Baseball finally came back yesterday for the first time since October 2019. Or at least it returned with a much more familiar sense of normality for the first time since October 2019 … other than St. Louis Cardinals scores 11 races in a game. I know that a shortened baseball season was played in 2020. It counts in the record books and everything. But the weird, 60-player sprint had an opening day at the end of July, was almost universally played in front of cardboard cutouts, with no minor league teams, culminating in a World Series played in a neutral place. More than half of the league reached the playoffs. Hungry for baseball, we devoured it anyway. It was A Baseball Season ™ just by name, much like Halloween III: Season of the Witch is A Halloween Movie ™. Horror film dorks will understand the reference. For those who are not familiar, you can rest assured that Halloween III does not look like the rest of the Michael Myers series, except for the fact that it uses October 31 as the main point, and people associated with Halloween masks are evil, but I go away.
The point is, baseball came back for real yesterday. Some fans were in the seats. Sausages and beer were consumed at several ball parks. It was game No. 1 out of 162, not out of 60, and the designated hitter was not randomly beaten to the National League. People at the ballpark in Cincinnati went home with the boats that Dylan Carlson and Tyler O’Neill parked in the seats. All of this feels like a big gosh-darned deal.
A regular opening day has more significance for baseball than any other sport. Football is one such sprint sprint of 16 (now 17) games that identifies one game early as more special than the others feels like folly. The arrival of basketball and hockey is of course welcome for fans of the sport, but they also represent the things we do to entertain ourselves during a long, cold winter. Baseball feels like nature healing. It hatches a thousand articles quoting Alexander Pape’s “hope runs forever.” Football hatches an invitation to eat grilled and fried meat, fart on each other and scream on a TV once a week. Basketball and hockey invite you to dig the parka out of the closet. Forgive the sanctuary that baseball fans are known for, but the opening day for the other sports is just not the same.
This is especially true in St. Louis, where the home opening – that will happen next Thursday – is ripe for partying, from the parade to Clydesdale’s to franchise legends in red jackets. We have to wait a week for that, but it’s about how much of an opening day for cardinal fans.
The opening day is also special because of the mystery. We do not know what will happen. You can dream, and new technology-driven breakouts let you dream even more. Maybe the non-potential quad-A guy unlocks the turn in a way that makes him Max Muncy or Justin Turner. In some cases, you do not even need the technology. Sometimes your team goes out and gets a superstar like Nolan Arenado. I could talk about hope, or I could just point you to it Gabe’s list from yesterday’s hope. And I want to add an extra layer of excitement for this season – a chance to see Yadier Molina and Adam Wainwright plush their craft along with the birds on the bat.
I do not want to flood you, dear readers, with “VEB writers grow poetically on opening day along with keys to buying a home” articles, as the Gabe article did yesterday. But I missed a lot of the Cardinals opening in Cincinnati because my wife and I were on a trip home hyper-competitive (read: crappy) DC market. It did not dampen my enthusiasm for the day. It just meant that it was not the same as in recent years when I took time off from work to watch a bar, or offered whiskey to the baseball gods, or actually attended the opening day at Busch Stadium, PNC Park and Nats Park.
Instead, I now have a history of checking in on the opening day in the first place … and seeing that the Cardinals were already up 6-0. The point is that no matter what else we have going on, as baseball fans, the Opening Day marks a special milestone, and this year more than ever before.
That makes yesterday’s outburst from the cardinals’ violation all the sweeter. Tyler O’Neill’s 110.2 mph laser thing already topped its maximum EV from all of 2020. Paul Goldschmidt put five balls into play over 100 mph. Alex Reyes brought his usual high-octane queso, Arenado went 2-for-5, and Dylan Carlson smoked a homerun, all with good things for the season. It does, pig. It’s enough.
Happy New Year (baseball) year, cardinal fans.