It’s Opening Day, and I have a confession to make.
It’s not an April Fool.
Here it is:
it’s Opening Day, and I don’t care.
And I’m not sure why.
Is it part of the pandemic hangover, part of the “Old Normal” that was ripped away from us a year ago, now lost somewhere amid the endless charts and graphs of debility and deaths? The exhaustion of these masked months continues, and has left me no spare “disk space” for wondering about trades and predictions and highlight reels.
Or is it another side effect of surviving the long brutal years of 45? That could be a big part of it. As the renegade Republican sage Rick Wilson put it in his first best-seller, Everything T—— Touches Dies. His reign certainly sucked the pleasure out of so many other things. The toxicity of this anti-Midas touch was clearly in evidence by October 2019. That’s when the White House Occupant paid his sole visit to a game. Sports Illustrated told it plainly:
“President Donald T—— was greeted with loud boos from the crowd at Game 5 of the World Series between the Nationals and Astros on Sunday.
T——was shown on the big screen at Nationals Park during the team’s salute to veterans after the third inning. Fans in attendance loudly yelled “lock him up,” a chant T—— supporters began in 2016 directed at his opponent and Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton. . . .
T—— did not sit with the Lerner family, the principal owners of the Nationals. According to WUSA, a representative for the Lerner family requested that MLB not put the family in a position to turn down a request from the White House to sit with Trump.
Except T——, every president since William Taft in 1910 has thrown out a ceremonial first pitch, either for Opening Day, the All-Star Game or the World Series. In 2010, President Obama threw out the first pitch on Opening Day at Nationals Park to commemorate the 100th anniversary of Presidential Opening Day first pitches.
According to MLB commissioner Rob Manfred, T—— decided not to throw out the ceremonial first pitch “in order to make the fan experience as positive as possible.”
Sunday marked T——‘s first [and last] major league game since he took office in 2017. [Note: Trigger word emended as a public health measure.]
A President figured in the oldest real-life baseball story I know, told me by my father, about when his family, on a small hardscrabble farm in rural southeast Kansas, got their first real radio.
It was likely one of those models in a polished Art Deco wood cabinet, with big knobs, painted dials, and vacuum tubes glowing inside. Clearly it became the focal point of the living room for my grandparents, my father and his eight siblings.
To capture the radio signal, though, they had to attach a roll of antenna wire to the back, then unroll it to and through the window and across the yard, where they tied it to the nearest tree.
That was in the early 1930s, deep in the Great Depression. My father’s most lasting memory of that radio was baseball, especially games between the Chicago Cubs and the St. Louis Cardinals, storied teams both then and now. The games, and a fast-talking, fast-rising young whippersnapper who broadcast them. His name was Ronald Reagan.
In those heady days, that corner of Kansas was a New Deal Democrat stronghold; and Reagan was also a fan.
Sixty years later, when my father told the story, he still clung to Reagan, and spent his last years muttering angrily about “Goddam socialistic” this and “Goddam socialistic” that; all the while subsisting on a (goddam) socialistic government pension and equally socialistic Veterans Administration medical care; he now rests in a socialistic federal military cemetery. I never had the gumption to point this out.
I have my own baseball memories too. One of the most vivid emerged from the beautiful Camden Yards ballpark of the Baltimore Orioles, on May 3, 1999. That night the O’s faced off in an international exhibition game against the fabled national team of Cuba, where along with Castro and communism el beisbol was said to be the national sport. The teams played two games, the other in Havana. Orioles owner Peter Angelos thought the series might help thaw U. S, diplomatic relations between the two estranged nations.
Others were determined to thwart this feel-good effort. So it wasn’t easy to get into the stadium that evening, because the blocks around it were thronged with noisy anti-Castro protesters, chanting anti-communist slogans and waving rude Spanish banners, and pushing back against battalions of police, demanding the game be canceled.
I was all for better U. S.- Cuba ties, but was most interested in the game. Inside, the stadium was noisier than usual: dozens more protesters had purchased tickets and brought their chants inside, where scores more police were lined up along the baselines and in the stands. More than once, a protester vaulted over the low wall of the bleachers in far left field, and came running toward the mound til they were tackled and dragged away,
The highlight of play came when one of these fence jumpers nimbly evaded the first ranks of cops and dashed across the outfield toward second. The umpires that night were half-and-half U. S. and Cuban, and one of the visiting umps stood next to the base, eyeing the rushing protester impassively.
Play paused, and all eyes were on the imminent collision in midfield. Then, gauging his moment with total precision, the Cuban ump stepped half forward and to his left, then cold-cocked the runner with his bare fist. The blow knocked the guy flat on his back, and he was still staring dazedly up at the stadium lights when the cops helped him up to stagger off the field.
The ump resumed his position, to cheers from the crowd at his prowess, and the pitcher started his windup. I forget who won (they split the series), but that ump sock was no question the play of the night. We were told that the game was shown live on Cuban TV, and recalling that Fidel himself had once been a promising prospect before trading his glove for the Revolution, and I figured that umpire probably secured his career with that single right hook.
I could go on: I’ve been to Cooperstown, and Fenway Park. [Excuse me, Pahk.] I saw and rooted for the Colorado Silver Bullets, an all-woman semipro team sponsored by Coors in the ‘90s; etc. I even saw most of a game played by the Rancho Cucamonga [California] Quakes.
But my confession is that in the mayhem and debris of recent times, the thrill of baseball somehow disappeared.
Can I rekindle it? There’s still time to finish this post, renew my MLB radio subscription,
by phone, and catch some of the Opening Day action.
But — there’s other stuff to think about & catch up with.
So we’ll see . . .
Oh wait — that’s FOUR in one. Grand slam.