For Love of The Game: Opening Day 2018

The long winter of our discontent has finally come to an end with the start of the 2018 Major League Baseball season.

Today is Opening Day, otherwise known as the most beautiful phrase in the English language, with a full slate of games scheduled.

For the first time in decades, Major League Baseball is returning to tradition. All 30 teams will open the season on the same Opening Day: That’s right, a true Opening Day — i.e., no night-before game or an overseas contest to start things off — and that hasn’t happened since 1968. If you’re an Opening Day traditionalist, then this should be welcome news. Also, this is the earliest the MLB season has ever opened.

There has been something of a trend developing over the past couple of seasons. The Chicago Cubs won their first World Series in 108 years in 2016. The Houston Astros won their first World Series in their 52 year franchise history in 2017 (even longer if you count the predecessor Colt .45’s).

The Cleveland Indians have the current longest World Series Championship drought, 69 years (1948), and there are five expansion teams that have never won a World Series: Texas Rangers (57 years), Milwaukee Brewers (49 years), San Diego Padres (49 years), Washington Nationals (formerly Montreal Expos) (49 years), and Seattle Mariners (41 years). If the trend continues, one of these teams may break their World Series drought this season.

According to Bleacher Report predictions for the 2018 season, this season’s division winners should be: AL East: NY Yankees, AL Central: Cleveland Indians, AL West: Houston Astros, AL Wildcards: Boston Red Sox and Toronto Blue Jays. NL East: Washington Nationals, NL Central: Chicago Cubs, NL West: LA Dodgers, NL Wildcards: Arizona Diamondbacks and NY Mets. World Series prediction: NY Yankees v. Chicago Cubs.

This matchup has occurred only twice in history: The ’32 series that featured Babe Ruth’s “called shot” at Wrigley Field in game three. The Yankees swept the Cubs 4-0. And the ’38 Series when the Yankees again swept the Cubs 4-0.

You know what they say about predictions: this is why we play the game. We’ll see who is still standing at the end of 162 games come October when baseball’s “second season” playoffs begin.

Opening Day remains to this day an almost religious experience for me. It is the one day of the year when every team is tied for first place and everything is possible. The failures of the past season are forgotten and forgiven, and the hopes and dreams of every fan are that “maybe this year our team will win the pennant and go to the World Series.” There is a sense of possibility and hopeful optimism, a sense of renewal and rebirth with the coming of Opening Day.

Anticipation of Opening Day begins in late winter and grows stronger with each passing day. To this day, the four sweetest words in the English language are for me “pitchers and catchers report” to Spring Training. Childhood memories of playing Little League baseball and sandlot baseball can be triggered by the faintest scent of fresh cut grass on a warm spring day, the smell of a sun-warmed leather baseball glove, and the smell of popcorn and hot dogs wafting from a nearby vendor’s cart.

Despite the many failings of this asterisk* era of baseball, it has not diminished my love for the game. Nor can anyone ever take from me my memories of some of baseball’s greatest legends who I had the distinct privilege to see play, or my memories of some of the greatest games ever played which I can replay over again in my mind as if it were only yesterday.

James Earl Jones (as Terrence Mann) in the movie Field of Dreams said it best:

The one constant through all the years, Ray, has been baseball. America is ruled by it like an army of steamrollers. It has been erased like a blackboard, rebuilt and erased again. But baseball has marked the time. This field, this game, is a part of our past, Ray. It reminds us of all that once was good, and that could be again. Oh, people will come, Ray. People will most definitely come.

Let’s play ball!

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