Thursday, April 8, 2010

Opening Day

It was the opening day of major league baseball today. I was completely unaware for maybe for the first time. I knew it was the NCAA Men’s Basketball Championship. I am watching Duke and Butler battle out as I type this. But, I did not know it opening day until I heard it on the radio about 5 pm.

I find this odd because it was so far off of my radar screen. I used to love opening day. It was my “official” first day of spring. Every fan of every team is hopeful their team will go to the World Series. It is a time of great optimism. It is a time to celebrate baseball.

This year baseball was nowhere on my radar screen. This is sad to me. Am I finally fully grown up? Am I now completely jaded? I wish I could say I was too busy know but that just is not true.

I listen to National Public Radio when I am driving. I love listening to their opening season reporting. It is the Roger Angel and Field of Dreams approach to baseball reporting. They tap into the richness of baseball literature always make me nostalgic and sentimental about the game and this time of year. Somehow this year, I missed their coverage. I may have been on the phone.

It was on NPR that I really leaned to appreciate the timelessness of baseball. I am not referring to the age of the game nor its lasting heritage. I refer to the fact that there is no clock. A team could theoretically win the game with two out and two strikes in the ninth inning if they are down one run or ten. A game could theoretically go on indefinitely. Baseball, unlike football, basketball, soccer, and hockey, is timeless.

I grew up in Detroit. I loved the Detroit Tigers. I could not wait until the season started. I was excited about the new players and, of course, the players I had been living and dying with as long as I had been a fan. The city was full of buzz for opening day. The stadium, Briggs Stadium, was full on opening day. Grown men played hooky from work to be a kid again.
I remember the great 1968 World Series Championship team starters by name.

Norm Cash 1B

Dick McAuliffe 2B

Dick Tracewski SS

Don Wert 3B

Bill Freehan C

Al Kaline RF

Mickey Stanley CF

Willie Horton/Jim Northrup LF

Denny McClain P

Mickey Lolich P

Earl Wilson P

Gates Brown PH

I am some kind of old fogy. My interest in baseball began to wane, I believe, when free agency began. The luminaries, my heroes, were always Tigers. I could not imagine Al Kaline, Willie Horton, Bill Freehan, Gates Brown, Dick McAuliffe, or Mickey Lolich playing for anyone else but the Detroit Tigers. The Tigers won the World Series that year. It was a great time for me. I was fifteen and had been a Tiger fan all of the 1960s. It was cool.

In December 1975, free agency came to baseball. The best players became their own brands and went to the highest bidder. There is nothing wrong with that. It is capitalism. But, I had trouble keeping focused on the team when the players, the best players, moved around. I thought that belonged in Eurpoean Soccer not baseball. Many people got used to it but not me. I never liked it. Add to this the designated hitter rule and, ugh, baseball changed for me. I liked Hank Aguirre batting .010, he was a good pitcher and such a bad hitter. I loved Earl Wilson who would hit homers to win his own games. Thankfully, the pros never went to the metal bats.

Jack Morris debuted with the Tigers in 1979. He was a great pitcher. In 1984, on April 7th, he pitched a no-hitter against the White Sox. It was the signal of what would be a great year. He was the ace of the staff and notched 19 victories that year. The Tigers won the World Series that year. It was great. Twice in a lifetime was like a real gift. There is nothing like a winner to bring fans back to the game.

But Morris did not stay a Tiger. In 1991, he went to the Minnesota Twins and led them to a World Series Championship. He moved on to Toronto in 1992 and led them to a World Series trophy as well. I have said since then it was easier to be a Jack Morris fan, which I was, than a Detroit Tigers fan.

A funny thing happened when I moved to Connecticut in 1990. I became a reluctant Yankees fan. It is funny because I hated the Yankees from the 1960s when they used to beat on my beloved Tigers. They were the best team money could buy. They were owned by inflammatory George Steinbrenner who changed managers seemingly at a whim. But, who couldn’t like Derek Jeter, Jorge Posada, Mariano Rivera, and the rest. They were a likeable crew. They were… likeable Yankees. Go figure. After decades of not going to ball games. I went to Yankee games and enjoyed them. I went with my kids. I went with my Latino friends who were working at Colgate in the city. Everyone in the Latin American baseball countries were Yankee fans.

Upon returning to Chicago, I got into both the Yankees and the Cubs. I loved how there was no middle ground. You were either a White Sox fan or a Cub fan. Where I wanted to see a subway series between the two, real Chicago fans wanted their team in the Series and the other to finish last. It is pretty amusing for someone from the outside.

These days, I go to a game or two each year, especially if tickets fall into my lap. The only time I watch baseball on the TV is during the playoffs and the World Series. That is the best baseball and the only thing worth watching.

But, somehow, this year, I missed opening day. What’s up with that?

1 comment:

  1. Interesting that you would post about America's national pastime whilst in Turkey. The '68 Tigers were a special team -I remember John Hiller a pitcher from that team as well. And Mickey Lolich winning 3 games in the World Series after McClain won 31 games that season (the last guy to win 30 games). Mickey Stanley playing all over the field at several positions.

    And Bob Gibson striking out 17 Tigers in game 1 - perhaps the best pitching performance I've ever seen in a Series game. Gibson had an E.R.A of 1.12 that year causing MLP to lower the mound from 15 inches to 10 inches in 1969 the first year of divisional play and the year of my Miracle Mets.

    Keep on writing - I can't keep from reading even though I have so much to do!