Four years ago I divorced my first love, the Baltimore Orioles. Baseball was never the same since free agency anyway. The divorce came because I am old; old enough to remember how it can be, being a fan. Being old enough to remember makes me one of the lucky ones. I remember going into a season knowing which players were on my big league team not because of stupid fantasy sports, but because they were also on my team last year, and the year before. I divorced the Orioles, and thus baseball because they let a playoff team dissolve in the names of “cost-cutting” and “rebuilding”. I listened to pundits repeatedly say the O’s “had” to rebuild in the name of finances. Bullshit, I say. Five years ago Camden Yards was packed with fans every day. Now it is a ghost town. Who is making money now? Manny Machado is, but he’s gone. Adam Jones, gone. Zach Britton, Kevin Gausman, Chris Tilman, gone. Even Buck Showalter. And so too, Huck is gone.
Opening Day was once my favorite day of the year. If you do not know what Opening Day is, then it is likely you are not American, not male, and not Southern. For those of you who are not any of those things there is certainly nothing wrong with that, but it will be harder for you to comprehend the day’s importance, though this prompt has made it my duty to help you try.
Opening Day is of course the first day of big league baseball in the United States. It is the only day when every team’s record is equal. It is a day when possibilities abound, when every player is fresh, healthy, and the time when that new coach might prove to be your savior. It is often still cold outside in early April, nevertheless baseball was our sign that Spring was finally here. Opening Day was when the football went back in the closet, when you oiled up the catcher’s mitt, polished the cleats, and began running down the driveway for the newspaper every morning so you could check the daily box scores while eating your Cheerios.
Down South, at least in my South, baseball was king. The other sports were to kill time between seasons. The kids who were skilled were revered. Those who did not play at all were brushed off as being of little importance. My best friend Jimmy was good. Jimmy was good at every sport. It is why we were the best of friends. We fed off of each other. Jimmy is a golf pro today, but back then we played football, basketball, and mostly baseball. We took it seriously, and we played to win. My childhood was much like “The Sandlot” on a larger scale, only without the mean dog.
Jimmy was the preacher’s son in a small town. I say that because it is important to my baseball story. As the preacher’s son Jimmy knew everybody. Jimmy had everybody’s phone number. Jimmy could pick up the phone at 10:00 am on a Wednesday in July and by noon there would be seventeen kids at the little league field ready to pick sides. We didn’t need grownup coaches, umpires, uniforms or concession stands… only a ball, a bat, and a bike.
All of that is gone now, lost to divorce. I am bitter, but that is how divorce leaves a man… cold, bitter, and alone; recalling the good times, conveniently forgetting the bad. Every time I think I have moved on from baseball I open a drawer to find a dirt stained ball, or an Elston Howard rookie card, and the old feelings flood back, and I am twelve again, sweating at the park in the hot sun, getting a well-deserved black eye in an argument over fair or foul. Those were the days!
I know it sounds too good to be true, or even as in “Field of Dreams,” something like Heaven, but it wasn’t. It wasn’t even Iowa. It was only a small, mountain town in Virginia in an age without social media, video games, or satellite television.
(Wait! Hang on a second! Give me just a dog-gone minute to read that again; “Heaven… Waynesboro… no social media… baseball…”)
Damn! Could I have been in Heaven after all? I‘m afraid I’m not biblically versed enough to say, but for damn sure it was Opening Day!