When it comes to sports, for me it's always been about baseball. Yes, I admit I'm a sports junkie. If there's a game going on, I'm watching, but baseball has always been the leader...and by far.
My obsession started at a young age. WGN television would broadcast all the home games of the Chicago Cubs. They were day games starting in the 1 to 1:30 pm range. We'd get home from school and get to catch the last couple of innings of those games. Even though those Cubs teams of the early 1960's were bad...real bad in many cases...I was hooked on the game.
When I hit fifth or sixth grade, my parents allowed me to go to the games. They were all day games back in those olden days. They were played faster, too. Usually in two hours or less. To get into the bleachers or grandstands, a ticket cost around $1. Yep...an entire buck to see players like Willie Mays, Henry Aaron, Frank Robinson, Sandy Koufax and our local dude, Ernie Banks. Quite the value to get hooked on a sport that was in its golden age. I'd hit the park with friends or my brother...or sometimes just by myself. I didn't mind doing that. I just wanted to be around baseball. Along with the dollar for the ticket, I bring a lunch and another dollar which paid for the round trip train ride and either a soft drink or a frosty malt ice cream. We'd be home in time for dinner. Wrigley Field and the Cubs were my mom's cheap baby sitting service.
Opening day has always been special to me. I've been to openers at four ballparks. Wrigley, Comiskey for the White Sox, Los Angeles and Anaheim for the Dodgers and Angels. It's always been a wonderful day. It wasn't so much the baseball itself, but the first day of baseball always signals the end of winter. Sure, it's still cold out, but you know better days are just ahead.
I remember my first opener in the mid-1960's. Ernie Banks hit a two out home run in the bottom of the ninth to tie a game against the St. Louis Cardinals. The game was suspended because of darkness a few innings later because Wrigley Field didn't have lights at that time. That was still twenty years away. Other highlights include seeing both the Cubs and Sox opener on the same day. I went to one Dodger opener in L.A., left the park and headed to Wrestlemania 3. I also was at Wrigley when Dutchie Caray sang "Take Me Out To The Ballgame" a couple of months after her husband, Harry, died.
My last opening day memory was maybe fifteen years ago. It was a brutally cold day at Wrigley Field. I was bundled up in lots of layers. Around the fifth inning, I went to bathroom, found myself shivering and thought enough is enough. I left the park and watched the rest of the game from a bar across the street.
Today is supposed to be another opening day for major league baseball. The Cubs should be in Milwaukee, playing the Brewers. The stadium would be packed with fans from both teams. It would be the start of another season of high hopes for everyone. Optimism reigns supreme on opening day!
Sadly that's not going to happen. Like all sports, baseball has been shut down by the coronavirus. Players are just like the rest of us, staying in their homes, trying to ride this pandemic out. We have no idea when real life will begin again, much less the baseball season. Hell, we have no idea if there will be a baseball season at all.
Last night I watched an interview with baseball commissioner Rob Manfred. He tried to put a positive spin on the season. He's hoping they'll get to play as close to one hundred and sixty-two games as possible. I can't see that happening. Even if they get the clearance to go back in May, players will almost need to start spring training over again. I'm thinking an early June start is a best case scenario. That's the best possible outcome. If that's the best we can hope for, what's the worse case scenario? A cancelled season! Yeah, saying that is a doomsday prediction, but if the Olympics can be pushed back a year, what makes you think baseball being played in 2020 is a certainty?
But, let's try to stay optimistic. Everything is now on a day to day basis, including all sports. At some point, we'll be back to normal, right? At some point, the games will go on, right? But, until then we can remember the good old days. We can remember the opening days of our past. We can live on our memories and hope to start making new memories soon.
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