Dear Cleveland sports fans,
In the movie Field Of Dreams, James Earl Jones says, “The one constant through all the years, Ray, has been baseball. America has rolled by like an army of steamrollers. It has been erased like a blackboard, rebuilt and erased again. But baseball has marked the time.”
Field of Dreams is a movie, but that sentiment certainly applies to real life, specifically my life. In 1976, when I was five years old, my parents were divorced and my dad was often busy starting a business. So, I spent a lot of time with my grandfather, who loved baseball. At one point, he was a pretty good player – a catcher, to be exact. He brought me to a few Indians games at the end of the season. The Indians were out of contention, so nobody was there.
I asked my grandfather, “Do they ever have a lot of people?”
And he told me, “Opening Day, they will be packed.”
That next year, when I was six years old, my grandfather took me to Opening Day.
He splurged and paid $5 a ticket for decent seats instead of the usual $2 general admissions tickets. The stadium was this big yellow brick building. You couldn’t see much from the outside, but when you walked inside, there was green grass, this huge scoreboard and more than 70,000 seats. It was like Disneyland for me. That day we started an Opening Day family tradition. Each year since, rain, snow or sunshine, I have been to Opening Day.
I was there in 1990, after the first scheduled home opener was rained out, and the second was snowed out.
I was there in 1994 when Bill Clinton threw out the first pitch.
I even went to Opening Day the year I had rotator cuff surgery. I couldn’t feel my arm because I was still on medication but I didn’t want to miss the game.
Opening Day is unlike any other day: a packed stadium, filled with energy. The Indians last won a championship in 1948 – 72 years ago. Each year, on Opening Day, there is a renewed sense of hope. There is hope that this year is the year that they have the right pieces and the right ingredients to win The World Series.
When my grandfather could no longer go to games because of his deteriorating health, the tradition continued with my children. Each year, I switch off, taking my son or my daughter. Last year marked 43 straight Opening Day games for my family and me.
This year, I first realized baseball might be different when we stopped the spring training games. I had a bad pit in my stomach. At first, I was hopeful that the season would only be slightly delayed and start in May or June. When states began shutting down and more came out about the need for social distancing, mid-April, it started to sink in that my Opening Day tradition might not happen this year.
The pandemic has impacted a lot of people in this country. My daughter had to come home from college and my son missed out on his junior year of varsity baseball. Many families across the country are suffering far worse than mine.
But baseball, just like it always has been, will be here, and it will be a good distraction from all the negativity in the world right now.
There will be 60 games and all 30 teams have a shot at getting to the playoffs. With fewer games, every game is going to be important. The Indians have a future hall-of-fame manager in Terry Francona and a very good pitching staff. This could be the year everything lines up for them. We, as fans, need to get behind the team and support them.
I know this season will be unlike any other. This year will be my first year, in 43 years not attending Opening Day. There will be no fans at the stadium, which for me, stings. Instead, I will be watching at home or work. However, even just to know that they’re out there grinding and chasing that championship reminds me that the chance to win it all is still there.
For years I have been sharing and enjoying the Opening Day excitement with my family. More than ever, I realize that baseball is a constant in our history because no matter what’s going on in the world, baseball, especially Opening Day, is a way for us to not only feel hope for our team but also to share hope with each other.
Stay safe, everyone!