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Ahh, Spring: An Ode to Childhood and Opening Day

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For those of you that celebrate, have a happy Easter and enjoy the day. Visit family, quaff drinks, and feast upon ham, lamb, or whatever. If you're traveling, Godspeed; if you're staying at home, rest and be merry. And for those of you that don't celebrate Easter, happy Opening Day. Sure, the Rays don't start until Tuesday, but tonight the first pitch will be thrown in the season and the Rays will already be a half game behind someone by tomorrow morning. The great AL East bash of 2010 has begun!

In deference to this double holiday, we won't be posting anything else here on DRB today. If you're pining away looking for something to whet your baseball appetite, might I suggest the DRB Annual - an excellent compendium of articles on the 2010 Rays. Also, I've tossed together a few words of my own for the occasion, which can be found after the jump. The start of the season always brings out the poetic, romantic side in me, so please be forewarned that this won't be the typical logic-based, stat-driven DRB article. We all should be allowed to be carried along by our emotions every once and a while, shouldn't we?

Baseball is a game easily romanticized. I should need to provide any examples - that statement is so self-evidently true, any baseball fan should know just what I'm talking about. Countless words, articles, and books have been written about "America's pastime" and how baseball, unlike any other sport, represents America. It's been said that baseball has followed the timeline of America; whatever struggles the athletes on the field were dealing with, America as a whole was struggling with as well. There's Jackie Robinson and the Civil Rights Movement, for one. Babe Ruth and the Roaring 20s. The Steroids Era and the 1990s. Teddy Baseball, Joe D, and World War II. And the coup de grace:

"People will come Ray. 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. This field, this game: it's a part of our past, Ray. It reminds of us of all that once was good and it could be again. Oh... people will come Ray. People will most definitely come." (Field of Dreams)

For a minute, let's put our logic-goggles back on. No matter what all the quotes say or what we want to believe ourselves, baseball is still just a sport. Technically, it's no different from basketball or football or cricket or handball. It's a game with winners and losers, and we all pay lots of money to go see these games. Why is it that we insist upon making baseball so much more than it really is? Why is it so easy to wax poetical about baseball? The game itself seems to ooze with purple prose; it's tough to watch a game and not get hyperbolic at times. Batters hit screaming line-drives off of pitchers throwing blazing fastballs. Home runs are titanic blasts and games are life and death showdowns. Mortals become heroes and heroes become legends. That's baseball.

I can't help but think that this built-in hyperbole has to come from somewhere. Personally, I don't buy the whole "But Baseball Represents America!" argument; it just reeks of bias. Like I said, despite whatever we want to believe, baseball is a sport - no more, no less. Some infatuated baseball fan cherry-picks a couple key events from history and baseball history that quasi line up, and boom, there you go. It's a weak argument that doesn't hold up when you look at all the different time periods (1970s? 1980s?), so we're still left wondering what exactly is so special about baseball.

I think the answer can be found within that "Field of Dreams" quote. "This field, this game: it's a part of our past, Ray. It reminds of us of all that once was good and it could be again." Baseball, I've found, is a game you need to grow up with in order to fully appreciate; it's a game that relies upon us having a deep connection with it early in life. To the casual sports fan, the prospect of paying 30 dollars to sit through three hours of slow, pitch-by-pitch action seems tedious and dull. Where is the excitement? Why is it so long? And goodness, there are quite a lot of confusing rules that just befuddle things (infield fly, anyone?). If you're not already a baseball fan by the time you turn 15, I'd bet that odds are you won't become one later in life.

And so, that's why I think baseball is so darn addicting and so darn poetic - it reminds us of childhood. Think of the sport "baseball" for a second. What emotions and memories pop to mind? For me, I get filled with this feeling of overwhelming...spring. Of green grass and freshly mowed fields. Learning to field groundballs on a bumpy dirt infield. Playing catch with my dad and brother. Bruce Springsteen and "Born to Run". Collecting baseball cards of all my favorite players. Writing journals in fourth grade, plagiarizing from my Yankees' Encyclopedia. Stealing home in a Little League game, despite being chubby and weighed down by chemo. Going to my first game at Yankee Stadium. Bickering over rules during pick-up games at the beach. Spring, renewal, life, sun, and baseball.

"The Daily Show" did an excellent segment recently playing off the fact that there was no "Golden Age" in America's history. Everyone seems to long for a return to this mystical "golden age", but every epoch has had its downsides as well as its upsides. The 1950s? Racial inequality and riots/protests, and the Korean War. The 1960s? Racial uprisings again, and the Vietnam War. You could go on and on. As they masterfully put it, the reason we believe there was some perfect age of American history is because everything looks perfect when we're children. As kids, the world is a fantastic adventure and you're immune to the issues that worry adults, making your childhood days seem blissful and perfect. And this, in the end, is why I think baseball is such a romanticized sport.* We grow up with it, learn to love it and its history, and become attached.

*Also, I think this is the reason people make such a big flap about steroids. "Oh, the game isn't pure these days! These statistics deserve asterisk marks! They're ruining the integrity of the game!" Oh, big whoop. You have an idealized version of baseball in your head based upon what you saw growing up, but there's never been a "golden era" for baseball just like there's never been one for America. Players took greenies in the 50s and 60s. Players threw spitballs and scuffed the ball back with Babe Ruth. This game is not played by Gods; it's played by humans.

Every spring - every Opening Day - I find myself re-experiencing a flood of gushy feelings surrounding baseball. All those memories come back in full force and I find myself in love again with this crazy sport I learned to love as a kid. It's a beautiful day outside today (at least up in the Northeast). Go take a child outside and play a game of catch; pass that love on to another generation. I think I'm going to throw one around with my dad.

Happy Opening Day, all.