Sunday, April 4, 2010

Opening Day...A Tradition Like No Other

The day has finally arrived.....Major League Baseball Opening Day! Yes, I know that the Yankees and Red Sox played last night in a made-for-TV matchup on ESPN. However, the true Opening Day for me is always the day that the oldest francise in baseball dating back to 1869, the Cincinnati Reds, takes the field for the first time each spring.

For years, the Reds always played the first game of the season much like the Dallas Cowboys' and Detroit Lions' tradition of both playing on Thanksgiving Day in the NFL. While the Reds' opener has been pushed aside somewhat over the past decade or so with ESPN taking over with Sunday Night Baseball, the tradition is still very much alive in Cincinnati as witnessed by the 91st Opening Day parade that took place this morning and the fact that standing room only tickets are going for $140 for a team that hasn't sniffed the playoffs since just missing out in 1999.

Nothing can compare to Opening Day. Just as the weather starts to turn from the brutal cold of winter into the sunny signs of spring, each team and their fans have the eternal optimism of what could be a magical summer with a blank slate ahead of them for 162 games. While I'm hoping that this will be the year that my Reds will break through and reach the playoffs after not being close since falling to Al Leiter and the Mets in the one-game playoff in 1999 (which I witnessed first-hand), it also gives diehard Cubs fans like my buddy, Jay Stancil, the hope that the Cubs might finally get back to the World Series for the first time since 1945 to end the curse of the billy goat. It could also be the year for the Cleveland Indians and new pitching coach (and MVNU alum) Tim Belcher to break through and bring the city its first championship in a professional sport. Or maybe, it's something a little more simple like my friend Pat Neville's team, the Pittsburgh Pirates, having a winning season for the first time after a record 17 straight losing seasons that started with Francisco Cabrera's game-winning hit in the bottom of the ninth inning of the 1992 NLCS.

Regardless of who your team is, Opening Day is the day that you always look forward to. If you are like me, you've spent the past month (or longer) getting to know the new faces on your team through spring training reports or maybe even a trip to a spring training game (which I highly recommend). All of the offseason acquisitions will now be put to the test and the hope of an injury-free season will also play a part in your team's success.

I've had the privilege of attending two Opening Day games in Cincinnati and I really enjoyed the pagentry that accompanied these long-awaited events. Unfortunately, my first Opening Day experience lasted just seven pitches when homeplate umpire John McSherry collapsed on the field and died. That was a very surreal experience and I've never heard such a hush come over 50,000 people before. After a delay of about half an hour, the game was understandably postponed. My second Opening Day experience came in 2003 when I went to the first game at Great American Ball Park after being at the final game of Cynergy Field (Riverfront Stadium) the previous year. I was hoping to possibly get to this year's game, but trying to find a last-minute ticket proved to futile. I'm jealous of my friends, Matt Hannaford and Michelle O'Malley, who along with Niki Murray will be at the Philadelphia Phillies-Washington Nationals' opener in D.C. In fact, I'm guessing that Michelle may get on TV at some point with this sign.

While today is just one of 162 game days during the MLB season, I would argue with anyone that it is the best day as every fan has the childhood hope and enthusiasm of an 8-year-old going to their very first game. Good luck to all of your teams today - except yours, Brad Taylor, since your Cardinals are playing my Reds. Well, former Reds broadcaster (and Hall of Fame MC) George Grande just threw out the ceremonial first pitch to Johnny Bench, so I have to go as the season is about to get under way. Play ball!

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