"People ask me what I do in winter when there's no baseball. I'll tell you what I do. I stare out the window and wait for spring." - Rogers Hornsby
Every year, as the leaves fall from the trees, baseball tucks itself to sleep for its annual hibernation, leaving the world without its greatest game for the winter. No sport inhabits our everyday life so comfortably and consistently as baseball does. By June, we forget that there ever was a time at which games weren't being played. It keeps us company through the dog days of summer, inhabiting our local parks, occupying a spot on our radio dials, our newspapers and our television stations.
Excitement builds towards the playoffs for the lucky fans of those teams good enough to reach the postseason. The frenzy continues to grow, culminating in the Fall Classic and the crowning of a new champion. But suddenly baseball is gone, and there is a void, a vacuous hole in our daily routine. We are left with meager replacements and only occasional reminders of what has been lost, and what we long to have back again.
The off-season is long. The cold, the rain, the snow and sleet- none of these things remind us of baseball. For America's Pastime was not created for times like these. It was meant to be enjoyed outside, under the bright sun and clear blue skies, with a cold beverage in hand and the sound of laughter in the air. These are not the sounds of winter.
But then comes spring. The snow melts, the sun returns, and Spring Training begins. Talk of baseball once again squeezes into our daily lives, but it is just a preview. The images remind us that there are bats hitting balls somewhere in places called Arizona and Florida, but the great cathedrals around the country where the game is played remain empty, waiting patiently, preparing.
And then, finally, it is upon us. The one day that makes the wait worthwhile. Look around yourself and see every seat at Chukchansi Park filled by your friends and neighbors. Feel the electricity pulse through the buzz of the crowd. Watch the flags wave in the breeze over the outfield wall. Listen to the pop of rawhide against leather. Taste the first peanuts and Crackerjack that you have eaten since last fall. Smell the sweet scent of grass that jumps to your nose from a freshly cut field.
You know what these sensations add up to, that this is the promise of a full season ahead, of an entire spring and summer of Grizzlies games to come. But you also know that no game will feel quite like this one. To miss it is to miss everything that baseball stands for.
Because it's not just the beginning of the season. It's Opening Day. It is the rebirth of baseball, marking the official end of winter and bringing a renewed sense of hope and excitement that can only come once a year.
Grizzlies Opening Day is Friday, April 16th. I'll be there. Will you?