The weird party that is Opening Day

Associated Press
35 Comments

I wrote a somewhat different version of this on Opening Day, 2011. It skewed bit more pessimistic then — probably because I was going through some stuff at the time — and my thoughts on it all have evolved a bit. The core premise is still pretty important to me, however, so I wanted to update it some. Anyway, happy Opening Day.

Opening Day is baseball’s true time for celebration and jubilation. Sure, they put a big party on for the All-Star Game and the World Series, but the former is inconsequential. The latter is obviously great, but by the time it rolls around a huge number of fans have tuned out because their team is no longer in it. As far as celebrations go, the All-Star game is like Halloween, with everyone dressing up and getting treats, but none of it mattering the next day. The World Series is like some exclusive party that, however great it is, not everyone attends.

Opening Day, however, is real cause for revelry. A multi-day festival to which all are welcome. After a long cold winter, our passion is back. Be it figuratively or literally, we hang red, white and blue bunting from every facade and offer odes to sunshine, cut grass, bats cracking, hot dogs and organ music.

There is a risk, however, to overstating how much Opening Day actually means. A risk of delving too far into cliche and reading too much into things. Of thinking that the party is better-attended than it really is.

I bear no ill-will toward the casual fans who will party with us today and tomorrow. Our coworkers, our family members and all of the other people with whom we’ll share some Opening Day baseball happiness. Our local newspapers, politicians and institutions which will give baseball prime real estate and attention for the next couple of days. The more the merrier! But it’s worth remembering that most of them won’t be with us for most of our journey through the regular season. They will be excited, but their excitement won’t last. What they will happily call the National Pastime in the next couple of days won’t really resemble what you and I and our fellow degenerate, everyday baseball fans are truly into.

They don’t truly appreciate, like we appreciate, 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. They don’t know, like we do, that the long haul matters and that the team that in the final end wins the war after losing many battles is more important than who wins any one game today. Today they’ll go nuts about the beauty of it all. But come August a lot of them who reveled today will disparage our game as boring and out of touch with today’s fast paced world, even if they do it politely and mildly.

And all of that’s OK. Like I said, it’s a big party. Like any other party, not all of the guests will stay until the end and, frankly, it’s probably a lot better that they don’t. Things will kick off uproariously while everyone is here. There will be F-18 flyovers and gigantic American flags on the outfield grass. There will be A-list first-pitch-throwers and the recitation of that Walt Whitman quote that, however overused and likely apocryphal it is, is pleasant to hear. Let’s all raise our glasses and enjoy the first couple hours of the party together, hardcore fans and dilettantes alike.

But after not too long, when the buzz has set in and the music has settled down into a steady groove, a lot of the partygoers will head for the exits and try to make it home because, hey, they have a babysitter on the clock and they have to get up for work tomorrow.

You and I, however, were smart not to go too crazy in those first couple of hours. We nursed a cocktail then, but after the crowd thins out a bit we’ll pour ourselves another drink and settle in. We’ll know that the real fun of this party will come when there were finally enough comfy chairs around for everyone to have one and we can hear each other talk over the din. Our baseball party will be here for us next week. Next month. And on through May, June, July, August, September and October. We’ll enjoy this party — or maybe “party” is too strong a word; let’s call it a gathering — on random Sunday afternoons and lonely Tuesday nights.

For us, baseball is not a symbol or a spectacle, but a game. A pastime in the literal sense of the word, 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, month after month. It’s certainly no party. Maybe it’s not even a gathering. For us, it’s just part of life. A part to be enjoyed as a constant rather than celebrated as a special occasion.

But that’s not until next week at the earliest. For now, we will grin and bear the somewhat overwrought spectacle that is Opening Day. We will certainly 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 and tomorrow is a little weird. A pleasant weirdness through which we’ll smile and which we will 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, not chugged.

Until then, though: play ball.

Pujols has 2 more RBIs, Cardinals beat Pirates 8-7 in 10

Cincinnati Reds v St. Louis Cardinals
Getty Images
3 Comments

PITTSBURGH – Albert Pujols drove in two more runs and the St. Louis Cardinals went on to beat the Pittsburgh Pirates 8-7 in 10 innings Tuesday night.

Pujols hit a two-run single in the third inning to push his career total to 2,218 RBIs. That came a night after he broke a tie with Babe Ruth for second place on the career list. Hank Aaron holds the record with 2,287.

Cardinals manager Oliver Marmol then removed the 42-year-old Pujols at the end of the inning. St. Louis opens postseason play Friday when it hosts a best-of-three National League wild-card series.

Juan Yepez gave the Cardinals the win when he hit a tiebreaking single with one in the 10th inning off Chase De Jong (6-3) to score automatic runner Ben Deluzio.

“Tonight was interesting because you’re fairly scripted in who you want to use and who you don’t want to use and what you want tomorrow to look like so you can get ready for Friday,” Cardinals manager Oliver Marmol said. “It was a good one to still figure out a way to come out on top.”

The Cardinals threw out the potential tying run at home in the bottom of the 10th when automatic runner Kevin Newman tried to score from second base on Oneil Cruz‘s line single off the glove of first baseman Alec Burleson. The ball deflected to second baseman Brendon Donovan, who threw home to catcher Andrew Knizner.

The Pirates challenged the call, but it was upheld on video review.

“I thought we were going to get it overturned,” Newman said. “I just thought he didn’t tag me until he got higher up on the body.”

It was the Pirates’ 100th loss, the second year in a row they have reached that mark.

The Cardinals got two hits each from Donovan, Corey Dickerson, Knizner and Paul DeJong.

Cruz had three hits for the Pirates and Bryan Reynolds, Rodolfo Castro, Jack Suwinski, Ke'Bryan Hayes and Ji-Hwan Bae added two apiece. Miguel Andujar drove in two runs.

Chris Stratton (10-4) pitched two scoreless innings for the win.

“They weren’t the prettiest two innings I’ve ever pitched but I got a great play from the defense in the 10th inning to help me out,” Stratton said. “It was a good play all the way around.’

Pujols’ hit put the Cardinals ahead 3-1 but the Pirates answered with six runs in the bottom of the third. Andujar’s run-scoring double highlighted an inning that includes RBI singles by Castro, Suwinski, Ben Gamel and Bae.

The Cardinals then scored four runs in the seventh inning to tie the score at 7-all. Donovan hit an RBI single, Dickerson drove in two runs with a double and the tying run scored on a throwing error by Cruz, the rookie shortstop.

Both starting pitchers lasted just 2 2/3 innings. The Cardinals’ Dakota Hudson was rocked for seven runs and nine hits while the Pirates’ JT Brubaker allowed three runs on four hits.

Brubaker was activated from the injured list before the game. He had been out since Sept. 16 with right lat discomfort.

HELSLEY HURT

Reliever Ryan Helsley, the Cardinals’ closer, left in the eighth inning with a jammed right middle finger. Helsley was injured after catching a line drive by Bae and using his hands to brace himself while dodging a piece of a broken bat.

Helsley said he expects to be ready to pitch Friday.

“I don’t think there was anything super wrong with it,” Helsley said. `Just give it some rest and let it resolve itself.”

ROSTER MOVES

The Pirates optioned right-hander Roansy Contreras to Triple-A Indianapolis to clear a roster spot for Brubaker. They also recalled infielder/outfielder Tucapita Marcano from Indianapolis and optioned catcher Jose Godoy to the same club.

PIRATES AWARDS

Center fielder Bryan Reynolds was voted the winner of the Roberto Clemente Award, emblematic of the Pirates’ MVP, by the Pittsburgh chapter of the Baseball Writers Association of America.

Mitch Keller won the Steve Blass Award for best pitcher. Former infielder Michael Chavis was voted the Chuck Tanner Good Guy Award.

TRAINER’S ROOM

Cardinals: OF Tyler O'Neill (strained right hamstring) has been ruled out for the wild-card series but St. Louis is hopeful he can play in the NLDS round if it advances. . 3B Nolan Arenado (left quadriceps tightness) missed his second straight game but could play Wednesday.

UP NEXT

Cardinals: Have not decided on a starter for Wednesday, though Marmol said LHP Matthew Liberatore (2-1, 5.46) and RHP Jake Woodford (4-0, 2.33) are possibilities.

Pirates: RHP Johan Oviedo (4-3, 3.12), who was acquired from the Cardinals on Aug. 1, gets the start.