It’s the kind of moment they write books about. Your moment to shine, to do something that will be remembered for all time, because in this game, these moments are recorded, discussed and savored as if chips of a diamond. You’re standing on one now, in the center of a city craving for moments like these, in the midst of a sea of people screaming in unison, chanting your name, while at the same time collectively holding their breath. It’s like nothing you have ever known, you look out at the field and the late afternoon shadows, the crescendo of sound all around, your teammates standing on that diamond, all looking at you, waiting, hoping, wishing for something big. Your nemesis, the man standing sixty-feet away staring in, staring you down, ready to crush this dream and silence the now deafening sounds all around. The time is now, your shot at a miracle, that small white orb now hurling itself toward you at lightning speed, you only have a split-second to get it right, to swing or not to swing…
Opening Day, Baltimore. Friday, April 5th, 2013. You couldn’t have asked for a more perfect day. All week long they were calling for rain. Like I told my wife earlier in the week, “they” rarely get it right, besides we are all at the mercy of our mothers, Mother Nature in this case, and on this day, Mom was an Orioles fan.
There was not a cloud overhead. Beautiful blue skies, nice temperatures, certainly warm enough to play ball. And more than 46,000 people were already warmed up, ready to pick up where they left off last season, with the O’s playing wild and wonderful baseball games and reigniting the love affair between Baltimore and Baseball. It was about as close to perfect as you can get. This is how spring begins. This is New Year’s Day. This is baseball.
A community coming together, in a sea of orange, black and white, ready to cheer on a young team yearning to dance with destiny. Last year they almost did, they fell a bit short in the end. Unfinished business. Time to settle the score and begin the journey back to October. It’s why baseball is just like life, it’s a journey every year, and the journey is as frustrating and fulfilling as the ultimate destination, day in and day out… one hundred and sixty-two. One at a time.
My wife Debbie and I were in the midst of it all. We love the game, love the atmosphere. Hard not to. There with old friends, co-workers, new friends and thousands of others, baseball friends, ready to celebrate a new beginning. The O’s were already on a bit of a roll, taking 2-of-3 and winning their first series on the road. But now, they were home.
Oriole Park at Camden Yards is a mecca for baseball, a dream place to watch a game full of dreams. When it’s right, a great sporting event is akin to a rousing, religious celebration, and today the holy temple of baseball was like a slice of heaven. And the game, well, the game was heaven and hell. Just like every other baseball game that’s played. Up and down. Exhilaration, frustration, and the unexpected.
The O’s took an early lead, then lost it, but had now battled back to tie the game in bottom of the 8th. The bases were loaded… everywhere you looked there was an Oriole. The man about to come up to bat had already done the impossible, hitting three home runs in the first three games of the season and piling up the RBI’s as if they were only meant for him. The question, as he strolled to the plate, could he do it again? This young man, 27 years of age, strong as an ox, still making his way in the major leagues, on the cusp of becoming something more. Could the stars align one more time? The 46,000 faithful were wishing on one of those stars. We were ready.
… the decision is made. Your brain tells your body to move, your arms to extend out and downward, your body twists as your eyes lock in on that baseball, about to go by you, but instead the bat in your hand stops its forward motion and sends that ball screaming in the opposite direction, toward the stands. Thousands and thousands of people watch that same ball take flight, cutting through the late afternoon air with a surge of power most people only dream about. But you are a major league baseball player, the best in the world, and the best moment of your life might just be about to happen. You can barely hear the crowd now, even though the sound is at a decibel uncommon to human ears. Your heart is pumping in your chest, your eyes focused, with everyone else on that ball, now on a rainbow ride toward left field. In seconds that ball and the hopes and dreams of an entire city, land in the stands. A Grand Slam.
You round the bases, head down, like the great ones, basking respectfully in a moment of pure joy. Now you can hear the noise, and it is sweet music to your ears. In this moment, in this time, on Opening Day, you have broken the game wide open, you alone have given your team the lead. Your brothers, just seconds ago, were standing on the bases, watching and hoping, now they are waiting to greet you at home plate, ecstatic. High fives. A curtain call from the thousands who came to cheer and who are now in near hysteria because you are their hero. They will be talking about this day for years to come.
For you, for them, for an entire city, it is a grand day indeed.
Until next time, thanks for taking the time.