Opening Day. There is only one, and it's in baseball. The theater has opening nights scattered here and there about the calendar, and there are various opening days of...the fishing season, the race meeting, the NFL season. But there is only one Opening Day, when grandmothers drop like flies and dreams are born anew.
Opening Day means spring. It means, literally, an opening: of buds spreading and jackets unbuttoning; of little birds' mouths gaping; of rubber bands being released from neat's-foot-oiled baseball mitts that have been held tight around a ball all winter. The Louisville Slugger sends painful jolts up your arms if you don't connect properly in the chill air. It will be better soon: warmer, and the wind will die down. But even now, if you keep the label up, you can knock that old horsehide clean and far and feel nothing but warmth.
The beginnings of the other major sports seasons have no connection with the natural rhythms of life. To be sure, they arrive according to an annual schedule but so do subscription renewals and visits to the dentist. If anything, the starting dates for football, basketball and hockey are reminders to look back. The beginning of football heralds the conclusion of summer; it goes hand-in-glove with—ugh!—back-to-school. And winter sports? If they're starting, then it must soon be—oh, no—winter. It is significant that of all the sports seasons, hockey and basketball most sneak up on us; if you are not attentive to the fellow with the blond teeth on the TV news, you will suddenly open the paper one day late in October and discover that the Celtics have already played four games.
But baseball. Opening Day. To have picked up the newspaper one fine day in April and seen this:
[This article contains a table. Please see hardcopy of magazine or PDF.]
Why, that told you better than anything that God had truly kissed the land again, that a whole life lay ahead. Play them one at a time? Ridiculous. There were 154 to play, a number that overwhelmed a child's mind. Where would we be when the season was done? In a new grade, for certain. And perhaps our team would win. That, too. Not believe in Opening Day? Why, you might as well have said you didn't believe in Tinker Bell.
So, if you cannot bury your poor grandmother one more time, here is an article for Opening Day. It is not really about baseball. There are no bunts and round-trippers and sliders and curves. We have a whole summer for that. No, this is about Opening Day, about baseball sensations, about throwing out the first ball, about Cracker Jack and Louisville Sluggers, and about Who's on First? Let's start off with a quiz. The answers will be found buried in the article. If you bat .300—get five or more correct—you pass. You are also stamped as a strange person for knowing such foolishness.
1) Everybody knows that Taft was the first President to throw out a first ball. You think I'm going to ask a simple question like that? Who caught the first ball that Taft threw?
a Clark Griffith, the Senators' owner.
b Gabby Street, the Senators' catcher.