Over the last five months, the COVID-19 pandemic has had a tremendous impact on the health of the United States. The latest numbers show the staggering, and escalating, loss of life coupled with dire economic conditions. As efforts were taken to bring the virus under control, we canceled events — parades, concerts, parties, celebrations, and perhaps the most sacred of them all — Opening Day of the baseball season.
As humans, we arrange our lives around seasons, holidays, birthdays, and anniversaries. Some of these are actual things (e.g. the Summer Solstice) while others are add-ons from culture (e.g. Memorial Day), religion (e.g. Ramadan), or the greeting card industry (e.g. Father’s Day). As our ancestors used their observation of nature and skies to know when to plant crops, so too these monuments guide us along our path, providing destination points that psychologically satisfying. This year we lost any of those — including my beloved Opening Day.
I truly adore Opening Day. While my interest in the rest of the season is variable, my attention on Opening Day is unfettered. I’ve taken days off of work. I’ve watched Opening Day games in temperatures below freezing. I even bought tickets to watch replacement players play on Opening Day when the regular players are on strike. Why? I think there are three things that make Opening Day a special time.
1. Opening Day is a symbol of change
Typically, Opening Day is an unofficial start to the spring season, ushering in hope of warmer weather after surviving a long winter. It introduces the vestiges of summer — the hot dogs and cotton candy, being outside together in the sunshine. It marks a new period of time that helps us shift our focus.
2. Opening Day is a symbol of possibility
For at least a few hours each spring, fans of every team can celebrate being in first place. No matter how bad your team was the previous season, you can dream and imagine the possibilities of their team going all the way that year. As the saying goes, ‘Hope springs eternal.’ We have few opportunities like that in life. It’s a reset, a new beginning that erases the past and users us forward.
3. Opening Day is the start of a long journey
It is typical to overreact to the game on Opening Day. While, in a normal season, there are 161 more games to play, that first one seems more important despite its statistical similarity to all other games. Opening Day is like the first step on a cross country voyage. It is an awareness of the long journey that lies ahead, bringing both excitement and dread.
Even though it is late, I am so thrilled to have Opening Day, at last, this year. While it may serve as a welcome distraction for a few moments from the challenges we are facing today, I wonder if it could teach us something about how to handle those challenges. All around us, there are signs of change. Confederate statues are coming down, racist ideas are being challenged, and new ways of pandemic living are being developed.
These changes suggest future possibilities. While it may be hard to see amidst the tear gas, unemployment numbers, and socially-distanced interactions, the situations that we are in are full of opportunity to achieve the future that we want. Yes, it may require a small dose of unrealistic optimism (to be distinguished from willful and persistent ignorance), and we could use that about now. The fact that we are having serious conversations about structural racism, for example, is evidence that a different possible future is out there. The things that we are learning about the disease and our risks open up possibilities to have better health in the future. Hope is springing if you look hard enough.
And — just as the first game in baseball is but a step on a long journey — we must remember that the progress we want to make a society will take time and diligence. We can not solve this with a masterful performance on day one (although there is nothing wrong with that). We have to keep at it, keep grinding every day through the winning streaks, batting slumps, and the “dog days” that lie ahead.
Whether you are an aficionado of Opening Day or not, perhaps we can all embrace the spirit of the day this year — to embrace change, to imagine possibility, and to dedicate ourselves to the long season that lies before us. Play Ball!!!