Today was opening day for the new Major League Baseball season. Well, it wasn’t really opening day, because the Dodgers played the Padres last night, and last week in Australia. Let’s pretend it really was opening day, because it was. Recently the occasion has brought about mixed feelings of joy and resentment, unfortunately. I hate the way that, in the eyes of the nation, baseball exists on the periphery, somewhere between the NFL Combine and Training Camp, a forgotten older sibling. I hate it because baseball is romantic and captivating in a way that football only aspires to. Football is popular because it only happens once a week, and in that way it is no different from any other popular TV show, because that is what it is, a TV show. Football is a fine sport but its success lies in the idea that you are an outsider if you do not pray at the same altar as everyone else, once a week, for only 3 hours.
Now baseball is a love affair. It is a challenging relationship, but one full of reward. It’s first day, today, marks the end of winter bitterness and holds the prospects of a magical summer. A summer full of sticky skin pressed against an equally sweaty beer bottle. A summer full of staying at the ball park through a rain delay, because what you feel runs deeper than the price of your $8 bleacher seat. That’s right, in baseball you can actually attend games, plural.
But, like I said, it is challenging. There are crushing defeats, and episodes of inexplicable joy, and that’s just Tuesday and Wednesday night. To be a fan requires attention and patience. There will be times when you want to give up, and read an NFL Mock draft two seasons in the future, but then when the next game comes, you watch it just like nothing happened. Baseball fans are drawn back in by the intimacy that they feel with the team, like they know this person after spending 162 days with them. And in the end, whether you win 100 games or 60, you miss your guys. You are thankful for that summer, because then the leaves are changing, and that hope you felt in early spring didn’t materialize, or maybe it did, but regardless it was a hell of a ride.
I watched today, from my office, thousands of Pittsburghians shuffle across the Roberto Clemente Bridge to pack PNC Park as a defending playoff team. The emotion was palpable, and it was beautiful, and I just don’t think anything, at least in a sports sense, can replicate that. Like a someone leaning in for a kiss that they knew would probably be denied, the city was all in. I hope that the Orioles, Pirates, and the rest of the league can withstand the onslaught from what sells and provide what can be felt.