Why MLB Opening Day Is the Best Kickoff Event in Sports
Ah, Opening Day.
They’re not much on their own, but put those two words together, and you get my favorite phrase the English language has to offer. It has a rather beautiful ring to it.
There’s another thing about that phrase: It needs no introduction. Say the words “Opening Day,” and people know you’re talking about baseball. Say the words to a baseball fan, and they’re smiling.
For baseball fans, Opening Day is nothing short of a national holiday. It’s that special of an occasion, and certainly the best kickoff event the sports world has to offer.
How do I know that? Well, it helps that I’ve got a serious case of “the bias,” which I figure I should be upfront about seeing as how it’s not something I can hide. It says up there that I’m a baseball writer, after all.
And because I’m a baseball writer, you can guess which talking points I’m going to bring up in this manifesto about the splendor of Opening Day. It’s all about tradition and history with us baseball nuts, and Opening Day is when the tradition and history of the sport are front and center the most. Baseball writers have been remarking on that for a long time now.
To that end, well, here I am ready to add my words to the pile. As much as I wanted to come up with a fresh take on why Opening Day is so awesome, the usual sentimental rhetoric about Opening Day still rings true. Ever have history and tradition made Opening Day a special occasion, and they shall continue to do so for all eternity.
But let’s be clear on one thing. When I say Opening Day, I’m not referring to what’s going to go down between the Texas Rangers and the Houston Astros at Minute Maid Park on Sunday night. Major League Baseball is calling it “Opening Day,” but realistically it’s more of an “Opening Night” affair.
And “Opening Night” is not a baseball thing. It’s just a concept that baseball borrows because other sports leagues in America have decided that the only time to open up a new season is in prime time.
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The National Football League’s opener comes to mind. The NFL started kicking off its seasons on Thursday nights back in 2002, and the event promptly turned into a watered-down version of the Super Bowl.
It’s not so much of a celebration of football as a celebration of all things loud and obnoxious: football, for one, but also pop music by way of live performances and the great snarling beast known as television.
The idea the NFL is going for is to make the return of football a national party. That’s what MLB is going for with Opening Night games, though the league thankfully keeps the hype level somewhere below “unbearable.”
I wonder if (see “hope”) that’s because MLB understands that there’s only one real Opening Day, and it’s the first full day of regular-season baseball—the day in which many games are played starting early in the afternoon and continuing late into the night on the West Coast. That’s Opening Day.
You can take in all the games on your couch if you must, but that’s not the ideal scenario. Opening Day is best enjoyed at your local ballpark, and the experiences will differ depending on which ballpark you attend.
Some experiences are of the simple variety. Clubs will trot out their stars from years past. Other clubs will raise banners if they have banners to raise. There will be A-list celebrities there to sing the national anthem, as well as jets to perform flyovers.
It’s good stuff, but it’s not what makes Opening Day truly special. After all, they do stuff like this at NFL season openers too.
But then you have the other Opening Day traditions, the ones that scream those two words that baseball fans love so much. History! Tradition!
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Case in point: the Findlay Market Parade. It’s been carried out every year for something like a million years in Cincinnati to celebrate the return of Reds baseball. It can be considered an annual reminder that the Reds have been playing America’s pastime for longer than any other club in the major leagues.
In St. Louis, another sepia-toned National League city, the Cardinals bust out the Clydesdales for Opening Day, and without that blasted Stevie Nicks song from that one commercial.
Wild guess: President Obama can throw harder than Jamie Moyer.
It doesn’t happen every year anymore, but the President of the United States throwing out a first pitch on Opening Day is a tradition that dates back more than 100 years. William Howard Taft got it started in 1910, and Barack Obama officially made it a 100-year tradition back in 2010.
The NFL will have an answer to this tradition when the president takes care of the first coin flip of the season. The NHL when the president drops the first puck. The NBA when the president tosses the ball up for the opening tipoff. Good luck with that, guys.
Do these leagues and other leagues around the world have their own regional traditions to welcome in new seasons? Of course they do, and I’m not about to sit here and say that they’re all dumb traditions just because they’re not baseball traditions. I’m not that well-versed in all the different traditions, for one, but more importantly I’m not that curmudgeonly.
But let’s not kid ourselves. It’s hard for other sports to match the profundity of Opening Day’s individual traditions and the overall traditiony traditionness of the day itself. Profundity is something that’s best accumulated over time, and baseball has a huge head start in that department.
People have been looking forward to new baseball seasons ever since the founding of the National League in 1876. By comparison, the NFL has only been around since 1920. The NHL is only three years older. The NBA has only been around since the 1940s.
The closest equal baseball’s Opening Day has on the ancient experience front is probably the opening ceremonies that come with the Olympic games. But those…
Well, OK, fine. Opening Day ceremonies may feel ancient, but Olympic ceremonies actually are ancient. The Findlay Market Parade, the St. Louis Clydesdales and the presidential first pitch can’t hold a candle to the Olympic torch. The first group honors the baseball gods, but the torch was conceived to honor the Greek gods. They draw a little more water in the gods community.
But even the Olympics can’t rival one thing about Opening Day. The arrival of a new baseball season is only part of the event’s significance. In addition to that, it heralds in the spring season.
Also, it’s easier to play a game of catch in the spring.
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And who doesn’t like spring? Spring is when we get to wave goodbye to cold, wet and gloomy weather and say hello to bright, warm and happy-go-lucky weather. Spring is when we get our shorts and sandals out of the closet. Spring is when we get to enjoy our cold beers in the great outdoors rather than on the couch.
Now think back to the three other major sports in America. The NFL kicks off its regular season in September, and the NBA and NHL get going in October.
So the coming of these seasons represents the coming of fall? Bah! Fall is a season we can all do without. The leaves turn pretty colors, sure, but raking them is a pain. The weather isn’t too cold yet, but it’ll be cold before you know it. Not long after the NFL, NBA and NHL seasons start, you’re out there shoveling your driveway.
Whatever the case, spring is a lot better, and baseball is kind enough to bring it to us by way of Opening Day.
You want further justification for my high regard for Opening Day? Well, too bad. I don’t have any, and I’m frankly not even sure that any further justification even exists. Discussions about what’s better than what and why are going to revolve around numbers and tangible evidence more often than not, but not this one.
No, this is an “eye of the beholder” situation, and I’ve always perceived Opening Day to be sort of like a vintage copy of a very old and very good book. I know it’s special simply because of its age and its rustic qualities, and these things lend a certain power to the story inside.
That’s Opening Day. It’s a most excellent relic from the days of yore, yet I believe I speak for all baseball fans when I say that Opening Day never, ever gets old.