Opening Day is one of the biggest days of the year for sports fans around the country, and has been for over a century. It’s a day with so much build-up and anticipation it’s almost impossible not to be excited. That said, I don’t even really remember my first Opening Day, or at least the one I first got excited about. You see, when I was a kid, there was always some sort of sport on my living room TV. Eventually, baseball would join the mix but I don’t really remember the anticipation. This isn’t to say I didn’t love baseball — the season was always my favorite time of year — but I will say that the anticipation of Opening Day didn’t come until I was older, and it’s gotten more pronounced as I’ve gotten older. There’s something about this day that brings me back to those days when I didn’t really care about Opening Day, and it’s a truly incredible feeling.
You see, even though I didn’t get all riled up for the start of the season, baseball has basically always been my favorite sport. There were some winters here and there that basketball surpassed it for a minute, but ultimately it always came back to baseball. I’m not even sure how it happened, to be honest. One day I just woke up and it happened, or that’s what it seems like. My family likes baseball, but I wouldn’t necessarily call us a baseball family. My brother’s favorite sport was baseball growing up, and while that’s no longer the case it’s probably the biggest reason it’s still my favorite sport if I had to pinpoint one reason. As the youngest of four I rarely had to think for myself, instead just stealing hobbies and personality traits from my older siblings. If I had to make a guess, something that simple is why I am where I am right now, writing about Opening Day and clearing my schedule for a random Thursday in March.
No matter how I decided that baseball was my favorite sport, though, the game itself is the reason that feeling held. Like I said before, my family always had some sort of sporting event on the TV growing up, so I had a chance to fall in love with anything. I liked, and still do like, all of the major sports, but nothing grabbed me the way baseball did when I was younger. It was legitimately enthralling like nothing else in my life.
The home run chase in 1998 between Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa was an experience I’ll never forget. I was asleep when McGwire finally broke the record, but my mother woke my brother and I to watch the replay and the ceremony. I’ll never forget how amazed I was watching that. I didn’t really have a strong concept of what it meant that he had just hit his 62nd home run — and I certainly didn’t know he was soon going to become one of the more vilified players in recent memory — but you could tell by the reactions that something special had happened. I’d never seen people react like that to anything, and I was hooked. A couple months later I fell climbing up to my top bunk, and instead of ice cream or some other treat I wanted to be comforted by being allowed to watch a little bit of the World Series. The next year was the year Pedro really became Pedro, and from there I was hooked. The Pedro experience, especially for an eight- and nine-year-old child, was legitimately awe-inspiring.
Soon, I was waking up every morning, lying on the floor in front of some Nickelodeon show with the newspaper sprawled on the floor reading box scores. I don’t know that I really had any idea what I was looking at, if we’re being honest, but I was up for anything that got me more of the game, and there was no baseball to actually watch first thing in the morning. I remember my oldest brother would make fun of me for this box score habit, and at that age him making fun of me often made me change my habits. Not this time, though. There was just something about baseball.
I don’t feel that way about baseball, or really anything, anymore. I don’t think it’s possible to be that awe-inspired and that enthralled by any game when you reach a certain age. At least not on as consistent a basis. Certain events can get you there, though, and Opening Day is one of those days. I think it’s the thing I anticipate the most when I think about the start of the season. I get to feel that feeling I got when I watched Sammy and McGwire embrace in St. Louis despite being on separate teams, or the feeling I got when Pedro was staring down the batter with everyone knowing he was about to do something incredible. Within a couple weeks, we’re going to be back to cynically and coldly analyzing the game and just generally being adults in the year 2018. It’s just the way life is. At least for one day, though, we can go back to our youngest days when baseball was first putting its claws in us and feel that way one more time. I, for one, am going to cherish it.