In 1984, the longtime sportswriter for the Washington Post, Thomas Boswell, collected a series of articles he had written on baseball into a book he titled Why Time Begins on Opening Day. Among other things, Boswell’s title seems to imply that, whatever the difficulties and hardships that might be dogging us, the return of baseball each spring promises that something better is on the horizon. The rituals and stability associated with the game help us to look forward with optimism. Considering the present state of affairs, perhaps baseball is needed more than ever in 2019!
No other sport generates the kind of celebratory atmosphere that the opening day of baseball season seems to create. Virtually every major league park sports red, white, and blue bunting hanging from the grandstand. All the players and coaches are announced and line up on the baselines before the game, and a general atmosphere of well-being permeates the park. Nature also plays its role, as a sense of renewal turns late winter into spring (though many an opening day in New England feels the bite of winter hanging on). Optimism reigns.
While the rituals of Opening Day will be played out at parks around the major leagues over the next two weeks, MLB is struggling to make the game attractive and entertaining to everyone, especially young people. One criticism of today’s game is that the pace can be too slow, and that the games are too long. Ironically, it’s those very characteristics that I find appealing. Baseball is the only game that is not played with a clock. I love that I can have the Red Sox game on television while I read the newspaper or check my emails, and I never miss a bit of the action. MLB has made some changes already, and is mulling others in the effort to speed up the pace of play.
For many of us, Opening Day reminds us of a time when the weight of adult responsibilities were not yet upon us. The memory of carefree days playing sandlot or even Little League baseball can stimulate feelings of joy and elation. The stress associated with job and family were far away, and the most important thing for any of us was making solid contact or throwing accurately to first base.
To be sure, baseball has evolved and undergone changes over the years, and other changes will occur in the future. Change is as inevitable in baseball as it is in the rest of society. However, the essence of the game has endured. The qualities of the game that made baseball attractive to me when I was a young man continue to draw me back to the game every year. This Thursday evening the Red Sox will be in Seattle for Opening Day – and I will be in my favorite chair with all the optimism I’ve felt every year on Opening Day since I was seven. Play ball!