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The Home Opener That Wasn’t

MLB: APR 02 Cubs at Cardinals Photo by Scott Kane/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Yesterday was originally scheduled to be the home opener for the Cardinals. With baseball delayed for the foreseeable future, obviously that game never happened. Instead, we got a #STLStayHomeOpener, complete with messages from Ozzie Smith and Matt Carpenter keeping our spirits up and encouraging us to all do the right thing by staying home. The most baseball action we saw from a Cardinal player was Paul Goldschmidt and his kids playing in the backyard. KMOX gifted us with this version of a home opener tradition.

As for the Cardinals, they released the following video. I’ll pause while you watch it just in case you haven’t already seen it. Even if you have already seen it, I’ll pause anyway. Go ahead. I dare you not to shed a cathartic tear.

There was supposed to be a packed house. There would have been franchise legends and current heroes and scrappy backup infielders parading around the Busch Stadium dirt before the game. The first hot dogs, sodas, beers, and helmets full of mini-donuts of the season would be consumed by folks who had taken the day off to celebrate their baseball-mad holiday. The extra special icons in the red jackets would have been on hand. The Clydesdales would have been there while rosey-cheeked youngsters cheerfully clapped along to a beer anthem, delivered via organ. It would have been glorious... just like every other Cardinals home opener.

I took a Sociology of Religion course in college. One of the lessons that stuck most with me was the role that places of worship have played in human history. Historically, places of worship have been houses of the holy where entire communities come together to reaffirm their collectively shared values, perform rituals representing those values, and bond with their community. Of course, we live in a different world now, one where places of employment and commerce and countless other outlets have absorbed some of the role that places of worship used to play. Max Weber for the win and all of that.

One of the reasons that lesson stuck with me so much is that it reminds me of another place where folks gather and collectively reaffirm their values and bond with their community. I’m talking, of course, about baseball stadiums (and to a lesser degree, other sporting events). Fans put on their hats with their city logos and they cheer for the players who collectively appeal to them most. They take their communion at the concession stand where they consume items that define their allegiances best- hot dogs and a Bud for their national pride, Broadway BBQ and 4 Hands for your civic pride. People get together with friends, season ticket holders buckle in each night with their neighboring ticket holders, and families treat the entire trip as a tradition. Wear red, meet at The Man, don’t do the wave, and “Hey, kid, there’s Fredbird and Sign Guy and the Cardinal Cowboy.” Maybe it’s not holy in the way Weber meant but I’ll be damned- choose to be damned- if it’s not a sacred part of being a Cardinal fan. That goes triple for Opening Day.

Of course, this is all too much gravitas even in normal times. It’s particularly true right now. Even on the most basic level, our lives and routines- like watching baseball- have understandably been disrupted. People are sheltered at home, fearing for their loved ones. Less fortunate folks have already been affected by COVID-19, either having contracted the virus or knowing someone who has. Others are losing their jobs. Still others are heroes among us. Nurses, doctors, and medical researchers are fighting at risk each day to save lives. Grocery store employees and food delivery folks are also at risk, doing all they can to preserve normality. Whatever significance you assign to baseball, even on Opening Day, it’s nothing compared to the ramifications of a global pandemic.

We all undoubtedly miss baseball but it feels silly in the current context. Stay safe, folks, and we’ll see each other at the ballpark on some sunny day in the future. Until then, soothe your nerves with a little Ernie Hays.