Welcome to Opening Day
There is no end to the variation of musical preferences because tastes in music are highly individualized. We can take pleasure in different musical genres and various artists, and therefore all opinions on songs, and bands are valid. While writing about baseball teams generates a predictable amount of responses from fans disagreeing with a specific team’s outlook, nothing that I wrote over the last six weeks generated more e-mail than my non-traditional review of Bruce Springsteen’s latest release, Wrecking Ball. The responses came from as far away as Greece and many e-mailers passionately urged me to reconsider my stance that a previous Springsteen album, The Seeger Sessions was close to unlistenable. Those readers were right, not about my take on the album, to my ears that sound is simply not pleasing, but right because to them that sound and arrangement of songs is enjoyable. As a number of those writers cited a love of Jazz Fest, they are more qualified to critically judge the album than I am. So I accept that it’s a great album even if my ears don’t agree.
The point is that none of us are wrong when it comes to music. You like the angry rantings of coming-of-age, soul-bearing artists like Alanis Morissette and Pink while I prefer Liz Phair. My favorite cover band is Oasis, yours might be Coldplay. (See, we can make jokes too!) There are no wrong opinions about music. Well, maybe “no” is too much of an absolute. I make two exceptions to that rule: The collected works of Creed and the song One Shining Moment.
As you may know, CBS uses One Shining Moment to end its broadcast of each year’s NCAA men’s basketball tournament and words cannot describe how much I loathe that choice of songs. I’m the type of guy who gets goose bumps at some of the music and voiceovers NFL Films uses to present a montage of highlights and I’m not above tearing up during a particularly inspirational Nike commercial. One Shining Moment, however, is a horrendous choice for a song to accompany the end of the Final Four. The lyrics, in attempting to be literal, at best make no sense, and are probably better described as inane. The choice in music is completely inappropriate for the event it’s showcasing and the viewers that have been watching it for three weeks. It’s not just bad, it’s sixty-four types of bad and I cannot be swayed on this argument.
And yet . . . the song serves a purpose for baseball fans. Just as a generation of Yankees fans have grown to recognize the opening notes of Enter Sandman as a bridge to Mariano Rivera, himself a bridge to Sinatra’s New York, New York, and just as the students in Madison, WI know Jump Around as the inspirational fourth-quarter anthem for the Wisconsin Badger football team, and just as Padres fans for years got goose bumps from the opening chimes of Hells Bells signaling the arrival of Trevor Hoffman from the bullpen, One Shining Moment serves as a bridge to Opening Day for baseball fans. When the final notes of that song mercifully end, it means were just a day or two away from Opening Day.
I love Opening Day and it probably has to do with growing up a baseball fan in a northeast city. Opening Day, in my mind, always marked the true start of spring. Thomas Boswell, the esteemed and sometimes cranky baseball columnist with the Washington Post once wrote, “99 Reasons why Baseball is Better than Football” (sample gem: “The best ever in each sport - Babe Ruth and Jim Brown — each represents egocentric excess. But Ruth never threw a woman out a window.”) However, I thought his list, written in the 1980s, missed an important item. Baseball always did Opening Day better than football. John Madden, interestingly enough, was one of the first commentators to notice this. He complained during the start of one football season that the NFL didn’t have any red, white, and blue bunting around the stadium. He kept saying, “We need bunting around the field like baseball does. Baseball knows how to set the mood with bunting.” (Honestly, I also think John Madden just liked to say "bunting".) The next year Madden was in Dallas for the season’s first game and he roared with approval when Texas Stadium adorned its field with bunting
Eventually the unparalleled marketing machine that is the NFL (and I say that with complete admiration) took notice and the start of the NFL season became an event. It now features major musical acts, a nationally televised Thursday night game, Opening Weekend logos plastered on all 16 playing surfaces and culminates with two Monday Night Football games. The NFL has surpassed baseball not just in popularity but even in the way it promotes its opening, as witnessed by MLB’s inept handling of this season’s preamble, an opening series in Japan (the games were not even available for viewing in the Bay Area, Oakland’s home.) Baseball, however, still has a trump card. The start of a football season is a time to tailgate with friends or gather around the TV with your fantasy buddies drinking beer and exchanging gambling advice. However, for many baseball fans, Opening Day means skipping work and watching a game with your dad or your child.
When I think of Opening Day, I think about the first game played at Camden Yards and the father-son bleacher brawl that almost started because the locals took exception to the jointly-shared opinion of my dad and I that Mike Schmidt, not Brooks Robinson, was the greatest third baseman of all time. I think about standing in a tunnel at Yankee Stadium with my father, watching the Yankees record the final out and then sprinting to the subway to catch an express train to Manhattan, and then a cab on Third Avenue, in a desperate attempt to make our dinner reservation at Peter Luger’s while not missing an out of the game. Afternoon baseball followed by a steak at Peter Luger’s with your dad. That’s a pretty good day. And I also think back to when I was five years old, surprised and crushed I didn’t see my dad on TV when he went to the grand opening of the 60,000+ seat Veteran’s Stadium in Philadelphia,
I hope you enjoyed the 2012 season preview over the last six weeks. All team summaries had a large amount of data, and in general were all quantitative-based previews of each team’s prospects in 2012. But today, if the Phillies are down one run in the top of the ninth inning with runners on base while Jimmy Rollins is facing Pirates' closer Joel Hanrahan, I’m not going to be thinking about small sample sizes or cluster luck or defensive efficiency. I’ll be at home on my parents couch in West Chester, PA imploring Rollins to get a hit and if he fails, I’ll slump back on the couch. Then my dad and I will look at each other before muttering in unison, “the Phillies stink.” We'll laugh and my Mom will shake her head because that's the same refrain we’ve used to summarize every Phillies loss since the 1970s. Even when a Phillies game ends in defeat, that's a pretty good Opening Day memory.
Mop Up Duty:
Joe Peta is the author of Trading Bases, the Newsletter, a companion piece to Trading Bases, A Story about Wall Street, Gambling, and Baseball* (*) Not necessarily in that order, a Dutton Books/Penguin (U.S.A.) February, 2013 release.
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