Thoughts on Opening Day

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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.

Albert Pujols is eighth on the all-time home run list

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Albert Pujols kicked things off for the Angels in dramatic fashion on Friday night, cranking a two-RBI home run off of the Orioles’ Jeremy Hellickson to give the club an early lead in the first inning. The 350-footer was his 18th home run of the year and No. 609 in his 17-season career, tying Sammy Sosa on the all-time home run list for eighth overall and most home runs hit by a player born outside of the United States.

With the home run, Pujols sits just three homers shy of tying Jim Thome’s 612-home run record for seventh on the all-time list. That figures to be the last major milestone still ahead of the designated hitter this season, with Ken Griffey Jr.’s 630-home run mark still a distant 21 blasts away.

The Angels, meanwhile, ran with Pujols’ lead, collecting home runs from Kole Calhoun, C.J. Cron, Kaleb Cowart and Mike Trout. It wasn’t quite enough to quash the Orioles, however, who surged to a 9-7 finale after Manny Machado went 3-for-5 with three home runs and struck a walk-off grand slam in the bottom of the ninth.

Nationals place Max Scherzer on 10-day disabled list with neck inflammation

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The Nationals placed right-hander Max Scherzer on the 10-day disabled list with left neck inflammation, the team announced Friday. Scherzer was scratched from his scheduled start against the Padres and replaced by left-hander Matt Grace, though an official roster move has yet to be made to fill his spot on the roster. The assignment is retroactive to August 15.

Scherzer experienced a similar pain on the right side of his neck at the start of the month, though this is the first official stint he’ll serve on the disabled list in 2017. While comments from club manager Dusty Baker suggest that the injury wasn’t caused by any particular trauma, it seems likely that the ace right-hander will be sidelined for at least one more start.

It’s a terrible time to lose a star pitcher, especially with the Nationals positioned to make a deep run in the postseason, but their 14-game cushion in the NL East should buy them some time while Scherzer’s on the mend. Prior to his bout of inflammation, the 33-year-old looked remarkably healthy this season. He pitched through his fifth consecutive All-Star campaign and currently boasts a 12-5 record in 24 starts, complete with a 2.25 ERA (good for second-best among qualified starters), 2.2 BB/9 and 12.3 SO/9 in 160 1/3 innings.