Looking forward and back on Opening Day

Need something to look forward to on Opening Day? There's always Yaz...

Opening Day is a lot of things.

It’s a celebration of baseball, and with that comes the bizarre optimism that, typically, only kids get the chance to feel.

It’s a chance to see new faces. Prince Fielder makes his debut with the Detroit Tigers today opposite the Red Sox. Noted Philadelphia Phillies killer Cody Ross will be in the outfield for Boston. Hope springs eternal in Pittsburgh when Erik Bedard takes the mound. Theo Epstein’s Cubs begin their long climb to the World Series today when they host the Nationals.

It’s the first look at the rest of the league, from Miami’s new ballpark that borders on aesthetic abomination to the great rotations that San Francisco, Philadelphia and Anaheim hope to unleash on their opponents.

It’s a chance to see Jon Lester take the mound to start Boston’s season, the first lefty to pitch on consecutive opening days since the late, great Mel Parnell kicked off the 1953 and ’54 seasons.

It’s an excuse to wear a baseball shirt under whatever you wear to work.

It’s an opportunity to grab a hot dog for lunch instead of yet another sandwich or bowl of soup.

It’s being able to decide which of baseball’s four opening days is the one you’d rather recognize. Some woke up in the middle of the night to follow along with the A’s and Mariners in Japan online last week. Others took in the defending champion St. Louis Cardinals opening their season in South Florida. Many look to today as the day. Others look for tomorrow.

But, for whatever reason, Opening Day is always Carl Yastrzemski. He threw out the first pitch at Fenway Park last season. He was the longest-serving captain in team history. And, whether it was in left field, first base or designated hitter, Yaz was in the starting lineup every opening day but one between 1961 and 1983.

As I’ve noted before, he retired when I was a year old. I never saw him play. Yet, he’s a pillar of history I can’t get past. And, more than any other day in baseball, opening day is a celebration of the past as much as it is the welcome return of the game, an optimistic greeting of teams and the 162 game schedule.

That schedule always starts at Game 1, and for so many years, Yaz was at the center of that game for the team I follow. Even when he’s not, he is. And if that sounds irrational, just remember that hope springs eternal on Opening Day.

Pirates fans can dream of the playoffs, and I can think about a player who’s been retired for 29 years. Consider him my ceremonial captain for the beginning of spring.


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