Happy Baseball, Hope Springs Eternal

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Today is as special as Christmas, birthdays and grandchildren’s laughter; it is opening day of Major League Baseball across the country.

This morning it was overcast and a bit chilly. But in my heart it was 72 degrees and sunny, with a high blue sky.

Technically the season started in Japan a few days ago when the Oakland A’s and the Seattle Mariners played, but today the other 28 teams start their run to glory or mediocrity.

Baseball, as those who know me can attest, is not just my favorite sport, it is practically my religion. The National Baseball Hall of Fame is my Vatican and Cooperstown is my Rome. The saints have names like Hank, Ty, Babe, Willie and Junior.

My earliest memories of the game are watching my grandfather warm up in the driveway before he had an old-timers game and seeing Mickey Mantle hit a home run on a small, grainy black and white television screen. As a yonker I used a huge catcher’s mitt as a pillow. It had belonged to a Tiger’s minor leaguer in the early 1960s, but I can’t recall who it was.

I can’t explain to anyone why I love the game, that’s like asking about one’s favorite thing about their first love.

It could be that it means better weather. It could be that a game could actually go on forever like a great W. P. Kinsella novel. It could be the sound of the game or the fact that anyone, regardless of size, can play. One doesn’t need to be a seven-footer or weigh 300 pounds to succeed at baseball. Ask Freddie Patek, Jose Altuve or Dave Concepcion. It could be that it is the only major sport in which the defense controls the object of play.

Maybe it’s just the ghosts of history that intrigue me. Joe Jackson in left field, where triples went to die; Pete Rose sliding head-first into a base 90-feet farther along than he should have been; Tom Seaver getting the familiar dirt patch on his knee because of his pitching motion or Yogi Berra saying 90 percent of the game is half mental.

It’s the smell of sweet bubble gum in a new pack of Topps baseball cards and the feel of the grass in centerfield. It’s the sounds of summer and the joy of being alive and maybe, just maybe, feeling 13 years old again.

Another thing I like is that baseball is the perfect sport to listen to on the radio. My head is filled with the voices of television and radio broadcasters like Vin Sculley, Red Barber, Dizzy Dean, Harry Caray  or Joe Garagiola weaving mental pictures.

I wax romantic about baseball because I have loved the game for 56 of my almost 59 years of life. For me, all other sports are those things that happen between baseball seasons.

Baseball is the only sport I watch that I don’t care who is playing. So while I root for the Chicago Cubs, it will be nice to see Pirates, Blue Jays, Reds and Yankees spending their youth on the grass and dirt, in the breeze and in front of the crowds. So take me out to the ball game, it’s a beautiful day at Chevez Ravine and it’s time to raise the Jolly Rodger while enjoying Chicken On The Hill with Will. If you speak baseball you know these references, if not, I’m sorry for you.

Go Cubs Go! Let’s play two.

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