I’m a baseball guy, which makes me part of a dwindling breed. And, generally, I celebrate Opening Day for the Red Sox at Fenway Park with a type of religious fervor.
Typically, I’ll start my ritualistic observance with a decadent breakfast—a greasy omelet, sausage and home fries—followed a viewing of “Bull Durham,” which is my favorite— and arguably the best—baseball movie ever made.
For a few years, I had the privilege of attending Opening Day at Fenway, courtesy of a small Boston newspaper, and would head into Boston for the first pitch.
In 2014, I was stuck in traffic on Boylston St. when the banner for the 2013 World Series Champs was dropped.
I squealed like a teenage girl in 2015 when Tom Brady appeared from the Green Monster with Coach Belichick, hosting the Lombardi Trophy.
From a first baseline box seat in 2016, I watched Craig Kimbrel blow a save in his home debut, serving up the longest home run I’ve seen hit in Fenway Park to Chris Davis, a laser to dead center whose exit-velocity nearly broke the sound barrier.
In recent years, my Opening Day celebrations have been more subdued. I’ll saddle into a barstool at a local watering hole, order myself a hot dog and some cold ones and offer gratuitous off-color commentary for the regulars.
This year, obviously, has been an anomaly.
It would be easy to sink into cynicism given our culture’s current complexion in a country ravaged by COVID-19, a country simultaneously struggling with its identity.
But whether or not one agrees with the persistence in moving forward with sports amid a terrible pandemic; or whether or not one believes there’s an imminent death knell coming for all the leagues attempting to finish their seasons, we have baseball right now—albeit a picture of baseball painted by Salvador Dali.
To be frank, the cardboard cutouts in the stadium seats are creepy. It looks like the teams are playing baseball on the front cover of “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.”
And the crowd noise from the video game “MLB: The Show” they’re piped through the ballparks is vaguely reminiscent of a bad acid trip.
Still, it’s the same game. Skip, the manager in “Bull Durham,” described baseball best in his “lollygagger” speech: “This is a very simple game. You throw the ball. You hit the ball. You catch the ball.”
I’ve always been a sucker for simplicity.
So my wife and I went out to a Manchester bar on the only July Opening Day in the league’s storied history and nearly no one was aware the game was even taking place.
My wife and I sat at a table, socially-distanced from a table of our friends, and called to each other over the classic rock on the jukebox. Meanwhile, a conspiracy theorist explained to everyone how Obama funded the Chinese scientists in Wuhan to develop COVID-19, and they disseminated the virus worldwide to screw Trump out of re-election.
On a muted television in the corner of the bar, Red Sox field reporter Guerin Austin smiled with really red lips.
We decided to settle our tab, grab some beers at the convenience store and head home to watch the first pitch in our living room, something I hadn’t done in well over a decade, but seeing the amount of time I’ve spent at home in the last four months, it seemed apropos.
During the opening ceremonies, my dad—whose disposition makes mine look like a ray of golden sunshine—texted me.
I haven’t laughed so hard since I can remember. Cardboard people. Gold mine material for you, he wrote.
He was right.
While MLB’s intentions were good, the pregame product vaguely resembled postmodern theater. And while they were certainly on the right side of history taking a knee and holding the black ribbon to honor the Black Lives Matter movement, it still felt a little contrived—until the anthem played and a few players remained kneeling.
And we all took our pulses.
Then baseball began. They threw the ball. They hit the ball. And they caught the ball. I found myself standing up, yelling at the television from my living room and threatening to not watch the next 59 games in they didn’t beat the dismal Baltimore Orioles, which they did 14-2.
For a couple of hours, I existed in a place close to normal and comfortable—my baseball place.
This isn’t so bad, I texted my dad, the man who was holding a six-month me in 1975 when Pudge Fisk urged a baseball to curve right over The Green Monster’s foul pole in Game 6 of the World Series.
Not too bad once the game began, my dad responded. Just stick to it and forget the other bulls***.
As usual, my dad was right.