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Home opener traditions

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Do you have a home opener tradition?

MLB: Cincinnati Reds at St. Louis Cardinals Joe Puetz-USA TODAY Sports

Later today, the Cardinals play their first game of the season at home in what is otherwise known as the home opener. The home opener is a capital b Big Deal in St. Louis. I can’t speak for other cities, but it almost functions as a regional holiday here. Some businesses will allow you to leave work early, maybe even encourage it, and you don’t need any excuse other than getting to see the home opener.

And today, what more appropriate pitcher to pitch in front of the fans for the first time since 2019 than Adam Wainwright. In his sixteenth season, Wainwright will be starting his fifth home opener. The reason that’s not higher is because back when he pitched on Opening Day for four straight years from 2013-2016, the Cardinals were on the road every season. Which means that Wainwright has pitched either on Opening Day or the home opener in 10 seasons.

In a couple of his later seasons, he has clearly been slotted in the rotation so as to pitch in the home opener and not because he’s actually the 2nd best starter. That, however, is not the case now. Ignoring what that says about the Cardinals rotation, Adam Wainwright is the Cardinals #2 starter at the moment and no matter how the Cards got to that point, it’s sort of amazing that a 39-year-old who looked dead in the water just a few seasons ago has managed to catapult himself back into being a good pitcher.

He will of course be pitching to Yadier Molina who has been both the Opening Day starter and home opener starter every year since 2005. If he were any other catcher, we’d be questioning if he might sit tomorrow - because tomorrow will be his fifth straight day playing. That’s absurd for just about every catcher in the league - not Yadi. Again ignoring whether that’s a good thing or not, it is amazing. It’s difficult to argue his play is being affected - he hit a key homer yesterday that jumpstarted the Cards’ offense.

Both Paul Goldschmidt and Nolan Arenado are notable for starting tomorrow less because of their history and more because they’ll probably be there for a lot more home openers. Goldschmidt will probably end up with six home opener starts and Nolan with seven when all is said and done. The probable middle infield has a richer history. Paul DeJong will be playing in his 5th home opener. And Matt Carpenter, barring an upset, will be starting on the home opener for his 11th straight season. Yeah I checked and he started back in 2012, before he became a full-time player.

In the probable outfield, the Cardinals will have two players returning for their second straight home opening start and one with his first ever home opener, Dylan Carlson. Tommy Edman played 3B last year on the home opener, and in all likelihood, he’ll play 2B for next year’s home opener. There’s a fun fact for you. If the Cardinals decide on Justin Williams instead of Carpenter, it will obviously be his first ever home opener start.

For the second straight year, I am not doing my usual home opener routine. Somehow, it became a tradition for my mom to take me to the home opener - just me and her. It started in grade school and continued up until the point where my parents stopped buying season tickets - right when I went to college, surely coincidentally I say to myself. We went once to the home opener while I was at college - I skipped my Monday classes to do so obviously. And when I returned home, we continued the tradition.

I am not exaggerating when I say that I have been to at least one Cardinals game every year of my life - as far as I know. With the exception of the year I was born, which wouldn’t have been possible since I was born after the season was over. I can’t say for sure I went to a game when I was between the ages of 5 months and 11 months, but it seems highly probable, given my parents had season tickets that year. And last year was the first year I didn’t go to a single game, which is true for just about everybody. So I didn’t go to a home opener with my mom.

And I’m not going this year. I’m sure the tradition will continue again next year. We are keeping the spirit of the tradition alive because I will be watching the game with her. And with my poor dad, who is the bigger baseball fan of the two and who stepped aside all these years to let us go. At first, he couldn’t because of work but he’s retired now. And I guess the tradition is too much of a tradition at this point.

I wonder how unique I am - I know I’m unique in the sense that I have a tradition of going to the home opener - but I more mean in having a tradition of any sort with regards to the home opener. See the game with specific people, go to a certain place every year, anything. Or, while the game itself is special, you don’t set out to do anything specific except make sure to watch the game. Or maybe the game isn’t even special to you.

Hell, maybe an accidental tradition has happened and until you thought about it, you didn’t realize you do do that every year. Whatever the case may be, I’m genuinely curious. What are you doing on Opening Day? Is it different than normal? And will you return to normal next season, when COVID is not likely to affect everyone’s lives like it does currently? Are you even planning to watch the game, and since you’re reading this blog, that question basically means “can you even watch this game?”

By the time you read this, it’s possible I have started drinking and I’d kind of like to think you, the reader, have to. Let’s enjoy the game.