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AuthorView – Opening Day

“Opening Day”

Opening Day always meant the end of winter and the beginning of summer. (Although it was really spring.) The last of the season I hated and the first of the season I loved. Every true baseball fan couldn’t wait for that special day. We’d all been marking off our calendars since the last pitch of last year’s World Series. On Opening Day, we could live and breathe and hope again. On Opening Day, every team was in the race. Everyone was a contender.

As the first official franchise in Major League Baseball history, the Cincinnati Reds always got to be the first team to play on Opening Day. They held the “opening of the Openers.” It was said that the citizens of the “Queen City” looked upon Opening Day as “one small notch below Christmas.”

Since baseball was, after all, the national pastime, Opening Day always seemed to attract politicians anxious to show the American people they were one of them, had the right stuff, and could wing a fast ball up there with the best of them. President William Howard Taft, who was a big fan – in size and enthusiasm – was the first president to throw out the first pitch way back on April 14th, 1910. In 1950, Harry S. Truman, who happened to be ambidextrous, threw out balls both right-handed and left-handed. On April 9th, 1962, President John F. Kennedy continued the tradition by throwing out the first pitch at Washington’s new District of Columbia Stadium.

Early Wynn, a Hall of Fame pitcher who played his entire career in the American League for the Senators, Indians, and White Sox, once said about Opening Day, “An opener is not like any other game. There’s that little extra excitement, a faster beating of the heart. You have that anxiety to get off to a good start, for yourself and for the team. You know that when you win the first one, you can’t lose ’em all.” I liked his name and his optimism.

In 1962, Opening Day for the New York Yankees took place on April 10th against the Baltimore Orioles at Yankee Stadium. Mrs. Claire Ruth, The Babe’s widow, threw out the first pitch. My team, the Giants, would be opening against the Milwaukee Braves at Candlestick Park on Candlestick Point in San Francisco later that day. The Yankees would almost be done by then. And I’d be listening to my heroes on my transistor radio tuned to KBEE 970-AM.

I had never attended any Opening Day games because it was too expensive and my dad couldn’t afford to take the day off. Plus, there were five of us kids, so he would have to decide who to take since he didn’t have enough money to take us all. That was a “no-win” situation. But, there were many other “Opening Days” that I did attend with my father. The Opening Day of each Little League and Babe Ruth season. And that’s because my dad was my coach for just about all the teams I played for while attending elementary school, junior high, and high school.

To young boys, Coaches were Gods, mentors, teachers, and role models. If you were lucky, like me, that man was your father. In my experience, there were two kinds of coaches. Those who were quiet and led by example and those who yelled and tried to browbeat you into being better. I preferred the former, which was the kind of coach my dad was. I never responded to the coach who screamed red-faced at his players. I remember reading that Mickey Mantle hated Casey Stengel because the “Old Perfessor” was always riding him, which is what Mantle’s father had done to him all his life. Mantle said they were never satisfied. But, that didn’t stop him from trying to please them.

From our Coaches, we learned about baseball and we learned about life. We learned about preparation, attitude, and teamwork. We learned that talent is as much a result of practice and dedication as natural ability or instincts. We learned about being confident versus being cocky. About being gracious in victory, as well as defeat. About knowing before each play what you were going to do. And about backing up; the play and your teammates. We learned about taking something away from each win and loss, and then putting it all behind you. We also learned about mastering the mechanics of the game. About physical and mental conditioning. We learned about the history and tradition of the game. And about never giving up. On a game, on your teammate, on yourself.

In baseball and in life, I tried to please my dad, but not because he expected or demanded it. But, because he won it. Quietly.

“On Opening Day, the world is all future. There is no past.” – Lou Boudreau, American League Player and Manager

Excerpted from a forthcoming young adult novel entitled “Getaway Day,” which revolves around the October day the New York Yankees and San Francisco Giants traveled to Modesto to practice during the rain-delayed 1962 World Series.

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