Opening Day 2015

Tomorrow is Opening Day 2015, the first day games of the season. It won’t be the first games of the season, however, as the Cardinals and Cubs play tonight. The Cubs. The team which defines, and is defined by, the mantra Always next year, more than any other team. That includes my favorite team, the Minnesota Twins.

Despite the positive language which I regularly use – awesome, cool, baller – I am a pessimist at heart, particularly regarding my sports teams. I inherited this pessimism from my father, a Mets and Jets fan. The Twins dominated the AL Central during the 2000s, but were regularly cowed by the Yankees during their annual postseason series. Then retirements, injuries, and free agency drove them into the basement where they reside today. And where they’ll reside for a while. Their pitching staff is pathetic and the highly touted prospects don’t work from the mound.

But hope springs eternal in the spring and this could be always be the prophesied next year. This is particularly true for my softball teams. My employer has a company team in the local park district league. Each season we drop down a level, attempting to find more comparable talent after finding ourselves to be repeated victims of the slaughter rule. We don’t have the power to hit home runs. We might have the one of the fastest players in the league, but we also have a few who might contend for the slowest. We’ve got a centerfielder with a rocket launcher attached to his shoulder and one of the top shortstops in the league, but we regularly have one defensive inning which kills us.

But we somehow maintain a good attitude. The umps comment on how much fun we seem to have, how hard we play despite the talent discrepancy, and how little we disparage each other and the other team. We’re probably the one team that doesn’t scream our curses, instead limiting them to under our breath. We’ve got one outfielder who never shuts up, shouting indiscernible encouragements to his teammates. I’m pretty sure he only repeats the same four nondescript lines:

Aight, aight!

You got dis!

Do it again!

Eat him!

That outfielder might be me.

I work for a Christian company, so after every game, after we’ve finished the tried and true handshake line with the other team, we invite the other team to join us on the mound for prayer. Occasionally we get the whole team to join us. More often than not, we don’t get more than one. Every week, every game, my prayer, silent or vocal, is one of thanks for the body which enables me to play, for my company which sponsors the team, for the people willing to play with me, for the colleagues who spend their Thursday evenings watching our haplessness.

My other softball team with my church, in a league of other churches, hosted by a single church blessed with a fantastic property. The league is less official without set rosters or umpires. One of the two fields doesn’t have an outfield fence; the other is made of temporary orange construction fencing. Our roster is patchwork on a weekly basis, a core of regulars shored up by last minute phone calls. Consistency is difficult on such a team and last year’s record was evidence of that. We’re losing at least one regular player to a cross country move and probably others to despondency or apathy. I’m only on the fringe of core players as my work league takes priority on Thursday nights. But we always, at least every time I’m there, manage to scrounge together a team; I don’t believe we’ve ever forfeited.

There is a famous clip of an irate Herman Edwards screaming at a press conference, You play to win the game! I whole-heartedly believe him, because part of the game is determining a winner and a loser. But my preferred focus is the play, not the game, because the game is made up of plays. My philosophy leans towards You play to win the play to win the game. And I try to play every play as though it is the last play in the game. I have joked about giving up a late inning lead so that the game could continue into extras, that there might be more plays.

And that is the beauty of baseball: there can always be one more play. People complain that the games are too long, that the season is too many games, or that baseball is boring. But my retort is that every play contains immeasurable potential. Every pitch, ball or strike, can send you into fits. Every pitch could be the most blazing fastball, the most knee-buckling curve, or the longest home run you have ever seen. Every routine groundball might be the most ulcer-inducing error or Ozzie Smith inspired wizardry you’ve ever witnessed. Every foul tip could be just another pawn in a cat-and-mouse chess match between pitcher and batter, inducing nervous nausea in the invested spectator. And as a player, every pitch has the potential to send you into action.

Tomorrow is Opening Day 2015. I can’t wait.

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