The 2015 Major League Baseball season will get underway at 1:05 PM on Monday when the New York Yankees take the field against the visiting Toronto Blue Jays.
This year’s season, like most seasons before it, already features many “what to watch for” type storylines including: how the Cubs will use prospect Kris Bryant to start the year, how the Marlins’ Giancarlo Stanton will respond to being hit in the face as well as signing the most lucrative contract in the history of American professional sports, whether or not Alex Rodriguez will have a resurgence with the Yankees and how the new rules meant to speed up the game will work out.
All of that is interesting stuff to baseball fans for sure, but I’d venture to say that none of it is why fans look forward to opening day. Sure, those specific things can be part of the reason why fans get excited, but they’re far from the whole story.
Baseball is much more rooted in tradition than football or basketball, the former of which has overtaken baseball for America’s most popular sport. That sounds like a pretty boring reason for people to be excited about opening day, but the first game of the season—and the rest of the games, really—is rich in experiences, opportunities, and clichés that are engrained in America’s culture. How many times have you seen a TV show in which a father and son bonding over a hotdog at a baseball game? Or how about a man catching a foul ball and giving it to his girlfriend (or getting out of the way and letting it hit her)? What about a little kid catching a home run ball at his/her first game? These images of baseball are often romanticized in American culture and are a big reason why baseball is still called “America’s pastime,” even though football is currently more popular. Images of football as portrayed in the media and popular culture are often of drunken obnoxiousness, which really doesn’t do justice to the fun of going to a football game, but nevertheless nobody thinks of football as being rich in tradition or clichés.
These traditions and experiences that have become a part of American popular culture begin on opening day and continue for 161 games afterward (not even counting the playoffs). That’s another reason baseball’s opening day is special: the schedule length. In football, if your team stinks in their first game, a casual fan is likely to think that their season is already a lost cause because of how much a single game can mean—especially in college football. In baseball, much like in basketball, there are so many games that the first one really doesn’t matter much. Every baseball fan knows that one loss is no big deal in the grand scheme of a baseball season, and can therefore focus on enjoying all the experiences that the game has to offer rather than on the score. That being said obviously every fan wants their team to win, but in baseball there is less of a focus on that and more of a focus on enjoying the experience. A loss is a bummer, sure, but there’re still 161 games left. In football on the other hand, one game is a noticeable fraction of the entire season.
Because of the timeless experiences that are expected from a baseball game, as well as the rich traditions, which include the ones mentioned above that can be found year round and are special because they are returning, as well as the ones that are opening day-specific like the player introductions, the players standing on the baselines, and the ever-recognizable red, white and blue half-doilies hanging from the stands, opening day in baseball has a leg up on the season openers of the rest. There really is only one sport where the first game is “opening day,” which is another tradition in and of itself. It’s now only a few days away, and fans everywhere are rightfully excited: The best (and only) opening day in sports in upon us once again.
More than 100 U.S. Sailors from Navy Region Midwest, Navy Recruiting Chicago and Naval Station Great Lakes hold an American Flag during the National Anthem at opening day ceremonies for the Chicago White Sox Major League Baseball team at U.S. Cellular Field, Chicago, Ill., April 7, 2008. Great Lakes Sailors have participated in the White Sox opening day for the past six years. (U.S. Navy photo by Scott A. Thornbloom/Released)