A Different Kind of Opening Day
Today is baseball opening day. It’s a perfect day for baseball – blue skies, low 60s – almost too good for late March. I am at the only place I want to be – Citizens Bank Park. But there is no baseball today, here or anywhere.
Instead of my usual opening day attire, a Phillies coat on Phillies sweatshirt on Phillies jersey on Phillies t-shirt, I am in scrubs, gloves, and a mask. Instead of parking lots filled with endless tailgates of Phillies fans thrilled about baseball’s return, there are tents and lines of cones to facilitate a makeshift testing site. Instead of removing my hat to stand for the national anthem, I constantly remind myself to put my gloved hands nowhere near my masked face. Instead of listening to Dan Baker announce the Phillies starting lineup with names drowned out by Phillies fans’ cheers, I follow instructions on how to screen patients to determine if they are eligible for testing. Instead of watching baseball for a few hours, my favorite few hours since baseball ended last fall, I talk to a seemingly endless line of people through a crack in their car windows about their symptoms, their ages, their jobs, their fears, their frustrations, their appreciation. It’s a different kind of opening day.
Baseball opening day has been my favorite day of the year for as long as I can remember. It’s a harbinger of spring, a fresh start, a renewal of hope for baseball teams and baseball fans everywhere. On opening day, it doesn’t matter if you won the World Series or finished last place in the league just 6 months prior, every team is 0-0 with potential to go 162-0. As Roger Kahn famously wrote, baseball is “the game of unbroken dreams, where we can watch our hopes renew themselves each spring, and dissolve (or prove) themselves each fall, to be followed by an identical cycle the next year…the cyclical pattern…never ends, the dream never breaks, across decades, lifetimes, and generations.” I carry these words with me almost everywhere I go, a comforting reminder that baseball is a constant when life feels in flux, a timeless connector to my past, present, and future, a force far bigger than me that I am powerless to change. Each season marks another year of my life, starting in hope and typically ending in disappointment, and rarely, elevating that to ecstasy and heartbreak.
Baseball has been a constant not just for me, but for all of America. As a history major in college, I wrote my senior thesis about baseball on the homefront during World War II, with the opening lines dedicated to the “Green Light” letter Franklin Delano Roosevelt penned to Major League Baseball’s commissioner just a month after the attacks on Pearl Harbor, recommending that baseball should continue during the war as a “recreational asset” for Americans working harder than ever before. I went on to trace the story of the Major Leagues, All-American Girls Professional Baseball League, and Negro Leagues, in an exceptional wartime moment when professional baseball achieved greater inclusivity and national representativeness than ever before or since.
But, in 2020, the homefront has become the front lines. And the war is an invisible one spreading among us and, for the unlucky ones, within us. It preys on places and events that bring us together, and its defeat requires that we stay apart. So, while World War II brought us more baseball, COVID-19 leaves us with no baseball. I know one day this offseason will end and baseball will return, but I don’t know when and at what cost. And I don’t know who will still be here to enjoy it. But the fact that there will be another Opening Day gives me comfort in these dark, uncertain, baseball-less times.