By: Chuck Hilston
Opening Day. It has long been considered one of the great traditions that separate baseball from other American sports. This actually seems somewhat irrational, since every season has to have a beginning. However, this one day has a unique feeling of optimism and joy that is missing from other sports. But what specifically makes it so special? There are some universal themes, like the love of the game and the feeling it creates, but the reaction to it differs across the country.
As I head west along I-90, past the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, I am already reminded on what is likely a cool and potentially rainy afternoon, how special baseball season is on the shores of Lake Erie. Nearby schools and workplaces are substantially emptied by undoubtedly one of the highest “common cold epidemics” in recent memory. Signs on billboards, buses, and buildings remind me that “It’s Tribe Time Now!” But why? While the Indians have achieved some success in recent years, they are still 64 years removed from their last World Series championship, and though there is optimism as we look at some of our younger players, the smart money is on the Tigers repeating as division champs. I think part of it is the cultural fabric the Indians have created within the city. You don’t even have to be a hardcore baseball fan to know what opening day means here: summer is coming! Regardless of how the Indians’ fortunes might shape out this season, year after year, Clevelanders pack the ballpark, not only out of loyalty, but also because the scene is so beautiful at ProgressiveField. The unbelievable weather along Lake Erie during the summer is another factor that brings the fans out. Regardless of how the season goes, this is a special place to enjoy America’s national pastime.
FenwayPark is another place that inspires awe at the incredible purity and panoramic views of their stadium. The difference is that they’ve had a winning product in recent years. Regardless of their late-season misfortune last year (which I don’t really feel that excessive consumption of beer and chicken had a lot to do with), Red Sox nation still has plenty to be optimistic about. With their roster still virtually intact from last season, there is good reason to be happy as the new season approaches. The likelihood is incredibly strong that it will be a fun summer in Boston, and everything about their game day experience has the potential to be enjoyed deep into October.
Jose Reyes and Mark Buehrle to gigantic contracts, they are putting their money on a contending team and beautiful new stadium which they expect will result in a fan boom. Marlin fans really have a reason to be excited and it could be the first day in their quest for an established baseball team in their city.
On the opposite end of the spectrum, Oakland fans could be cherishing one of their last opening days ever. With declining attendance and product on the field playing in a “football first” stadium, speculation is strong that they could soon be relocating across the bay in San Jose. While not an enormous move, it would still make going to games for longtime fans in this city much more difficult. However, with the promotions, prices and fan-friendly experience they are trying to create, any intelligent fan in the Bay Area should be making frequent trips to the Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum where they can enjoy the perfect weather and experience while it lasts.
The bottom line is, regardless of what situation your team is in, opening day is one of the greatest days of the year. Everyone has some reason to be excited, if, for nothing else because baseball is back, and you have to remember one more thing: the worst baseball teams usually win 40 percent of their games, and the best win 60, so each time you go out to the ballpark, you get a chance to see at least one win. It’s a time of hope and optimism since every team starts out even. No matter who your team is, you can honestly say “Hey, maybe this is OUR year!”