No matter how hard Major League Baseball tries to cheapen and devalue Opening Day, it can’t do it. For a sport/industry so adept at making money, its continued effort to turn the annual baseball holiday into a made-for-TV event has mostly failed.
Because despite MLB’s push for growth into foreign shores, Opening Day is today. Not last week in Sydney or last night in San Diego. Those games count in the standings but only today counts in the hearts and minds of baseball fans the world over.
It isn’t really a holiday and it will never receive official designation as such. It’s the business-as-usual aspect that makes Opening Day so appealing. No other sport asks more of its supporters and fans. No other sport demands attention for longer and with more regularity. Other major sports play their games on weekends and in prime time. Baseball combines tradition and utility to play games during the day, during the week. It fights for your love and affection.
On Opening Day, every single year, baseball goes undefeated.
Opening Day requires skipped classes and sick days, shuffled schedules and emergency vacations and surreptitious radio broadcasts and spikes in office bandwidth usage. We bend the rules because we love baseball. We love baseball because we love to bend the rules.
But all this attention and bad behavior doesn’t lend itself to laser-like focus on one location or one single event. Baseball is a game of regions. Opening Day reflects a national past time that doesn’t capture the national attention as much as the attention of a nation in its diverse little pockets from Baltimore to Detroit, Seattle to St. Petersburg. It isn’t peanuts and crackerjacks but garlic fries and skyline chili and all the individual things that add up to century-old cultural phenomenon still going strong.
Baseball grows and swells and turns drops into oceans. Opening Day demonstrates how baseball can lose the battle but still win the war – it triumphs on the aggregate. Comparing Sunday Night Baseball ratings to NFL football misses the point. It is announcing Alcides Escobar owns Clayton Kershaw because he managed a base hit the only time they faced off.
The long season is a slow train that fans can jump on and off at their convenience, and the important games in October are the light at the end of the tunnel. Nobody, not even the most devoted fans, can expect to go the whole season without missing a game. That’s part of the appeal, as well—the ability to drift in and out of a season as the situation allows. Baseball will always be there, every day from April to October.
Opening Day is much about the “everybody is tied for first today” idealism as it is about welcoming back a constant, steadying influence in all our lives. Mostly, it’s fun. It means the long, cold winter is over and sunny days at the ballpark are, once again, a reality. All 30 teams are playing for something and happy to be involved – a feeling that is fleeting to say the least.
Opening Day is the start of a journey. A sold out stadium full of fans resembles a company at the beginning of a war film—convivial and full of esprit de corps—but the guy on your left and the guy on your right won’t make it to the end of this movie.
So enjoy Opening Day. Enjoy it however you can and however you choose. Remember the feelings of relief and excitement you feel today, you’ll need them to balance the August anguish and September apathy with something warm and fuzzy. None of which matters after Opening Day – the most important baseball day of the year.