disappointment and the following day we were leaving the US so there was no telling when I might next get a chance to catch a game. The following evening we checked in for our flight back to London, only to be informed that the plane had not yet left the UK and there would be at least a 9 hour delay. We were encouraged to deposit our bags and then leave the airport to kill time. With no other idea in mind, I suggested we head to Fenway and see if we could get in to that night’s game. This we did. We took our seats amongst the Boston faithful and were made to feel very welcome by the locals who were hugely entertained to learn of the circumstances of our attendance. It was a freezing cold night. Not one for beers in the bleachers but regular supplies of hot chocolate and chilli dogs held in gloved hands. The Twins were the visiting team and making only his second major league appearance as their pitcher was Johan Santana who would go on to pitch for my beloved Mets and become one of my favourite players. Stars in the making for Boston were Jason Varitek and the great Nomar Garciaparra. We had a great time watching the game and chatting to ur new friends but the moment that made it really special was a throw from third to Mike Stanley on first to record an out for Boston. To the untrained eye this looked like a pretty good throw and my travelling companion, who was not a baseball afficionado made a comment to that effect. But no, I explained. It actually hadn’t been a great throw at all. It had dragged Stanley off the bag and he had been lucky to make the tag. It was a routine observation but overheard by one of the regulars behind me who then turned to his neighbour and said, “Hey, this guy really knows his stuff.” It really made my day and I have worn that moment as a badge of honour for the last decade and a half, to have been accepted and acknowledged by fans who live and breathe the game as someone from a different world who loves it as much as they did, in as far as that is possible from 3000 mies away.

    Liked by 1 person

    • What a wonderful memory Alan! I don’t begrudge anyone (Limey or otherwise) for going somewhere to watch a game. I’ve been to Fenway and loved the experience, though I did not wear a Yankees hat! Indeed I have several Red Sox fan friends (I did go to school in Massachusetts after all). Sounds like a great game to have seen with Santana, Garciaparra and Varitek. Also Mike Stanley, who was with the Yankees for awhile too. Today’s Opening Day is while I write this, not a day for beers either as it is unseasonably cold. But its that start to the season that feels so wonderful. Because it promises lots of memories like what you described. And you should definitely be proud of that and if I made a particularly good football (your kind) comment I would wear it as a badge of honor as well (Honor, not honour….we Americans and Brits can really have a lot of fun teasing one another on things like that can’t we 😉 ). Jennie and I are already planning on going to a game as soon as we can. Last year with the moving, I felt slightly disconnected from baseball for much of the season, but now I’m really ready. Now I just need to find a new baseball book to read and I’m all set! Thanks for such a great comment not just this time, but right from the start of me writing this blog. Always appreciated.

      Liked by 1 person

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