Opening Day Healing

To most baseball fans whether they be casual fans or die hard, Opening Day is a national holiday or at least it should be. Those not familiar with the game sometimes wonder what is so special about the first game of what seems like an endless season? It is just one of 162 games each team plays per year. Baseball itself sometimes downplays the reverence of Opening Day. They will use clichés such as “it’s not a sprint, it’s a marathon” or “games in April are not as important” as though the later the calendar gets the more significance there is.

Those excuses are meaningless to most baseball fans though. Those who follow the game know the importance of that first game of the season. It has meaning that goes beyond just a box score or a tick on the schedule. Opening Day has special significance. It is the beginning of a love affair with a game that has been played long before we were alive.

It represents a renewal. Like the changing of the seasons. After a long dormant off-season where all you had to get through the days were the memories you had of games gone by or players you saw. You are reminded that no matter how your team finished last season, for one slight moment they are in first place and on equal ground with all the other teams and their fans.

Opening Day is a time for hope. Will this be the year your favorite team or favorite player will do the impossible or reach pinnacles that even they didn’t think possible? It’s a time to dream of things to come and of eternal optimism that somehow those 25 men will be greater than the individual parts and become a team of destiny.

Opening Day everything is new. The grass will never be greener. The hot dogs will never be as fresh. The excitement across the league will never be as high as it is on this one day. For one fleeting moment, we are all optimistic of what the future holds and we never want that feeling to go away.

This year Opening Day was different for me. It wasn’t because the Diamondbacks started the season on Sunday rather than the traditional Monday. It wasn’t that the forecasts for the team predicted that the it would perhaps underperform even more than the previous year. Those kinds of things baseball fans learn to discount. We are above worrying about reality on Opening Day. We have 161 other games to fret about how the team is doing. For this one moment, we are as good as any other team and start off in first place just like everyone else.

No, this year was different on a more personal level. Before Christmas last year my mom passed away. She was an amazing woman and my biggest fan. She was there to take me to Little League practice and encouraged me when I questioned my own value or if I would ever be able to hit a baseball.

She was there with snacks when my turn came along and kept score at every game I ever played so I could review what went well and where I needed to try harder. She cheered from the stands and even yelled at a few umpires and coaches when it seemed warranted.

Besides loving me she loved baseball. In the time after I stopped playing but still cared for the game we would have long discussions on moves that were made, players that struggled, and what was the team thinking when they made decisions we might not have agreed with.

My parents lived in Idaho so they rarely saw the Diamondbacks play on television but I bought them MLB.TV so they could follow along. Mom would stay up late watching extra-inning games and the next time I called we would talk about how things went. She would constantly watch not just the game but the stands hoping to see me at a game and recording it so that anyone who came to the house would see her son.

Losing a parent is hard and I was definitely not prepared. There are still so many conversations I wanted to have with her, so many games I wanted to share. But Opening Day just didn’t come soon enough and as I packed my seat cushion to get ready to go I couldn’t help but feel an emptiness knowing there was one less fan watching.

My mom’s death was especially hard on my father. They had been married 58 years and this would be the first time in his life he was alone. It breaks my heart thinking about the loss he must feel. With winter still lingering in Idaho we talked my dad into coming to Arizona to visit.

While he was here we went to a few Spring Training games and talked about baseball. Although we didn’t actually say it, we were mostly talking about mom and her love for this amazing game. We would reminisce about plays or games we saw together and both of us would wipe a tear or two away interspersed with laughter.

When Opening Day arrived the plan was for me to go with my wife but in a very selfless act she offered her ticket up so that my dad could go with me to the sold-out game. It was the first Diamondbacks Opening Day my wife would miss and I cannot express the love I have for her sacrifice.

We got up that morning although I am not sure either my dad nor I slept. We wanted to get to the ballpark early and take in all the sights and sounds. As we walked through the turnstiles it was bittersweet. All that was going on both before the game and during was special and magical. But there was also a sense of loss knowing mom was not there with us.

I had taken my parents to an Opening Day in 2009. It was an experience we had talked about often over the years and how special it was. Now she is gone and I won’t have that experience ever again.

Today’s game was amazing. The Diamondbacks faced insurmountable odds and struggled in the beginning before things turned around ending with a walk-off win in front of a packed stadium.

The announced attendance at Opening Day was 49,016 but I have to believe it was really 49,017. I know when the roof to Chase Field opened it was so that mom would have an unobstructed view of the playing field so she wouldn’t miss a game.

Now I add a new adjective to what Opening Day means. One that I never realized until this day. Opening Day is a healing experience. It helps us to find peace when we didn’t know it was possible. As the game ended I took a picture of me and my dad in the stands. But in our hearts mom was there too and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

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