The Meaning of Opening Day

Opening” – a formal or official beginning, as of a sporting season (dictionary.com – usage 10)

 

Many observers have written about the optimism that epitomizes MLB’s Spring Training.  Each player begins the exhibition season in early March with the hope – if not the actual expectation – of his own and his team’s success.  However, consistent with the weather axiom that “March comes in like a lion and goes out like a lamb,” by the end of the Cactus and Grapefruit seasons reality has usually set in for even MLB’s most established stars.  After all, baseball is a game where personal greatness does not guarantee team success.

Consider that Ty Cobb (24), Ted Williams (19), Ernie Banks (19) and Barry Bonds (22) – among the greatest players of their eras – collectively played on 84 Opening Days and not one of them led to a World Series title.  Indeed, Ernie Banks never even got to play in a World Series  (neither did Ken Griffey, Jr., who actually played more games than did Banks – 2,871 to 2,528).  Thus, Opening Day is for many players of all talent levels just the beginning of another season of hard work and repeated disappointment.  Even the weather is worse on Opening Day than in Spring Training, when many teams leave practice games in the sunny south to play real games in the snowy north.

Even in this age of increased parity, most of the 750 players on MLB 2014 Opening Day active rosters know in their hearts that they will not be playing in the post-season 183 days from now.  This is true even though the expanded post-season format now admits ten teams.  And, of course, only one of those ten will win the World Series and fulfill the baseball dreams of 25 players (or 30 or 35 or however many get voted a share of the winner’s purse due to their contributions during the year).  That means that only about 3% of the players will experience the ultimate “success” and 97% will end the year in disappointment or perhaps just the realized expectation of failure. For many of the players, it is simply a job, albeit a very lucrative one.  Consider that of the players with the ten highest salaries for the 2014 season only one plays for a team that is given any real chance to win the World Series – Zack Greinke, LAD. http://www.examiner.com/article/highest-paid-players-major-league-baseball-mlb-2014.

So why do we fans get so excited about Opening Day that many even want to make it a national holiday?  http://www.cbssports.com/mlb/eye-on-baseball/24505010/opening-day-wont-become-national-holiday.  It is the beginning of a grueling journey that even the most rabid fan has difficulty sticking with every day.  I can only conclude that in that respect it simulates life.  We may have a bad day, but there is another coming that could improve our disposition.  We may have a really good day, but the next day can bring us right back down to the reality that life is hard.  It is a cliché, of course, but any sport that considers a 70% failure rate to be its standard for excellence is certainly an attractive example for how most of us would like to practice our own craft.

The 4th usage of “opening” recorded by dictionary.com is “a void in solid matter; a gap, hole or aperture.” This provides us some tantalizing alternative interpretations of Opening Day.  Baseball could be the aperture through which we view our own lives and the world around us, either for better or worse (that is my choice); or it could be a void that swallows up the solid matter of our lives creating a hole where substance used to be (that is my wife’s view).  Whichever meaning you subscribe to, chances are none of us will even remember what happens today come next October.  Does that make it just like every other day in our lives or does that enable us to enjoy it as the perfect way to pass the time?  I chose the latter.

Baseball is, after all, our National Pastime on Opening Day and all 183 days thereafter.

 

 

 

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