It almost seems too good to be true. For the past five months, every baseball column I’ve read (or written) has made mention of Opening Day, and just how far away it is. First we looked forward to the December winter meetings. Then we had pitchers and catchers marked on our calendars. There was truck day, and the day the teams finally arrived in Florida and Arizona in full. The first Spring Training games were only a month ago, and even then, we knew it was finally another step toward the ultimate goal. Now, as I type this, we’re only hours away from Opening Day. Finally.
I wrote just last month that Spring Training has a totally different feel from most preseason contests. That people care a little more, enjoy the product seemingly infinitely more, and that in general, Spring Training is just a totally different beast than most sports’ preseasons. Well, everything I said about Spring Training can be said about Opening Day.
Opening Day in Major League Baseball is unlike that of any other sport. Until a few years ago, much of this had to do with how Opening Day was handled; every team in baseball began its season on the same day, at generally the same time, in the middle of the afternoon on a Monday in early spring. Opening Day offered an excuse to skip work, or school, or whatever other responsibilities you had and enjoy a nice spring afternoon at the ballpark.
That’s still true of “Opening Day,” but Major League Baseball took a play from the NFL’s playbook and introduced “Opening Night” not long ago. While the other 28 teams in the league will begin their seasons on Monday, April 6th, the Cubs and Cardinals will begin on National television, in primetime, the night before. I know a lot of baseball purists are unhappy with this, and I get the argument. Everything I said about Opening Day now becomes somewhat tarnished. The old-time feel of afternoon baseball being replaced by the glitz, glamour, and advertising dollars of a primetime Sunday night game aren’t lost on me. That said, baseball coming 18 hours earlier than before is fine by me, and the knowledge that the season begins with every baseball fan in the country taking in the same game, at the same time, is pretty cool.
Far less important than the time of the game is what the game actually means. Opening Day is beautiful, because the game means everything, and also nothing at all. In a 162-game season, each individual game feels meaningless, at least until, say, August, and in many ways it is. Major League Baseball isn’t the NFL or even the NBA or NHL. Winning on day one isn’t really all that important at all.
But it feels important. First, it’s the first game that technically counts in six months. And second, nobody wants to lose on Opening Day. The game has almost a playoff-like feel, as fans are going crazy to finally see some meaningful baseball again, players are glad to be done with Spring Training, and you know in the back of your mind that winning that first game just means a little extra something. Whether you’re the Nationals and a World Series favorite or the Phillies, expected to come close to the century mark in losses, an Opening Day win always feels extra special. Which brings me to the most important reason that Opening Day is the best day of the year.
On Opening Day, everyone believes. I know how cliche and corny it sounds, but it’s true, especially lately. On Opening Day, every team is in first place. You think anyone in Kansas City this time last year really thought they were watching the first game of a season that would end with game seven of the World Series? I know Red Sox fans certainly didn’t believe on Opening Day in 2013 that the season would end with a parade. Except we sort of did. That is the beauty of Opening Day. Whether you think your team has a genuine shot at a title or not, every team has a shot in April. With surprising runs by those Royals and Red Sox in recent years, that sentiment is only heightened. In a sport where teams can be out of the running before the midway point, Opening Day offers even the most pessimistic of fans a chance to say, “You know what, maybe this really is our year,” and mean it.
And that is what Opening Day means to me. It means the end of a six-month wait. It means all the meetings, and the trades, and the free agent signings, and the workouts, and the spring games, have finally reached their conclusion, and we’re finally going to play games that count. It means every baseball fan from New York to LA and everywhere in between will stop what they’re doing Monday afternoon and turn on a baseball game, and it means every single one of those fans will think “This could be the first game of our championship season.” Opening Day is time for hope, time for excitement, and time for fun. And now, it’s barely a day away. Finally.