Opening Day in baseball: It‘s supposed to be a national holiday here in Cleveland… not a snow day. The aroma of hot dogs and burgers off the grill, an ice cold beer (or two), and Cracker Jack awaits you as you rush to meet your friends at The Bob Feller statue outside “The Jake.”
Baseball and opening day in Tribe town: It’s supposed to be the “gateway” to spring. It’s supposed to be about getting a tan in the 7th inning as the team mascot, Slider, sprays the crowd with his “Super Soaker” water rifle. It’s about rushing to the souvenir stand in-between innings to buy that overpriced T-shirt of your favorite player (the one with the hideous 1920’s Wahoo caricature – or whatever) that will bring about the envy of all your golf buddies – and the utter disdain of your wife or girlfriend.
But it’s never, ever, supposed to be about this: a blast of old man winter on baseball’s opening day that would absolutely turn Al Gore’s hair white (with shock and awe) in April. Save the “snow patrol” for the Spider-Man 3 soundtrack and the day after tomorrow – it’s supposed to be baseball season in Cleveland!
It’s supposed to be about Grady Sizemore hitting his gazillionth homerun as he chases the coveted MVP award for the American League this year – and John Fogerty’s “Centerfield” plays blissfully in the background. It’s about Travis Hafner (a.k.a. “The Incredible Pronk”) hulking out and hitting six grand slams in a season as the stunned fans at our ballpark “ooh“ and “ahh” in the sizzling summer sun.
But it’s not about snowstorms… and flurries… and lake effect, dual Doppler doubletalk. It’s not about former manager, Mike Hargrove, on the other side of the fence now leading the Seattle Mariners to a well-timed weather delay. The game should never be decided on some “stall tactics” orchestrated by Hargrove, who might as well be dressed up as a modern-day “Snow Ghost” from Scooby-Doo, trying to scare away weary fans from the ballpark to further his own sinister schemes.
“And I would have gotten away with it, too,” I can almost hear the Snow Ghost grumble, as my gang of sleuthing sidekicks unmask Hargrove in front of the umpires, “if it weren’t for you meddling kids!”
So, again, where is the sun, the fun, and the smell of barbecue – instead of the bitter cold and blowing drifts of snow on opening day in Cleveland? Here’s an inconvenient truth: Why does the baseball season need to begin so early?
Instead of focusing on the Tribe clobbering the White Sox …or the Twins …or the Tigers… (not the Royals, those slippery buggers always seem to have our number), the baseball fans of Cleveland are seemingly trapped in a giant downtown snow globe. Instead of a much-needed Corona commercial (complete with palm trees), why does opening day in Cleveland feel more like an opening scene from The Empire Strikes Back?
All that is missing is Obi-Wan Kenobi (and his blue aura) appearing in the middle of a lake effect squall to deliver this dire message like some wayward agent: “Pronk… you must go to the Dagobah system… there you will meet Yoda Steinbrenner… who will sign you to the contract you so richly deserve.”
Maybe I could hop on Slider’s back and ride the purple and yellow team mascot like Han Solo out to centerfield to rescue Grady Sizemore (and, more importantly, my own fantasy baseball team) from extreme hypothermia, huh? “Hang on, kid,” I would give my best Harrison Ford shout out to the frigid fans, “I’m coming!” And, as Slider falls over from frostbite, I could slice open his bloated belly with a light saber to cover Grady in “mascot blubber” to keep him alive until the game is called. “Ugh! And I thought these things… smelled bad… on the OUTSIDE.”
Or maybe MLB could just push back the baseball season to mid-April, too. But, no, that would be too easy, wouldn’t it?
Instead of sweating over strikeouts by Jeremy Sowers, why are we more concerned about driving visibility as we shudder and shuffle our way out of old Municipal Stadium – I mean, Jacobs Field – down by the lake?
Why are we playing baseball in the beginning of April in Cleveland when we should be more interested in warm weekend doubleheaders – and a summer breeze blowing like the jasmine through my mind – in May?
Maybe it boils down to nothing more than pure greed on the part of major league baseball and their owners. But I love baseball as much as the next “overgrown adolescent” who cannot let go of the past – and his favorite national pastime.
So why don’t the gatekeepers of this sacred game show it a little respect it so richly deserves – and start the season closer to summer when the game of baseball was meant to be played rather than, you know, the middle of a freaking snowstorm? The answer, it seems, is as simple as a voice from an Iowa cornfield: “If you delay it, they will come.”
There’s no “mystery” to be found here in the Lake Erie weather machine, kids. Let's "play ball!" – in May.