Baseball finally returned yesterday for the first time since October 2019. Or at least, it returned with a much more familiar sense of normality for the first time since October 2019... other than the St. Louis Cardinals scoring 11 runs in a game. I know a shortened baseball season was played in 2020. It counts in the record books and everything. But that odd, 60-game sprint had a late July opening day, was almost universally played in front of cardboard cutouts, without minor league teams, culminating in a World Series played at a neutral site. More than half of the league made the playoffs. Starved for baseball, we gobbled it up anyway. It was A Baseball Season™ in name only, much in the same way that Halloween III: Season of the Witch is A Halloween Movie™. Horror movie dorks will understand the reference. For those who aren’t familiar, rest assured that Halloween III bears no resemblance to the remainder of the Michael Myers franchise other than the fact that it uses October 31 as its fulcrum and people associated with Halloween masks are evil, but I digress.
The point is, baseball came back for really real yesterday. Some fans were in the seats. Hot dogs and beers were consumed at multiple ballparks. It was game #1 of 162, not of 60, and the designated hitter wasn’t haphazardly slapped on to the National League. Folks at the ballpark in Cincinnati walked home with the dingers that Dylan Carlson and Tyler O’Neill parked in the seats. All of that feels like a big gosh-darned deal.
A normal Opening Day has more meaning to baseball than any other sport. Football is such a mad sprint of 16 (now 17) games that identifying any one game early on as more special than the others feels like folly. The arrival of basketball and hockey are welcomed for fans of the sport, of course, but they also represent the things we do to entertain ourselves during a long, cold winter. Baseball feels like nature healing. It hatches a thousand articles that quote Alexander Pope’s “hope springs eternal.” Football hatches an invitation to eat grilled and fried meats, fart on one another, and scream at a TV once a week. Basketball and hockey invite you to dig your parka out of the closet. Forgive the sanctimony that baseball fans are famous for, but Opening Day for the other sports just aren’t the same.
That’s especially true in St. Louis, where the home opener- which will happen next Thursday- is ripe with pageantry, from the parade to the Clydesdales to the franchise legends in red jackets. We’ll have to wait a week for that, but it speaks to how much of a holiday Opening Day is for Cardinal fans.
Opening Day is also special because of the mystery. We don’t know what’s going to happen. You can dream, and new tech-fueled breakouts allow you to dream even more. Maybe that non-prospect quad-A guy unlocks his swing in a way that makes him Max Muncy or Justin Turner. In some cases, you don’t even need the tech. Sometimes your team goes out and acquires a superstar like Nolan Arenado. I could prattle on about hope, or I could just point you to Gabe’s list o’ hope from yesterday. And I’d add one extra layer of excitement for this season- one more opportunity to see Yadier Molina and Adam Wainwright ply their craft together sporting the birds on the bat.
I don’t want to inundate you, dear readers, with “VEB writers wax poetic about Opening Day alongside tangents about home purchases” articles, as Gabe’s article did yesterday as well. But I missed a good chunk of the Cardinals opener in Cincinnati because my wife and I were out touring homes in a hyper-competitive (read: crappy) DC market. That didn’t dampen my enthusiasm for the day. It just meant it wasn’t the same as past years when I took the day off work to watch in a bar, or made whiskey offerings to baseball Gods, or actually attended Opening Day at Busch Stadium, PNC Park, and Nats Park.
Instead, now I have a story of checking in on Opening Day in the first inning... and seeing that the Cardinals were already up 6-0. The point is that no matter what else we have going on, as baseball fans, Opening Day marks a special milestone, and this year more than ever before.
That makes yesterday’s outburst from the Cardinals’ offense all the more sweet. Tyler O’Neill’s 110.2 mph laser-dinger already topped his max EV from all of 2020. Paul Goldschmidt put five balls in play over 100 mph. Alex Reyes brought his usual high octane queso, Arenado went 2-for-5, and Dylan Carlson smoked a homerun, all portending good things for the season. That’ll do, pig. That’ll do.
Happy New (Baseball) Year, Cardinal fans.