An Ode to Opening Day
This is a 6 minute read.
We are back. Opening Day.
With a new baseball season upon us today, I wanted to share some personal anecdotes about what baseball has meant to me.
Opening Day has always felt like the beginning of the year for me. Perhaps because I live in the northern chill of Chicago, and I don't like the cold. Or, it could be my deep ties to the Chicago Cubs.
Either way, it's always felt like an awakening, a time for everyone to hope that their team can bring them glory. For years, I really needed that hope.
So let me take you through a spattering of my history. We can explore together why baseball possesses a strange form of magic to so many of us.
Baseball has served many purposes for me, and for awhile I strongly considered the Cubs the most important thing in my life. You can laugh. My earliest memories consist of baseball - playing, listening, watching, and attending games. At 4, I had my first sight of Wrigley Field. It was a chilly, rainy April evening on the north side of Chicago, around 120 miles from where I lived.
My dad brought me up to the city, and we took in the sights of that night. Today, all I see is flashes of what I've formed as this memory. Regardless, those memories carry weight and connection to family and the Cubbies. If I can point to anything at the start, this is it.
Throughout my childhood, baseball was always there, and hell, I was pretty good. I loved it. I played every day I could. Practice was a blast. Baseball was my love, and again, it was my Dad who helped cultivate it.
We would play in the front yard of our place. Or at my Grandma's where she would hit me line drives and fly balls while I'd pretend to be in the throes of World Series Game Seven. Yes, she was a boss.
Over time, my talents improved, and so did the teams I was on. At 16, we won a state championship and ended up as one of the top 25 teams in the country. It was during that time that I saw my first really good team - the 2003 Cubbies.
2003 was magical. The first time always is, isn't it? Behind young ace pitchers like Mark Prior, my hero at the time, we stormed through the end of the season and won a doubleheader to clinch our playoff place. I sat in the Bleachers watching the players come out, spray champagne, and boy, was I hooked.
The playoffs brought more of the same, and I attended everything I could as we took a 3-1 lead into the NLCS. I hope to never forget the feeling of driving up Lake Shore Drive, looking at Buckingham Fountain's glowing geyser, knowing I belonged in this lovely city.
Then, of course, things happened, because they always do. It feels better not to rehash the bad, but things went south - that year and in the coming ones. We blew the series in historic and horrifying fashion. Prior's arm fell off and he left the league. We were heartbroken.
Five years later, there was more. We won 98 games, and I attended games with my Dad, my godfather Herbie, and a few season ticket holders like Bea and Bill. I lived at Wrigley during the summer. I must have attended close to 40 games that year. When I grew up, all I wanted was to have season tickets out there with them. Of course, things didn't work out, because they can't work out for all 30 teams.
But the season brought back hope and connection. The Cubbies meant so much to Herbie. He and my dad would listen nearly every day at his backyard table, casually tossing back Old Styles while listening to Pat & Ron call the game. Occasionally I'd join, hearing how my hardworking German immigrant godfather made his mark on our world.
Shortly after graduating from school, my dream came true. Now, I was a Bleacher Season Ticket Holder alongside Bea and Bill.
Bea and I had met when my Dad built her house many years prior. My Dad, ever the open book (I know where I get it...), immediately connected with Bea, and I've been attending Cubs games with her for close to 20 years. There, I met Bill, a ticket holder for 50 years, with a wealth of personal experience and a wise perspective on the game. We all hit it off, and having season tickets allowed me to see them more frequently.
Which became ever so fun in my sixth year of tickets - 2015. The Cubs assembled a group of prospects that we salivated at. Prospects usually don't all pan out, but for the Cubbies, we found gold. Virtually everyone broke through as a key player, and we made the one-game playoff. Everything was exciting.
On the day of the playoff, I walked through Wrigleyville and felt my body connected with the crowd. We were playing in Pittsburgh, but it didn't matter to everyone around. When we won, I left home and hit the streets, sharing a time with thousands of people who felt just like me.
Things didn't pan all the way out, but I will remember some of the moments - Arrieta's no-hitter, Schwarber's HR on top of the scoreboard, knocking the Cardinals out - forever.
And, a year later, it all came together. For the first time in 108 years, the Cubs were World Champions.
It's a little hard for me to talk about that team, even now. How can you reconcile such a massive shift in what you've always known? The Cubs never won anything, and now, we were the world's best.
The season was wild. We stormed out of the gates, winning everything in sight, and immediately our season was on cruise control. It was a summer-long party, and I like cruise control. When we reached the playoffs, we ran into barriers but knocked them down, right up until the World Series.
I turned 29 on October 30, which just so happened to be Game 5 of the World Series, with the Cubs trailing 3-1. After attending every playoff game, I hadn't been able to make it to Games 3 or 4, and it took a toll on my emotions. The connection I'd built had been frayed.
The day started out rough. I imagine I was in a mood. We were 9 innings away from ending our season short, my cat had recently run away, and my dear lady had enough of my antics. Things boiled over, requiring a nice reboot and a hell of a conversation, and after clearing my body and mind, I stepped into Wrigley.
Prior to the game, there was a serene energy about things. We were quiet, eerily so, but prepared. And when the boys came out to Going the Distance (aka Rocky inspiration), chills and an air of transcendent focus ran through my body. It's hard to explain, but I was there.
Shortly after, we'd win Game 5. And Game 6. And then there was Game 7.
Throughout the playoffs, I realized that chest stress was real. I found that this is how people become overwhelmed with anxiety or have heart attacks. In Game 7, that feeling was in my chest for 4.5 hours.
The game itself has been written about and discussed at length, so I won't go there. It was incredible and amazing and worrying and dramatic. And Jesus H, was it real. I watched with my closest friends, my brother, and a hundred other Cubs fans.
We felt it all. We stormed out front. We blew it. We had to wait. We jumped for the heavens. We hugged a thousand times, harder than ever before. We sobbed. We partied. Things went haywire.
The next morning I woke up on my couch, clothes scattered across the floor, blurry-eyed as possible. After re-robing, I turned on the TV, watched highlights and cried. Saw reactions around the world; cried. Called my parents; cried. Texted friends; cried. Thought; cried. It was some odd form of redemption and achievement. Not that I had won anything, but that I had put in the time.
The next few days were a complete blur. It was a party because that was party time for the Cubs. Really, more than that. The last few years have been a complete blur.
And now, here we are - Opening Day 2018, after a life of connection to the people and feelings that tie me to baseball. No longer am I as engrossed in every pitch of every day, but so goes the process of life. Nor am I prone to immature mood swings in the middle of a 5-game losing streak (at least I don't think so).
I have learned much about myself through baseball. From my own mental and physical capabilities to the memories and experiences with so many important people. Baseball, and the Cubs, will always mean something at my core.
Happy Opening Day.