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On Opening Day

I was talking this morning to a friend about baseball’s Opening Day, and if there’s an equivalent in any other pro sports. He argued that the pageantry and celebration is unique to baseball.

He’s a radio broadcaster for an MLB team, so has definitely experienced more Opening Day games than I ever will, and I therefore cede to his expertise that baseball stands alone in this regard.

We agreed that in the more northern cities like Toronto, Opening Day offers a sign of expectation that Spring has finally arrived and that summer is just hiding behind the curtain waiting for its cue.

And while everyone who lives here knows that warmer weather is never linear – you’ll take off the snow tires and put away the parka only to have a mid April ice storm spoil the best laid plans – even with the MLB season starting earlier now you can put a pin in Opening Day and rely on things getting better before they get worse.

I frequently romanticize my relationship with baseball. I drill down the start of this love affair to the school trips where I would burn my legs on the Exhibition Stadium metal benches in the right field bleachers, falling for the game thanks to Blue Jays outfielders Jesse Barfield, Lloyd Moseby and George Bell.

But really, the truth is a lot fuzzier. I clearly remember the school trips, how sometimes they fell on Passover, like now – and how we would bring our kosher potato chips to snack on and hope we didn’t stand out as too Jewish. I remember the ‘85 series, the collapse in ‘87 – the World Series wins in ‘92 and ‘93.

There’s a lot of blankness in between the big moments. Surely I went to games in those seasons, but wherever those memories are stored can’t be easily accessed. I wish I could solidly remember my first time at the SkyDome, with its dazzling retractable roof and terrifyingly steep stairs in the 500 level. The ramp you had to walk to get to that level that seemed to me as a kid as steep as a mountain. But I don’t.

What I do remember with clarity are snippets in time. That when I was a dorky teen, I would go the Dome early and make my way down to field level so that Cito Gaston (then manager of the Jays) could come greet me with a handshake and thank me for coming. That Larry Hisle (the hitting coach) would ask me baseball trivia that I would prepare for before games. That he would marvel at how I would always get them right. How I would beam with pride over both my ‘intelligence’ and the attention.

That one game Cito told me that if I wanted to write about baseball, I should. That he thought I would be good at it. How I’ve carried this with me ever since.

But I don’t remember who I went with to those games. Did they come with me early to be there as soon as the gates opened? I know we must have taken the subway and made the trek to the stadium through the steamy SkyWalk with throngs of other people, but individually – those memories are gone.

And yet, it was enough to sustain me that I still love baseball. Enough so that I planned an entire trip around the World Baseball Classic, and will be going to Philly and NYC in a month to see the Mets and Phillies play. That I edit the Toronto Sabr chapter newsletter and support the Canadian Baseball Museum and Hall of Fame.

I think for me, baseball isn’t a sport or a hobby so much as it’s a feeling. Sometimes it’s joy, or if you’re overly invested, over the course of a 162 game season it’s most often frustration. Ideally, it’s always a sense of community. The best part of going to games for me now is having a beer or two, talking with whoever is with me and maybe getting a little tanned. And if those memories fade over time, it doesn’t mean they were any less real.

And on Opening Day, it’s definitely hope.

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