It’s been cold, dark, and windy. It’s been bleak and grey. It’s seemed interminable. At some points, it’s seemed the norm.
It’s over. Baseball is back.
Really, that’s all there is to say, because what else matters? What else need be added to make the simple pronouncement any more spectacular? Baseball is back, and that’s all. No qualifiers or confirmations are needed. The three words are enough.
In a few hours, we’ll be ready for warmups, player introductions, and the national anthem. Soon after that, it will be Edinson Volquez on the mound, and our guys at bat. Picking up right where we left off, in more than one sense.
Who knows where we’ll go from here, or how we’ll get there? That’s the beauty of Opening Day. The season exists fully in our imaginations, different to each but ending well for all, meandering in its path but arriving at the same happy destination regardless. We can’t say that after today. Maybe we win, or maybe we lose, but regardless, we won’t be perfect. After today there’s minute, obsessive analysis to conduct, lineups to tinker with, fielders to move around. After today, things, small or large, but things regardless, start to go wrong.
Today our team is perfect, and don’t bother telling us otherwise because you’ve got no leg to stand on. It’s Opening Day: anything can happen yet, and until either of those changes, our team is whatever we want it to be. We’re an offensive juggernaut, a swaggering frontrunner, a stingy cheese factory, a heroic underdog. Whatever notion we hold of our team, based in fact or fantasy, reality or wishes, today it’s absolutely true. But not for much longer.
It seems only yesterday we were hunkering down for the long wait through Spring Training, telling ourselves while not really believing it that Opening Day would be here before we knew it. Once again, we thought we were wrong, but we weren’t. We never think we’ll make it, yet we always do.
Yes, whether you’re talking about Opening Day or the World Series, we never think we’ll make it. But we always manage to get back there somehow, whether it takes five months or fifteen years.
Scant hours remain, which somehow always seem to drag on endlessly, but regardless, we’ve made it. Practicalities of 8:30 p.m. starts notwithstanding, we’ve made it back to baseball season. That’s today’s real magic, even more than the return of baseball itself, although a win wouldn’t hurt. The two sound the same, but they’re subtly different.
The Mets aren’t playing yet. They won’t, for some hours. But there’s a game today. Whether it’s late or early, that’s what matters.
We’re back, once again, to days that have Mets games attached.
I’m ridiculously happy about that, and ridiculously excited for “gameday” becoming “gametime,” because who isn’t? We’ve got our best team in a good nine or ten years, and now, we’ve got weather and an opponent to go with that.
I was excited for Opening Day 2015, when we had a glimmer of hope that maybe something would happen. I was excited for Opening Day 2014, when the Mets, supposedly nearing the end of their rebuild, took the field with a former (and, I suppose, future) star in right field and a short, squat, lovable pitcher in the dugout. I was excited for Opening Day 2013, with the promise brought by a resurgent David Wright and a fireballing Matt Harvey and the brief craze that was Collin Cowgill. I was even excited for Opening Day 2012, because no matter how bad it seemed we would be — and this was a team that, beyond anyone’s expectations, severely overperformed in the first half of the season, cresting at 46-39 the game before the all-star break — baseball was back.
But today? Opening Day 2016? Defending National League Champions? This tops them all, and not narrowly. We’ve got a team for the ages, a team full of youth and character and grizzled veterans and jumpy rookies and every other baseball cliche you can imagine, thrown together through a combination of patient rebuilding and desperate, on-the-fly signings to win a championship or die trying, and give the fans something fun to watch either way.
Everything’s back, after today. Bartolo’s behind the back flips. Thor and deGrom and Harvey, all striking out hitters with fastballs that don’t give much of a chance. Conforto and d’Arnaud hitting line drives all over the field, Grandy getting on base like Ted Williams, Duda slugging balls to God knows where, Matz bringing his grandfather to the edge of his seat, the captain going out and giving us everything he’s got every single day.
Or maybe that’s the optimist in me talking, and the season won’t go nearly so well. But that’s the point. It’s Opening Day, and the season is whatever we want it to be. It’s a romp, a bash, a charge through the shoddily defended N.L. East and right on back to the World Series and through whatever opponent they’re foolish enough to throw at us and on, on, on until there’s a new trophy in Flushing.
We’re headed that way. We’ve got just the team to do it, and today, they get started. And hell — even if they don’t, today’s when we know for certain that they will.
Happy Opening Day. Let’s get out there, and let’s play ball.