Opening Day: For Love of The Game

Posted by AzBlueMeanie:

An annual post, like the annual right of Spring, continues…

Screenshot-8

In an unusual scheduling move to keep the World Series from creeping into November (here's an idea: with the expanded playoff schedule, schedule weekend doubleheaders – yes, baseball used to do this – or go back to the 146 game regular season schedule – yes, baseball used to do this also), Major League Baseball's Opening Day is on Thursday, March 31 this year, with a full schedule of Opening Day games on April 1.

There are six games on tap for Thursday, less than half the number from Opening Day last year and the fewest since 1986: Atlanta Braves v. Washington Nationals (1:05), Detroit Tigers v. New York Yankees (1:05), Milwaukee Brewers v. Cincinnati Reds (2:10), Anaheim Angels v. Kansas City Royals (4:10), San Diego Padres v. St. Louis Cardinals (4:15), and the World Champion San Francisco Giants v. Los Angeles Dodgers (8:00) (all times Eastern Standard Time).

This year baseball's All-Star Game will be played at Chase Field, home of the Arizona Diamonbacks, on July 12.

Much has occurred in recent years to damage the reputation of major league baseball. (Barry Bonds is currently on trial for perjury in the investigation into his steroid use). This asterisk* era of baseball has made it difficult to remain a dedicated fan of America's pastime.

But there is hope for renewal of the game. Jackie Robinson broke baseball's color barrier in 1947. Will this be the year that baseball breaks the gender barrier? Ng Disappointed at Lack of Women in MLB | FanGraphs Baseball:

We’ve seen a lot of changes in baseball in the last few decades, but more than a half-century after the end of the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League, the sport still often feels like an old boy’s club. In 2011, we’re seeing mixed signals pointing forward. Kim Ng, the highest-ranking baseball executive for nearly a decade, Assistant General Manager of the Yankees and then the Dodgers, recently accepted a job to work for Joe Torre as the Senior Vice President for Baseball Operations in the Commissioner’s office of Major League Baseball. And Justine Siegal, the first woman to coach a professional men’s baseball team — the 2009 Brockton Rox in Brockton, MA, unaffiliated with MLB or MiLB — this year became the first woman to throw batting practice in Major League spring training. (emphasis added).

* * *

The current problem for women isn’t interest, but opportunity. “The fact that Justine Siegal is now, in 2011, the first women to throw batting practice for a major league team is amazing but sad,” says Notgraphs blogger Bethany Heck. “Baseball is one of the few sports that a woman could theoretically play at the same level as a man.” Siegal agrees, and has founded an organization called Baseball for All that sponsors girls’ baseball clinics, tournaments, and all-star teams. “There are so many girls, they don’t want to just be sitting and watching, they want to be in the game,” says Siegal. “And when you see me throwing BP, you see me in the game.”

But MLB may not yet think of women that way. Although a 2002 Gallup poll revealed that 37 percent of women followed baseball, MLB outreach to women thus far has been spotty at best.

I believe that if the legendary Bill Veeck: A Baseball Mastermind were still alive today we would have already seen the gender barrier broken. The first woman to play in Major League Baseball is guaranteed to be a relief pitcher. And it is almost certain that she will pitch for an American League team where the use of a designated hitter means she does not have to bat.

The fans love the power pitcher who can throw a fastball at 105 mph. When the radar gun speed is flashed up on the scoreboard, it's all ooohs and aaahs. But as a broken down old catcher, let me tell you the best pitchers that I ever saw didn't have an impressive fastball.

These pitchers understood the three keys to being a great pitcher: ball movement, change of speed, and location. These guys made the ball move in ways that defied the laws of physics; they could throw the same pitch at 85 mph or 65 mph – whiff!; and they were masters of the location of their release point and hitting the target set by their catcher. Give me a pitcher who can throw good junk any day.

This is why women will have an opportunity to break into Major League Baseball as a relief pitcher. If you have ever been on the business end of a Lisa Fernandez or Jennie Finch riser high and tight, you know what I am talking about. I don't know who will be first to break the gender barrier, but baseball's female fan base will celebrate this historic milestone by financially rewarding the first team to break the gender barrier. And baseball today is all about making money.

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, American Rhetoric: Movie Speech from Field of Dreams – "People Will Come" (video link). Go Twins!

Fieldofdreamsmann2

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.

Comments are closed.