Hope springs eternal on opening day
“They’ll arrive at your door as innocent as children, longing for the past. Of course, we won’t mind if you look around, you’ll say. It’s only $20 per person. They’ll pass over the money without even thinking about it: For it is money they have and peace they lack. And they’ll walk out to the bleachers; sit in shirtsleeves on a perfect afternoon. They’ll find they have reserved seats somewhere along one of the baselines, where they sat when they were children and cheered their heroes. And they’ll watch the game and it’ll be as if they dipped themselves in magic waters. The memories will be so thick they’ll have to brush them away from their faces. People will come, Ray. The one constant through all the years, Ray, has been baseball. America has rolled by like an army of steamrollers. It has been erased like a blackboard, rebuilt and erased again. But baseball has marked the time. This field, this game: it’s a part of our past, Ray. It reminds of us of all that once was good and it could be again.”
— Terence Mann (James Earl Jones)
in the film “Field of Dreams”
Today is opening day, the start of the Major League Baseball season when all the teams have an equal chance and everyone — even Cubs fans — can dream of an eventual championship.
Football may be king in the South, and the gridiron supplanted the baseball diamond as the venue for our country’s favorite pastime more than a decade ago. But baseball is our history.
It has “marked the time.” Its personalities (Ruth, Mantle, Aaron) and its moments (Ruth’s “called” homer; Bobby Thompson’s “shot heard ’round the world”; Bill Mazeroski’s walk-off Game 7 home run; Don Larsen’s perfect game; Willie Mays’ over-the-shoulder, basket catch) are part of our national memory.
From the time we are children, we are taught to throw a ball and swing a bat. As we grow older, we may not have as many opportunities to play, but we can still relive those moments vicariously through today’s players, be they Little Leaguers at the city park or major leaguers at 50,000-seat stadiums.
As television (and its enormous revenue) has increasingly influenced professional baseball, opening day has evolved into opening night. And tonight, the St. Louis Cardinals begin to defend their World Series championship against the New York Mets at Busch Stadium before a national television audience (ESPN2, 7 p.m.).
When last we saw these teams play, Cardinal closer Adam Wainwright struck out Mets star Carlos Beltran on three straight pitches — the last a wicked curve that froze Beltran like a statue — with the bases loaded in the bottom of the ninth of Game 7 of the National League Championship Series.
Will the Mets avenge that loss? Will the Cardinals be able to repeat?
Opening day presents so many questions that can only be answered over the 162-game season. Will the Braves, who last year missed the playoffs after putting together division championships the previous 14 seasons, be able to begin another streak? Will George Steinbrenner’s Yankees be able to overcome off-the-field animosities (and the Boston Red Sox on the field) to prevail in the powerful American League East?
Will Barry Bonds surpass Hank Aaron’s all-time home run record? If and when he does, will he be celebrated or vilified by the fans and media?
Will Roger Clemens retire (again) or lace them up for one more run at post-season glory?
Who will win the Cy Young Award? The Most Valuable Player? The Rookie of the Year?
Perhaps the wonderful thing about baseball is the certainty that all these questions will be answered decisively by late October. A World Series Champion will be crowned and reign throughout the long winter. Twenty-nine other teams will be disappointed.
But then, come April 2008, another opening day will bring renewed hope to all those who fell short in 2007. Even the Cubs.
The magic waters will once again wash away the failures of the past and provide a new challenge on a playing field once again leveled by even records at the start of the season. There will be new questions, and they will be answered — but only over the course of another 162-game season.
“April is the cruelest month,” T.S. Eliot declared in the first line of his signature poem “The Waste Land,” interpreting nature’s annual renewal as a harbinger of passing time and the inevitability of death.
Mr. Eliot should have spent more time at opening day.