It’s been said that time begins on Opening Day, but it’s more accurate to say that Opening Day marks the passing of time. Today begins the forty-ninth baseball season since I was born, and if there’s one thing I’ve noticed as I’ve gotten older it’s that the calendar pages flip much faster than they used to. Everything speeds up. The children who used to fit nicely in your arms are readying for college, the grey in your hair has won the battle against the color of your youth, and when an old friend starts a story with “Remember that time…” he could be talking about something that happened three decades ago.
And so it is with baseball. When I was a boy my entire life centered around the game, whether I was playing in the street, watching my heroes on television, poring over box scores in the back of the sports section, or reading about ghosts named Ruth, DiMaggio, Aaron, and Clemente.
The winter was dark, even after we moved to California, because the game was gone. There was no stretch of time longer than November through March, a five-month void that loomed before me each year like a trans-Atlantic crossing. I knew we’d eventually get there, but I could never see the shore.
But somewhere along the line those months started clicking by without notice, probably because my relationship with the game changed. Baseball still has my heart, but there’s competition now. Adults have jobs and mortgages and families. Other interests. While I could still tell you Ron Guidry’s 1978 ERA off the top of my head, I don’t remember how many home runs Aaron Judge hit last season. I can list the World Series winners for most of the twentieth century, but I have no idea who won five years ago.
But baseball doesn’t. Two years ago my son and I took a train to San Diego to watch the Yankees play the Padres, and we were rewarded with a win and an autographed ball from Reggie Jackson. Last season we drove down the road to Anaheim to watch the Aaron Judge Show, and naturally he roped a home run into the centerfield seats. My son will never be the baseball fan that I was and still am, but I know he’ll remember these moments after I’m gone, and maybe one day he’ll bring his child to a ballpark and tell those stories.
My son and I won’t be able to watch the Yankees together this afternoon – he’ll be at his school and I’ll be at mine – but we’ll text about it. He’ll ask me who won, and he’ll ask who hit home runs. As the season unfolds he’ll notice the new faces who show up, and he’ll ask me about Giancarlo Stanton and Gleyber Torres and Miguel Andujar. We’ll pick a game to see them when they come to town, and he’ll wonder about which t-shirt to wear, Tanaka or Judge. We’ll sit in the stands sharing kettle corn, and I’ll tell him stories about players long dead and games long forgotten. Mainly, though, we’ll be together.
This is baseball.