Breaking Balls: Baseball’s opening daze


Opending day in Detroit -- just one of many opening days this year. (John T. Greilick / Detroit News)

Opening day in baseball has turned itself into a rather confusing experience.

First, there was the opening day for the Mariners and Athletics in Japan a week before the rest of the league. And the games started at 6 a.m. EDT, appealing to the important “insane person” demographic in the United States.

Then there was the “opening day” to kick things off on April 4 in Miami’s new stadium with the Marlins going up against the defending champion St. Louis Cardinals. Also, making things more confusing, the pre-game festivities included Muhammad Ali. Yes, he’s the greatest that ever was … at boxing. This was a baseball game. And I have no idea what his connection is to Miami. But then, other than Crockett and Tubbs, I can’t really think of many famous people associated with Miami. Maybe Dan Marino likes baseball – though maybe you don’t want to kick things off with his un-championshipness. Too bad Tony Montana was killed. He was a champion – for a while anyway. And that guy was all Miami – though he’d probably try to snort the foul lines.

Then, on April 5, there was the real “opening day” for all the teams. Or was it? Only 14 of the league’s 30 teams played. That’s less than half. Come on, baseball, you are killing me with this stuff. Opening day used to be this amazing baseball extravaganza that announced baseball’s presence with authority. Now it’s like the league is being run by some senile old man. Oh, wait …

So, I guess baseball now starts off with a series of opening days and each individual fan can chose what opening day is his. How Bohemian! Thanks a lot, hippies. As it turned out my two favorite teams, the Red Sox and the Dodgers, played their first games on April 5 so that was my opening day.

Since my writer lifestyle very closely resembles that of an unemployed hobo, I have been able to spend most of opening days past watching baseball on TV all day. This year was no exception. And this year, since the opening days of baseball also coincided with spring break for a lot of schools, I had the pleasure of being joined by my nine-year-old niece. Let’s call her Hannah – because that’s her name.

Hannah is a lovely young girl who doesn’t really care that much about baseball at all. While I was happy to help my sister out and spend the day with Hannah, I still wanted to watch my baseball games. How could this possibly work? Time to get clever. And if there’s one thing I’ve got, it’s clever-tude.

I asked Hannah if she’d like to help me write my baseball column this week and she got very excited. And when I explained we were going to have to watch baseball games all day in order to do this, she loved the idea. You hear that, people? She loved the idea. Damn, I’m good.

Now, I don’t want to say I “tricked” Hannah … but only because I told her I’d let her read this once it was posted. However, as it turned out, she was a delight and added some insight into baseball that us older folk have been missing. So, here it is: My day with Hannah. Feel free to enjoy it as much as you want.

Game 1: Red Sox vs. Tigers

Hannah: Where is this game?
Me: They’re in Detroit. You can tell because everyone’s unemployed.

She laughed – but I’m not sure she got the full depth of hilarity and horribleness within that joke.

H: So we are rooting for the Bostons?
Me: Yes. That’s the Red Sox. (I am wearing a Red Sox t-shirt.)
H: Oh! Now all that Red Sox stuff makes sense.

This made me immediately wonder what she’s been thinking about the Red Sox logos on my shirts or the Red Sox chatter at family gatherings. But then I don’t ask her about her ballet stuff, so I guess we’re even.

H: Who is that?
Me: That’s Dustin Pedroia – your brother’s favorite player.
H: He should stand closer to the plate.
Me: Players stand where they feel most comfortable.
H: So what. He’s too far from the plate.

Pedroia popped up to second base and it was hard for me to continue arguing on his behalf. As the game progressed, neither team was scoring and it was a pitchers’ duel.

H: Is this guy a good player?
Me: Justin Verlander is one of the best pitchers in all of baseball.
H: He shouldn’t throw it so hard sometimes. He’s going to break a lot of bats. But at least they’re not playing barefoot.

Verlander ignored Hannah’s advice and kept throwing very hard. But Jon Lester was equal to the task and was also shutting out the Tigers. It’s impossible to keep a nine-year-old interested in a 0-0 ballgame. And Hannah was definitely getting antsy.

H: Do you want me to give you something for your story?
Me: Yes.
H: The Bostons are just not hitting the ball right.
Me: Yeah, it’s hard sometimes when the pitcher is really good.
H: Well, they need to replace this pitcher. *ack* I almost choked on this apple. You can’t talk with apple in your mouth.

After six innings with no runs scored, I was into it, but Hannah was just about done. However, I was saved by a commercial featuring Albert Pujols.

H: Poo Holes! Poo Holes! Poo Holes!

The subsequent five minutes of laughter brought her right back into the game. It turns out I’m not the only one in my family who thinks that name is wondrous. See, that’s how you make fans – you focus on the things they can appreciate.

H: Who’s winning?

The screen clearly says 0-0 and I’m tempted to re-enact the scene from Ferris Bueller’s Day Off where Principal Rooney asks what the score is for the game on TV and the guy says it’s tied and Rooney asks who’s winning and the guy says, “The Bears.” But I don’t think Hannah knows that the Bears are not a baseball team and I don’t think she’s aware of Mr. Bueller’s shenanigans.

Me: It’s tied: 0-0.
H: So this isn’t the greatest game ever?
Me: It is if you like pitching.
H: I don’t.

Hannah was a good sport about enduring the very slow game and I needed to do something to make sure I didn’t lose her for the rest of the day. Pool break! It was a lovely day and even though she beat me in most of our swimming races, I won the handstands portion of the competition.

Of course the Tigers scored two runs while we were away. This is what I get for letting my team down! But we were back just in time to watch the Red Sox score two to tie the game in the ninth inning. I spent five minutes explaining how extra innings work and about 15 seconds after Hannah got it, the Tigers scored the winning run in the bottom of the ninth.

Me: There won’t be extra innings. The Red Sox lost.
H: Do you have to write that in your story?
Me: Yes.
H: At least it was close.

Game 2: Red vs. Marlins

After one inning Hannah was showing zero interest at all in the game.

H: I don’t know who any of these teams are.
Me: Do you know where Cincinnati is?
H: No.
Me: Ohio?
H: No.
Me: Miami?
H: No.
Me: It’s in Florida, you know, the state on the map that looks like a wiener.
H: Gross! You mean “the bump.”
Me: Yes, the bump. Miami is near the end of the bump.

Still no interest. So …

Me: Lunchtime! Then we can watch the Dodgers at four o’clock.
H: That will be fun.

Game 3: Dodgers vs. Padres

H: The Dodgers are from Los Angeles, right?
Me: Yes. We went to see them play once with your mom.
H: I remember. You yelled a lot.
Me: That’s not true.

It probably was true.

As the game went on, the announcer mentioned that Dodger pitcher Clayton Kershaw had the flu.

H: Do you want me to give you something for your story?
Me: Yes.
H: Guys with the flu shouldn’t play. They’re sick but they can also make other people sick. And that’s bad for everyone.

Shortly afterward, Kershaw left the game because of his flu. Hopefully he went straight home and stayed away from the other players.

This game was going slow just like the Red Sox game. Fortunately for Hannah, she found her own way to stay interested.

H: D-O-G-G-E-R-S! L-O-S A-N-G-L-E-S! Go Los  Angeles Dodgers!

Yes, she spelled Los Angles Doggers. I only let her spell it this way a couple times. (Is five still a couple?) You might think I was being mean, but I did not want to dampen her enthusiasm and I am mean.

After three innings, it was almost time for Hannah to go home, and she certainly didn’t sound like she was going to miss watching the game.

H: Do you want me to give you something for your story?
Me: Yes.
H: I don’t like this. The teams we root for keep losing.
Me: Do you think it’s because we are watching?
H: No, of course not. It’s not our fault. [Laughs] I almost said “not our fart.” It’s not our fault they aren’t playing good. It has nothing to do with us watching.

Uh, yeah totally! What kind of moron would think it mattered whether he was watching the game or wearing a lucky shirt or sitting in the right place on the couch?!?

Just before Hannah left, the Dodgers scored two runs. We were both excited to finally see some action on the TV and all memories of the day of slow-paced pitchers duels was wiped away.

H: Do you want me to give you something for your story?
Me: Yes.
H: The Dodgers should keep it up.

The Dodgers did keep it up and they won the game. I hope Hannah and I get to watch some more games together. I need someone to help put things in perspective and keep me from thinking too much like an adult.

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