Spring is officially here, and nothing announces that like Opening Day in the Major Leagues. Everything is new, everyone has a chance, and there is a long road to travel ahead of us. But right now, let’s enjoy all the hope, and revel in the magic of opening day.
From birth till the age of 18, there was one place I called home: the Chicago Suburbs. While I was away at college, Chicago was still the place I called home. The area and its teams became a large part of who I was. When you grow up in a place, there is common language and thought process that is very comforting. Growing up, when you talked football it was about the Bears. Jordan wasn’t just some superstar, he was OUR superstar. When the conversation turned to baseball, the first question was always “Sox or Cubs?” And when you ordered a hot dog, you never had to say “No Ketchup”.
Part of this common language, for my family, was that “Opening Day” meant “Holiday”. The day of the White Sox home opener, meant no school, no work, no chores…just a trip to Comiskey to see our boys play. My first real outing as a baby? Opening day. Yeah, I was the baby being held by the woman that stood up around the 7th inning and screamed “F**k You UMP!” Which shouldn’t surprise anyone that has gone to a sporting event with yours truly.
But foul language aside, opening day has always been something special. From my first outing as a baby, until around Junior High, opening day was a hallowed tradition. Besides providing some of my very first baseball memories, those opening days also taught me to be a fan. The lessons learned have lasted a lifetime, even if the tradition has fallen by the wayside many years ago. Being a baseball fan means…
Cheering even though you can see your breath.
Clapping even though your hands are numb.
Staying until the final out regardless of the score, traffic or weather.
Bringing your glove, unless you’re over the age of 12.
Waiting until the 5th inning to move into those empty seats in the front row.
Hoping against all odds that this is the season that delivers us from misery.
That last lesson is one that every fan takes to heart at the start of the season. Opening day provides a clean slate, and that clean slate gives us hope. Anything is possible when that first pitch is thrown out…anything.
As many of you know, last July my wife, daughter and I moved from Seattle to Connecticut. Quite a long haul. We came out to Connecticut about a month in advance of the actual move, to scout out a house to rent. After several failed attempts, we found a great place. It is nearly double the size of our house in Seattle for about the same monthly cost. It has a big kitchen, a great deck, and a view that is gorgeous. We left so excited about moving into the house.
We spent the next month just chatting away about all the great things about the house…how the there is so much more space…the kitchen is going to be so great to work in…the view, wow, the view…and a master bathroom with a Jacuzzi tub!! I think everyone we knew got sick of hearing about it. I even had a thought of, “When we’re ready to buy a house, I hope the landlords will sell us this one because I can’t imagine finding something more perfect.” Ah, hope…
Then we moved in. At first, everything was great. Around each corner was something new and exciting. Every problem was a quirk. Every blemish was just chalked up to character. And hey, no matter what…we still had the view.
There is a lot of space…but you know what a lot of space means? Super high heating bills, especially when you’re talking oil heat...but there is that view.
The kitchen is very big…but it’s laid out as if the previous owners were designing a kitchen for people that don’t cook….but there is that view.
The deck is huge…but it was built with paper clips, and touching the railing wrong makes a spindle fall…but there is that view.
There are so many outlets and lights…but all the electrical work was done by drunk monkeys to the point that many lights have 3 switches, and all 3 switches have to be in the each position for the light to work…but hey…the view.
We have a living room and a family room…but the living room has one of the ugliest fireplaces you’ve ever seen, and the family room doesn’t seem to have any insulation…yeah, I heard you, the view.
There are two and a half bathrooms…but the upstairs bathrooms take an act of god to flush…what? Oh, yeah, the view.
But there is a Jacuzzi tub…and it’s one of the things that needs 3 switches to be in perfect harmony and there is rarely enough hot water to fill it…okay, got it, the view.
Finally, there is that view…but when you look out the window a little closer…really the view is of a major street, trees and a far off shopping mall. Better than a brick wall? Yeah, but it can’t make up for everything.
And that brings us to opening day. Every fan is in the “The view is just gorgeous” phase. The trades, the free agents, the rookies, the new coaches, new ideas, new parks….they all offer to solve all that ailed the team last year. It’s a time you can rationalize anything. Right now, every team has a shot at playing in the World Series. Every fan has reason to hope that his team will be the one standing at the end.
Why? Well, we haven’t checked the wiring yet…haven’t noticed the cracks in the foundation…and all that space we loved in the offseason? Well, it’s terrible on team chemistry.
And that’s where as fans, it can be hard. We talk smack about our teams, and we highlight the positives when we explain why we’ll be the champs…but when we’re alone in the big new house…we start to wonder if that smell from the garage is natural. Everyone has those doubts…when you really look at your team…even the favorites…there are some things that scare you to death. Things we don’t talk about with others…things that keep us up at night.
“Do the Tigers have anyone in the bullpen? Not just warm bodies, but people that can pitch?”
“The Red Sox starters can hold it together, right? Dice K is going to be better, and Beckett is going to be lights out again, right?”
“Man, lot of old guys out there, but we’re the Angels, we can hold it together, right?”
“Is Joe Borowski more Mariano Rivera? Or Bobby Thigpen? Please say Rivera….please?”
“Hey, so what if the Cubs rotation isn’t that deep, the Brewers don’t have any pitching either. That should be enough to get us the division, right?”
“So the slogan for the season is Johan Santana and a cloud of smoke…but Santana is good enough to carry us, right?”
“Hey, the Padres don’t have any offense, but neither do the Diamondbacks…but we can just shut everyone out…right?”
“Joe Torre will get us through the season unharmed, right? He brought a good trainer with him, right?”
As you lie awake at night, pondering those questions…remember, those questions are the price of hope. All that hope opening day brings? The bad wiring is the unspoken cost. In the end, every opening day, gives us a chance to find special place with our team.
Just as with every new house, we hope to find a home.
When I hear the word home, Chicago is one of the words that pop into my head. The last year that I lived there full time? 1994. But it will always be a part of my definition of home…just as Comiskey Park will always be part of my definition of the White Sox. Being away from a place you call home, and a team you call your own, changes how you are a fan.
When you’re a couple thousand miles away from your favorite teams, even with all the magic of the internet, it’s still a very different thing to be a fan. Growing up in Chicago, I ate, slept and breathed the Bears, Sox and Bulls. They were everywhere. Being a fan came really easy, turn on the radio, open the paper; flip on the TV…my teams were right there. Suddenly, after settling in Seattle, someone else’s teams were showing up everywhere. And I had to search out the info I wanted…being a fan became harder.
What’s even harder, my daughter has never had that sense of home that I did. She’s not even 3, and she’s already called 2 places on either side of the country home. On top of that, I’ve passed on my love for the Bears and White Sox to her, and so she’s never known the love of a hometown team. A large part of me wonders how different her definition of home will be.
She won’t have the memories of tuning in the local broadcast of the White Sox game in the backyard…or walking down the street on a Sunday and seeing everyone in Bears gear…or getting to skip school every opening day and going with her dad to see the Sox play. How will that effect her definition of home?
We’ll just have to see, because for her, it’s still Opening Day.