Batter Up: America and Opening Day

by SALENA ZITO April 1, 2013

"This is a very simple game; you throw the ball, you catch the ball you hit the ball. Sometimes you win, sometimes you lose, sometimes it rains." Bull Durham

 

Nothing better captures the essence of hope springing eternal than Opening Day in American baseball.

It is the one day of a year when each team across the league starts out at zero, and you can at least dream for nine innings that maybe your guys will go all the way this time.

Like baseball, America is all about hope. That's why people came here (and still do) and why Americans love baseball, according to political scientist and baseball historian David Pietrusza.

"Baseball is not about hope without effort, and a 162-game season demands day-in, day-out effort," Pietrusza said.

Opening Day - like America itself - stands for a belief that because success is not easy, achieving success makes it something to be treasured all the more.

Despite its three strikes, four balls, foul balls, three outs and nine innings, baseball is a game without a clock; it is a game that never expires until the final out. And no matter what the score is, hope always remains part of the game; it is always the 10th guy in the outfield.

The game has always been part of my life.

As a kid, I watched my father play ball for St. Luke's at Fowler Field on the North Side. During those games, behind the field's wooden bleachers, all of the children would mimic their father's stance at home plate. Later, Willie Stargell's double-windmill was the stance of choice.

Forbes Field was the center of the universe for a kid in Pittsburgh. For my family, Forbes was where my father stood in center field as a 12-year-old, to accept an award for saving a classmate's life from an oncoming streetcar. It's also the place to which our Catholic school bused the entire student body to attend Opening Day games, confirming for all of us that it was a holy day of obligation.

Forbes Field eventually was left behind for Three Rivers Stadium. But I shed a tear when both of those stadiums were torn down - for Forbes because it taught me to love baseball, for Three Rivers because it became my second home.

When my son, Glenn, was born, his first day home from the hospital came only after he and the rest of my family enjoyed a Pirates game against the Cincinnati Reds at Three Rivers. He joined a 3-year-old sister, Shannon, who already was able to knock a Wiffle ball over the top of our three-story house with her big red bat.

By the time she was 9, Shannon was a left-handed pitcher, first baseman and the only girl on her Little League team, holding the opposing squad scoreless for five innings in a travel baseball tournament and earning MVP honors.

By the time Glenn was 9, he broke the brand-new scoreboard, shattering its glass Roy Hobbs-style, in his travel baseball tournament and also broke a tie to win the game.

Baseball cost both kids a couple of teeth, two pairs of eyeglasses and several windows lost to wild pitches. Glenn practiced his pitching against our home's back fence so often that he wore a perfect baseball-sized hole in one slat.

Our family connection to baseball is not unique. You see it all across the country, in various demographics - black, white; rich, poor; at a Major League field, a Triple-A ballpark or the local sandlot.

Opening Day is the signal that the wait is over: Put away the snow shovel and begin to live again.

Similarly, America gets born again every day, Pietrusza said: "It is a society based on change, often for the sake of change. But people also crave a certain amount of stability, and baseball bridges both sentiments - it is the most traditional of sports. The most historical as well."

Your team may be your father's or your grandfather's team, he explained. "That counts for something in a world where different generations now seem to come from distant galaxies."

For my family, Opening Day was the equivalent of church, and we never missed a home opener together until the kids went off to college.

Today, our tradition continues with the hope that maybe, just maybe, this year is the one when the Pirates will go all the way. 

 

Contributing Editor Salena Zito is a political analyst, reporter and editorial page columnist at the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. She can be reached at szito@tribweb.com.


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