Ah, Opening Day! As I observe the jubilant people sitting around me in the mezzanine section behind home plate at Shea Stadium in Queens, New York, I think, â€śIs there a more purely happy moment for any baseball fan?â€ť There is an at once familiar yet new aroma in the ballpark of fresh paint and simmering hotdogs, a chill in the air (courtesy of the wind blowing off Flushing Bay), and the grass on the playing field has never looked greener. The base paths are pristine; the blue and orange seats glisten even in the mist of the rainy April day, and the ballplayers all seem young, strong, and fiercely ready for the season.
Opening Day is like spring itself: a time of renewal, of invigorated spirit, and hope for what is to come. On this day every regular player stands equal: all are batting .000 and have no homers or runs batted in. The pitchers all have an 0.00 earned run average and have no strikeouts or walks. It is the one moment, however fleeting, when all players are different and yet very much alike. As a Met fan who has seen many years of poor performance from his team, there has always been that wonderful feeling on Opening Day that we were just as good as any other team on paper, though this indubitably would change after the first pitch was thrown.
This year is supposed to be a little different at Shea, and yet the ceremonial first pitch was being thrown by Jesse Orosco to good old Gary Carter. Talk about nostalgia to a Met fan, and he or she has no choice but to look back whimsically at 1986. The sight of these two guys makes me get a little teary eyed (but I claim itâ€™s that damn wind off the bay), for I recall that night in 1986 when Orosco threw that last pitch of the World Series, got Bostonâ€™s Marty Barrett out, and threw his glove up into the hazy night sky over Shea. Gary Carter ran out to the mound to embrace him, and our city erupted in a frenzy unseen since 1969 (at least for Mets fans).
Back in the 1980s the Mets owned New York City. It was a blissful time, a dreamtime for Met fans, and the always despised Yankees were just a bunch of has-beens across the river. We had no idea what would be coming in the 90s, that a former Met named Joe Torre would defect to the Bronx and turn everything ugly. The name Jeter was meaningless (he was just some funny guy on that TV show Evening Shade with Burt Reynolds and his toupee), and we had no idea that much of the city would turn on us, even former Met fans, because the Yankees juggernaut would be so overwhelming and last so long.