April 4, 2010: A day marked on my calendar since November.
And while some will be celebrating Easter and others observing the final days of Passover, an unofficial holiday takes place that you won't find on your calendar. I speak, of course, of Opening Day—the most wonderful day of the year.
I know what you're thinking, "Opening Day is on April 5!" And in most instances I would agree with you, but not this year. For this season begins with the grandest rivalry in sports, what some believe is the only reason to watch baseball in the first place. It's the Yankees, it's the Red Sox, and it's the first baseball game of the season.
And while opening night doesn't feature the Cubs, the other Sox, Dodgers, Mets, Rays, or Cards, the marquee matchup of bitter blood that stems back to your grandparents' childhood is the only way to truly say "play ball."
This isn't 2009's opening night, Braves vs. Phillies, a one game, no-thank-you serving of what is to come. This is THE rivalry, the game everyone wants to see, fans both die-hard and casual alike. We'll all be watching with bells on. Yankees fans looking to rub their 27th ring in the face of the Fenway Faithful. Red Sox fans looking for a minute sense of redemption and securing that elusive first place spot in the AL East, even if just for one day.
And then comes April 5, the true opening day. When you get to see it all, everyone's ace on the mound, every stadium with a capacity crowd, every team with a full lineup before blisters and hamstring pulls land stars on the disabled list.
The Rays looking to get back to an always elusive division crown. That's what I want to see. The Cardinals trying to start out hot in April and return to greatness. That's what I want to see. A brand new ballpark in Minnesota. That's what I want to see.
Non-stop baseball from noon 'til midnight. That's what I want to see.
Will Mannywood thrive in the basketball town that Manny doesn't even want to be in? Will the Mets find a way to make the playoffs? Will the Cubs win it all, or will it be another century before they do? And can another team take the AL West crown after a quiet off-season in Anaheim?
These are the stories that make baseball...baseball.
Baseball's Opening Day is truly magical, more so than any other sport. Sure, football fans will disagree, but the true sport die-hards knows that baseball is still top dog. It's the pistol to start the marathon, rather than football's whistle to start the sprint.
Everyone starts 0-0, everyone has a chance to win it all, with every fan saying that "this is the year." 162 games, begining like a flower, blooming in spring...dragging through the hot dog days of summer...and ending in the fall, the flower's pedals falling off until just one is left.
Baseball has all the plot lines, all the heroes and villains, all the aspects of every other sport rolled into one.
College basketball has the Cinderella, and so does baseball. What did you think when you saw the +2,000 money line on the Rays to win it all two years ago? Now think about it, 175 games later, those same Rays were World Series favorites, and two seasons later, stand ready to compete toe-to-toe with the Red Sox and Yankees. Didn't see that one coming, did you?
Football and hockey have full-contact hitting and high-speed shots...and so does baseball. Remember Varitek and A-Rod going at it? Or the Angels bullpen running to home plate to participate in a Bronx-style melee to defend a teammate who got beaned, only weeks after joining the squad?
Soccer has the beautiful plays and agile scores...and so does baseball. Torii Hunter scaling a wall, Derek Jeter with his signature jumping-across-the-body throw to first, or him being in foul ground to make a play at the plate, saving a series and leading to yet another ring.
Baseball is wonderful, baseball is witty, baseball is beautiful, baseball is brutal. Baseball is a game and a pastime. Baseball is a metaphor for war and conflict, triumph and tragedy. Baseball is the calendar in which we measure the seasons of our lives.
Before anything in life, is baseball. Baseball is beautiful. Baseball is glorious.
Spring has barely begun, and we're already looking forward to autumn and beyond.
And what next? April, 2011...a day I'll mark on my calendar in November.