Words by Matthew Romano
Illustrations by Katie Herchenroeder
For some, this past Thursday, March 28, was just a day like any other – a day of classes, a day at the office, a typical Thursday with typical Thursday to-dos. However, for others, March 28 was the biggest day of the year, the biggest Thursday – behind maybe Thanksgiving. Some, like New York Mets fan and overall fan of baseball Sadaab Rahman are, in fact, bitter that the latter is a national holiday and not the former. So, what is this day that had these effects on so many Americans, you ask?
Well, March 28, 2019, earlier this year than in any year past, was Baseball’s official “Opening Day.” The first day of the 162-game season featuring all 30 teams lacing up their cleats, donning their jerseys – new and old – and facing off against each other searching for that heralded first win.
Viewers across the United States tuned in as their favorite teams and favorite players took to the mound or stepped into the batter’s box. Here in New York, many rallied for the Yankees in their 7-2 win over the Baltimore Orioles, powered by home runs. These out-of-the-park moves were not from their typical household names like Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton but rather Luke Voit and Greg Bird.
Meanwhile, many others cheered on the New York Mets in a nail-biter win over the Washington Nationals. A game in which last year’s Cy Young winner, Jacob DeGrom, outdueled the award’s runner up, Max Scherzer. Further, Met newbie Robinson Cano, although no stranger to New York, announced his return in the fiercest way a baseball player could – a home run to left center field in just the third pitch of his first at bat.
I, like many others, had been eagerly anticipating opening day for the past few months, a passion which grew more intense on March. I was anticipatory for a reason that I will get to shortly and try to avoid biasedly rambling on about, which, knowing myself, won’t be easy.
In short, baseball’s offseason was a tiring one to say the least – something many players probably concur with. At least with the hope of opening day we have gotten a reprieve from the mundaneness of these past few months. This feeling can’t be said for Free Agents like Craig Kimbrel and Dallas Keuchel, still without a team to call home, as teams avoid them as if they were forbidden fruit. It took until February 19 for one of the big fish to be caught – that one being Manny Machado who, on that Tuesday afternoon 3 months in the making, took the $300 million bait from the San Diego Padres.
On Friday, March 1, the off-season’s biggest prize with the biggest price tag, Bryce Harper, said one word, signed his name on one contract of $330 million dollars that would decide on his home for the next 13+ years, change the tides of baseball, shift the power across the National League, and cap off what has likely been the most exciting offseason in Philadelphia Phillies history. There, I said it, did I ramble?
Looking back however, opening day felt different this year. For many, including myself, classes started before 11 AM and the school day didn’t end until 6, 7, even 8 pm. In between classes, on the way to class, or the first 3 minutes waiting for professors to set up were best used quickly checking my phone for the in-game highlights, the scoreboard across the U.S., and the debut performances for baseball’s favorite young prospects.
Maybe Rahman was right, maybe opening day should be a national holiday – if for no other reason than baseball fans across the world getting the chance to tune in to the biggest day of a 7-month Baseball season, rather than take notes, study for midterms, push papers out, or stress about how late you’ll be to do these things thanks to the MTA.
Eric Bilach and Rahman – both CCNY students – faced a similar conundrum on an opening day that in most respects, except for on the small 5-inch phone screen and its periodic highlights, seemed like any other Thursday, unfortunately.
Rahman reminisces on a time when opening day felt different, encapsulated and incited the excitement of kicking off America’s favorite pastime for its 150th year of professional play. Rahman says of his opening day traditions, “We definitely watched every game televised on ESPN straight through and it was always a blast.” One thing in particular he enjoyed watching for as a fan of baseball is “[seeing] the players equally as excited to get back in it as they look forward to their own campaigns like the first day of school.”
Bilach recounts catching on to the baseball trend naturally as he watched his fathers impassioned reactions to the game and began to learn a bit about how it is played. He would go on to play Little League ball and then become an avid consumer both of its present and its past. This opening day, having shared a schedule for most of the day, Bilach similarly relied on highlights and notifications to update on the course of the day’s events and festivities.
On the contrary, however, Mahir Syed, a diehard Yankee fan who happened upon baseball in an effort to fit-in but for whom the sport has become an intrinsic part of every year of his life since, celebrated this year’s opening day in way he never had before. He spent March 28 not at classes but at Yankee Stadium in the Bronx, celebrating as they did away with their first victims – the O’s. He says of the experience, “It was great, amazing atmosphere in the stadium, just something I’ve never experienced, but at the end just felt like baseball, which I love more than anything.”
Whether it be through your phone, with your own eyes, or on the TV screen watching prerecorded games or highlights on MLB network, most all baseball fans find some way to tune in to watch a sport that, despite its longstanding and unrelenting history that’s made it the national pastime, undergoes intriguing changes, captivating trends, and attempts at re-branding that are controversial. There is no doubt that baseball looks, feels, and is very different than it was decades ago.
This was the topic of conversation that Bilach found himself in by being a consumer of not only baseball in its present but its past as well. He notes from the research that he’s done that certain aspects of baseball, like the amount of innings a starter goes and the amount of long balls hit, are not the same as it was throughout much of the previous century. A little research on www.MLB.com proves these points, and quite dramatically. For example, in 1948, starting pitchers went around 6.5 innings deep on average and .63 home runs were hit per game. Today, the innings pitched per game started is down to 5.6 and Home Runs per game is up to 1.16.
However, changes are also visible across baseball in its very recent past. Over the past year, even the past offseason alone, baseball has experienced changes that have the potential to shape how the game is played/seen 50 years from now.
Rahman, who for the past few seasons has dived in to researching some of these unique baseball decisions and serendipitous trends, talked about how they relate to baseball as a whole, as well as to individual players – specifically the younger guys who have made, are making, or are expected to make a huge impact on the games atmosphere.
One such change is the new singular July trade deadline on which Rahman says, “I’m eager to see how [it] works now that organizations won’t have the option of playing it out till August or September to determine if they want to go for it.” This change adds an incentive to teams on the cusp of competitive October baseball to make the push at a time in the season where such a push will significantly swing the scales of power in the league.
Some of these teams are stocked with impressive and encouraging young talent such as the New York Mets, from whom Rahman gives special shout out to first baseman Peter Alonso, and the San Diego Padres, which Rahman professes as having “arguably the best collection of prospects in the show with Fernando Tatis Jr. and Chris Paddack.” These teams now have a clearly defined and delineated mid-season chance to push for a pennant race by wheeling and dealing for veteran impact bats and arms to coalesce around the young stars he’s mentioned.
This move would help to cure baseball of an epidemic that many have debated over the past few seasons, taking dominion over the past 2 off seasons in particular – wherein the ‘bad’ or losing teams are becoming complacent in their sub .500 records and wary of pushing the envelope, opening the door for the giants of the league to swoop up free agents and trade chips of such teams and, in effect, widening the gap and threatening the disparity in October baseball.
A few things are true for opening day baseball. First, it is true that opening day is just one out of 162 games, relatively inconsequential to determining how a team will perform over the other 161 games or the playoffs. However, it is also true that opening day is, in other ways, the most important day of the season. For some it is a welcome back home, while for others it is a first day in a new place. For others still, it is seeing their favorite teams back in actions, while others it is the overall vibe and atmosphere – the packed crowds, ceremonial first pitches, the standing ovations players old and new receive. Opening day is important in its universality, its global reach, and the various different ways it is celebrated and spent by people across and beyond the 50 states. So, what does opening day mean to you?