Baseball's Opening Day is more than a game
Baseball's Opening Day is a very nostalgic day in sports. Baseball is a sport that you talk about the past almost as much as the present. If you are a White Sox fan, you are excited to see Chris Sale taking the mound this afternoon against the Kansas City Royals at US Cellular. Fans that cheer for the Cubs hope they see a better team on the field as they start on the road in Pittsburgh this year. Many people will take the time today to think about the first time they went to Wrigley Field or Comiskey Park (now US Cellular). Baseball is a sport that embodies memories past and recent; many families make their favorite team a part of their family legacy.
Maybe it was a father, mother, or a grandparent who instilled the love or probably a passion for the game and a team. People get engaged at baseball games. There is someone I know who will be asked today at the Sox game. Weddings have been performed at baseball stadiums. How many times have you heard about a bachelor party starting at either of Chicago's ballparks? U.S. Cellular provided the backdrop for the bachelor party for the movie, My Best Friend’s Wedding, and Cubs owner Tom Rickets met his wife in the Wrigley Field bleachers. People even scatter the cremated remains of their loved ones on the grass of their beloved ballparks. It isn’t an act condoned by teams, but somehow people try, especially when large groups get to march around the park, where Grandma or Grandpa's ashes may be secretly distributed .
Baseball and ballpark experiences have gone through many changes, some have been good and some have you missing the “good ole days” at Cubs and Sox games.
A favorite greeting as you walk into the park is from a vendor yelling, "Get your scorecards" it is the only sport that you buy a scorecard (and a pencil, of course). Sadly, you don't see as many people in the stands scoring at a ball game anymore. It is still done in the press box and the broadcast booth. Now you can go on the internet and have up-to-date scoring information. Years ago, score cards were your proof that you were at a game and if something special happened, such as a no-hitter or 20 K's by Cubs pitcher Kerry Wood, that card would be a treasured keepsake. I know several people who love the game so much they score games from home. Once I was preparing to broadcast a Sunday night sports talk show, and I scored a Sox-Baltimore game where Sox lefty Wilson Alvarez threw a no-hitter.
Baseball is one of the best radio sports that fill the airwaves, it is a sport that can be beautifully depicted by some of the best broadcasters. We know the names; Vince Scully, Ernie Harwell, Vince Lloyd, Bob Elson, John Rooney and Pat Hughes just to name a few. There is nothing better than taking a long drive with a baseball game playing on your car radio. In the past, transistor radios were the instrument of choice to listen to a ballgame, even while sitting in the stands. Now televisions are perched throughout ballparks, and people standing in a concession line can still see the action.
There are no longer scheduled double-headers, Fourth of July, Memorial Day and Labor Day were assured a double-dip of baseball. Who could forget Ernie Banks' famous line, "Let's play two." They still can happen because of a rain-out, but parks are now cleared after the first, so a paying crowd enters for the second.
Players salaries used to be unknown, most players had to work in the off-season since they were not making the millions they are in today's game. Now a player's salary gets as much attention as his stats.
Baseball may not be the same as it was ten, twenty or thirty years ago, but it is still a game of hitting, pitching and defense. For the sake of argument, let’s hope the steroid-era has passed. There is no doubt that modern medicine, with job saving procedures and fitness programs have allowed players to play baseball more fit and recover from injuries better.
Today is one of the best days in sports, in my opinion. It begins when the umpire says, “Play ball.”