The Opening Day that wasn’t
I miss baseball.
Today should be the happiest day for baseball fans. Groundskeepers should be preparing fields, ushers should be wiping seats, ballplayers should be stretching, and managers should be filling out lineups. Fans should be arriving, or preparing to head out to the ballpark, to renew their love for a game that has been away for an entire winter.
Instead, we wait. The entire season - and really, our entire lives - have been put on pause. As Brad Keller put it, this feels like the longest rain delay in history. And unlike the work stoppage in 1994-95, or the week following 9/11 where baseball was postponed, there isn’t anywhere to really direct our frustration (stupid lousy virus, there outta be a law against them!)
Opening Day was always something I appreciated, even when I was a kid. I remember rushing home from school in 1988, flipping on the radio, excited for the first Royals season I was going to follow as a fan - only to hear that Blue Jays slugger George Bell had clobbered three home runs to beat the Royals.
I remember when my dad first took me to an Opening Day. I don’t remember the exact year - probably the early 90s - but it was one of those special moments.
the best part about Opening Day was rolling into third grade with that note that said your dad would be coming to pick you up around 11:30 a.m. to go watch baseball, just feeling like an absolute king. what a glorious feeling.— Rustin Dodd (@rustindodd) March 26, 2020
I remember my parents excusing me to miss school as a high schooler to go to Opening Day in 1996. We picked up Lamar’s Donuts and headed out to the park early to see spring training legend Patrick Lennon win it for the Royals with a walk-off single in the bottom of the 12th.
I remember watching on TV the 2004 thriller (I had moved to DC by then) where Mendy Lopez won it on a walk-off home run. That 2004 team was coming off the team’s improbable run in 2003, and with the additions of Juan Gonzalez and Benito Santiago, it looked like the beginning of a new era, the first true contender in Royals history. That game seemed to be the start of something big, but like many prospects of that era for the Royals, it was all hype and quickly fizzled out.
I remember Scott Elarton starting on Opening Day - Scott Elarton! You can imagine how that went. I saw Gil Meche outduel Curt Schilling and leave to a standing ovation in 2007, a day where Tony Pena, Jr. was suddenly good at hitting baseballs, smacking two triples in a Royals win.
I remember the 2015 Royals absolutely destroying the White Sox on Opening Day, a sign of things to come that year. I remember the Royals hoisting the flag on Opening Day the next year, as the New York Mets had to stand there and watch. I remember Matt Davidson hitting a million home runs off the Royals in 2018 on the coldest Opening Day I can ever remember.
And I’ll definitely remember the next Opening Day. It will happen eventually - maybe this June, maybe July, perhaps even next year. Perhaps one positive we will take away from this experience is appreciating what we once took for granted. Even the most simplest of joys - eating at your favorite restaurant, a hug from a friend or loved one, a random Royals/Tigers game in April - are gone.
But baseball will endure. We will endure. And I hope we come back roaring even stronger than before. Someday, when baseball returns, we’ll have a packed house at Kauffman Stadium. We’ll have the braves doctors and nurses who tended to our sick and risked their lives throwing out the first pitch. We’ll have Whit Merrifield and Jorge Soler and Hunter Dozier and Salvador Perez (he’s back!) and Adalberto Mondesi to applaud. We’ll have managerial decisions to second guess, umpires to boo, and dumb jokes to make in our game threads.
And I will appreciate every minute of it.