Signs of Opening Day
Above: Don Baylor catching the ceremonial first pitch from Vladimir Guerrero at the Home Opener for the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim (against the Seattle Seahawks) Tuesday, April 1, 2014, when Baylor broke his leg.
photo is a screen shot from YouTube video
The first time I remember seeing a gun was on Opening Day.
It was Shea Stadium, Queens, New York. I don’t remember who the Mets were playing. I went with a friend and his dad and we had been enjoying the pageantry and the baseball and just being there. It was an unseasonably perfect day.
As you do at baseball games, we had talked with a few of the people around us, including this one man sitting in the row in front of us. With his kids, if I remember right.
At one point, he jumped up — to cheer, to protest, to catch a foul, to flag down the hot dog guy — why, I really don’t recall. What I DO recall, vividly, is that tucked inside his pants, above his right hip, I saw a gun. We all saw it.
My friend and I looked at each other, and we both looked at his dad. Who tried to assure us that the gentleman was probably an off-duty cop.
I’m not sure we believed that. Looking back, it seems unlikely an off-duty cop carrying a gun would have it stuck in his waistband at a ball game.
I do recall that Greg and I didn’t verbalize it, but we clearly each made a conscious decision to agree with whatever that guy was cheering for or against, for the rest of the game.
And when he decided to leave in the 7th inning of a close game, we didn’t try and convince him to stay.
I can’t tell you whether the Mets won or lost.
For many more joyous reasons, Opening Day has always been a special day. Baseball has always been my favorite sport. I played it as a kid, with my Dad sort of serving as an assistant Coach. I followed it as an adult, living and dying by the Mets, then the Mets and the Cubs (when I lived in Chicago), then the Mets again and finally the Dodgers.
When I moved to L.A., I found I had tripped into the greenest field around, because I got to watch and listen to Vin Scully call a baseball game almost every night — talk about the Baseball Gods smiling down on you!
When my kids started playing, I got to coach them, from T-ball through Little League and beyond, sharing my love for the game with them, and experiencing the pride and heartache and laughter that goes with that. One son took to it for a while, then got burned out on the sport and never finished his last Little League season. One took to it and stuck it out until the sport was tired of him. Both hurt, both offered learning experience.
As a coach and as a dad, I got to help some kids love the game a little. And I got to make some of my best friends — baseball moms and dads — as well as identify some really crazy people.
But baseball can do that — it can make you crazy.
For me, and for many fans I know, seven games in a World Series isn’t enough, because when that last game is over, so is baseball, for months. Baseball is an every day sport, not a once or twice a week sport, and it becomes part of your life.
You want to know how much baseball fans love their game? Look at some of the really poor play you see in the first week or two of Spring Training … and then look at how many people are there in the stands, travelling far from home to Arizona and Florida to see it.
Each week gets better, the regular players start playing … and then playing like real Major League ball players. In the spring, every fan thinks there team has a chance, every team believes it does too. The start of a new season is a clean slate. Wipe away that team that couldn’t hit, pitch, score or field last year — they could contend this year!
Opening Day is to baseball fans what a first date is to a divorced person. This time could be a winner!!
Of course, by the end of that first game, half the fans are cheering for losers.
This year, Opening Day … kinda sucked. First, the Dodgers (my home team now, after nearly 18 years here) opened their season in Australia, a week before Opening Day. The game was on at 1:30 am our time. And it counted. So did the one the next night. Then they came back and played a couple more Spring Training games. Huh?
They had their second Opening Day in San Diego, and lost after being ahead. It’s going to be a long season I know, but sometimes you see signs. More than any other, I believe, baseball is a superstitious sport.
If things are going well, you don’t change them. In baseball, that applies to … Anything. You ate chicken for lunch and had a good game? Eat chicken every day. Seriously, that happened, for an entire season. Wade Boggs. Look it up.
Didn’t shave, and you pitched well? Get ready for the Duck Dynasty beard. You wore your lucky socks and now don’t want to wash them? God help the guy next to you in the locker room.
Baseball players, coaches and fans look for these kinds of signs all the time. It’s part of the game.
So what do we make of the Angels. They sign Mike Trout, the greatest player in the game, to a huge contract and he hits a home run in his first at bat! GREAT sign, right?!
Except — before that, a veteran player (Vladimir Guerrero), who is retiring that day, throws the ceremonial first pitch to a veteran coach (Don Baylor) … who moves to his right to catch the slightly off-center toss, and … SNAP! Breaks his leg catching it! Catching the ceremonial first pitch! Are you kidding me?
As far as signs go, that’s … not good.
But oh, the Dodgers. Want to know what I see with the Dodgers?
Because I can’t. Because they made a deal with Time Warner that the games will only be shown on Time Warner’s network, or other networks that pay Time Warner a ton of money. And because I don’t have Time Warner, my tradition of watching the Dodgers over dinner with my boys, of hearing Vin, of seeing the beautiful sunsets at Chavez Ravine … is on hold.
And that’s not right. Because baseball is all about fathers and sons. John and Roy Kinsella (Field of Dreams). The Ken Griffeys. The Bonds: Big Star and Big Head.
And so, I’m not sure what I see for the Dodgers this year. I know I’m upset with the new ownership for not taking care of the TV fans. I know I don’t see myself going to a game — not until I’ve seen at least 10 games on TV,. or someone gives me tickets.
I know I don’t like that Clayton Kershaw, the best and highest-paid pitcher in baseball, started the season on the disabled list. I know that some people would say that’s a sign too … but I’d prefer not to think of that. You can’t believe all this sign stuff, can you?
Hang on …
I JUST got a text message on my ESPN phone app … Yasiel Puig hit a 2-run homer in his first at bat!!
It’s a sign!!
Mike Brennan has been a Pulitzer Prize-nominated newspaper reporter, a magazine writer, a nationally touring stand-up comedian, a morning radio host, a professional auctioneer for numerous charities and a film and TV script consultant. He is currently working on a romantic comedy screenplay, and a humorous book on being a father, called The Tooth Fairy Doesn’t Pay for Yellow Teeth. He has lived in the Valley for 17 years, and has two teenage sons.