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Thoughts on Opening Day


It’s Opening Day. And as I do most Opening Days, I awake this morning struggling to place it in its proper perspective.

On the one hand, it’s a time for celebration and jubilation. After a long cold winter, our passion is back. And as so many have before us, we’re tempted to render it into purple prose. To hang red, white and blue verbal bunting from every facade and to offer odes to cut grass, bats cracking, hot dogs and organ music.

But to shoot the wad on Opening Day like that has itself become cliche.  Indeed, on this day — and extending through the weekend, I assume — your casual fan coworkers will be overly excited about the return of the game. Your local paper will devote prime real estate to it all.  Dilettantes of all stripes will come out of the woodwork to revel in what they will, for now, call our National Pastime.

But they don’t realize or appreciate or particularly care that the baseball season is a marathon, not a sprint. And that in no event is it a championship bout that justifies the Main Event Atmosphere that will reign supreme on this day. That the long haul matters and that the team that in the final end wins the war after losing every battle is more important than who wins any one game today. Today they’ll go nuts about the beauty of it all. But come August these baseball tourists will disparage our game as boring and out of touch with today’s fast paced world. Come October they will compare unfavorably to professional football.

And frankly, I have no problem with letting the philistines do it.

Let them bluster today and tomorrow about the grandeur of Opening Day. Let them have their F-16 flyovers and gigantic American flags on the outfield grass. Let them have their A-list first-pitch-throwers make their appearances and let them trot out that Walt Whitman quote that is, in all honesty, tired and likely apocryphal.  Even if all of this is, ultimately, beside the point and, indeed, antithetical to the point of the baseball season, it is harmless.

Because you and I, my friends, understand the essence of baseball. We appreciate that it is a six month work of art, and it can no more be captured in a gush of  Opening Day enthusiasm than the first three strokes from Edward Hopper’s brush captured “Early Sunday Morning.”

We will enjoy ourselves today, but we will not get too caught up in it.  For we know that baseball will be here for us next week. Next month. And on through May, June, July, August, September and October to keep us company. To be our companion on random Sunday afternoons and lonely Tuesday nights.  To show us that its true value is not as a symbol or a spectacle, but as a game. A pastime in the literal sense, not the metaphorical one it has become to some. Our lives will continue on, day by day, but night by night we will have our diversion. Our little fix that does not require us to set aside our lives or entire days like some other sports or hobbies do. Something that just hums along unobtrusively, always there for us.

But that’s not until next week at the earliest. For now, we will grin and bear the overwrought spectacle that is Opening Day. And to be clear, we will enjoy it, because baseball-as-overwrought spectacle still beats just about anything else there is in the world.  But we will also know, deep down, that today will be a little weird. And that we need only smile and endure until the heat blows over and we can enjoy baseball as God and Nature intended:Casually. Without much fuss. A drink to be savored and not chugged.

Until then, though: play ball.

Kyle Schwarber is the feel-good story of the 2016 postseason

CLEVELAND, OH - OCTOBER 26:  Kyle Schwarber #12 of the Chicago Cubs reacts after hitting an RBI single to score Ben Zobrist #18 (not pictured) during the fifth inning against the Cleveland Indians in Game Two of the 2016 World Series at Progressive Field on October 26, 2016 in Cleveland, Ohio.  (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
Ezra Shaw/Getty Images
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Most baseball fans and even the Cubs had resigned themselves to most likely not seeing Kyle Schwarber in game action until spring training next year after he suffered a gruesome knee injury in a collision with teammate Dexter Fowler back in early April. Schwarber suffered a fully-torn ACL and LCL in his left leg.

To the surprise of everyone, including manager Joe Maddon, Schwarber was cleared by doctors to play if the Cubs wanted to put him on the World Series roster. So they did. And, boy, are they glad they did it. In preparation, Schwarber saw over 1,000 pitches from machines and pitchers in the Arizona Fall League.

Schwarber essentially crammed for the final exam and unlike most students who do it, it has panned out well thus far. No one was expecting him to look outstanding against Indians ace Corey Kluber in Game 1, but in his first at-bat — his first in the majors since suffering the injury in April — Schwarber worked a 3-1 count before eventually being retired on strikes. Schwarber came back up in the fourth and drilled a Kluber sinker to right field for a two-out double.

In the seventh inning, facing one of the American League’s two scariest left-handed relievers in Andrew Miller, Schwarber worked a full count before drawing a walk. During the regular season, Miller walked exactly one lefty batter. Schwarber made it two. Schwarber would face Miller again in the eighth, going ahead 2-1 before ultimately striking out. He finished 1-for-3 with a walk and a double in the Cubs’ 6-0 loss. Considering the circumstances, that’s amazing.

Schwarber continued his great approach in Game 2 in what turned out to be a 5-1 victory. He struck out against Trevor Bauer in the first inning, but returned to the batter’s box in the third inning and singled up the middle to knock in the Cubs’ second run. Schwarber made it 3-0 in the fifth when he singled up the middle again, this time off of Bryan Shaw, to make it 3-0. Facing Danny Salazar in the sixth, Schwarber drew a four-pitch walk to put runners on first and second base with two outs. Finally, he struck out against Dan Otero in his eighth-inning at-bat, finishing the evening 2-for-4 with a pair of RBI singles and a walk.

But now, as the Cubs return to Chicago for World Series Games 3, 4, and 5 at Wrigley Field, they have to contest with National League rules, a.k.a. no DH. Will Maddon risk Schwarber’s subpar defense to put his dangerous bat in the lineup? Even if Schwarber is not put in the starting lineup, he can at least serve as a dangerous bat off the bench late in the game when the Indians send out their trio of relievers in Shaw, Miller, and closer Cody Allen. At any rate, what Schwarber has done already in the first two games of the World Series is mighty impressive.

Jake Arrieta flirts with no-hitter, pitches Cubs past Indians 5-1 in World Series Game 2

CLEVELAND, OH - OCTOBER 26:  Jake Arrieta #49 of the Chicago Cubs throws a pitch during the first inning against the Cleveland Indians in Game Two of the 2016 World Series at Progressive Field on October 26, 2016 in Cleveland, Ohio.  (Photo by Gene Puskar - Pool/Getty Images)
Gene Puskar - Pool/Getty Images

Cubs starter Jake Arrieta pitched into the sixth inning before allowing his first hit. Behind his strong performance, the Cubs were able to take down the Indians 5-1 in Game 2 of the World Series to even things up at one game apiece.

Unlike their Game 1 performance against Corey Kluber, the Cubs’ offense was ready early. Kris Bryant singled with one out in the first inning against Indians starter Trevor Bauer and promptly scored when Anthony Rizzo drilled a double down the right field line. The Cubs would score again in the third with a two-out rally as Rizzo walked, then Ben Zobrist and Kyle Schwarber hit consecutive singles to center field, plating one run to make it 2-0.

With Zach McAllister returning to the mound for the fifth after relieving Bauer in the fourth, he walked Rizzo, then gave up a triple to Zobrist. The Cubs continued to press their foot on the gas, with Schwarber hitting another RBI single. After Jason Kipnis committed a fielding error on a Willson Contreras grounder — what should’ve been the final out of the inning — McAllister walked Jorge Soler to load the bases, then walked Addison Russell to force in a run, pushing the Cubs’ lead to 5-0.

Arrieta had a first-inning scare, issuing back-to-back two-out walks, but he escaped the jam and seemed to be on cruise control until the sixth inning. He got Carlos Santana to fly out to lead off the sixth, continuing his no-hit bid, but Kipnis broke it up with a double to right field. After getting Francisco Lindor to ground out, pushing Kipnis to third base, Arrieta uncorked a wild pitch, helping the Indians score their first run of the game. Arrieta then served up a single to Mike Napoli, which proved to be the end of the line. Manager Joe Maddon came out to replace him with lefty Mike Montgomery. Montgomery ended the bottom of the sixth by inducing a weak ground out from Jose Ramirez.

Montgomery struck out the first two batters he faced in the seventh, then got into a bit of hot water by yielding a single to Brandon Guyer, then walking Game 1 hero Roberto Perez. Carlos Santana, however, struck out to end what would be the Indians’ last real chance to get back in the ballgame.

Montgomery remained in the game in the bottom of the eighth. He struck out Kipnis, got Lindor to ground out, then gave up a line drive single to Napoli before Maddon pulled the plug. Closer Aroldis Chapman entered to face Ramirez. As expected, Chapman got Ramirez to whiff on a fastball to send the game to the ninth.

In the bottom of the ninth, Chapman fanned Rajai Davis and got Coco Crisp to ground out for two quick outs. He walked Guyer on five pitches but ended the game as rain drizzled onto Progressive Field by getting Perez to ground out to shortstop.

The World Series is now headed back to Wrigley Field. The two clubs will enjoy a day off on Thursday to travel. Game Three will be played at 8:00 PM EDT on Friday. The Indians will send Josh Tomlin to the hill while the Cubs will counter with Kyle Hendricks.