Sarah's Take: Opening Day excitement reigns supreme
By Sarah D. Morris
Many baseball fans count the days until Opening Day as soon as the World Series ends. They find the offseason long and boring without baseball games to watch.
On Monday, the wait is over. Many avid baseball fans and people who are associated with the sport wish the government would declare Opening Day a national holiday, so every baseball fan can enjoy the game without missing either work or school. After all, baseball is our national pastime.
For the past month, teams have been playing exhibition games whetting our appetite for baseball. Although these games give baseball fans something to watch and ponder, they can be dull. They aren't competitive unless fans want to see young players competing for a desired roster spot.
Spring Training can be the most depressing time for players and fans alike. Fans who have watched the Los Angeles Dodgers this spring know that Paco Rodriguez has had a marvelous spring, not allowing a run. Not until Saturday night, many Dodger fans didn't know whether Rodriguez would make the Opening Day roster since he has options, meaning the Dodgers could send him to the Minor Leagues without risk of losing him to another organization. Also, sending a player down buys the team another year before he can go to arbitration and become a free agent. Most baseball fans can't comprehend the business end of baseball, and we want to see the best players in the Major Leagues no matter what. Luckily, Rodriguez made the team, but some other deserving players didn't across the bigs, sparking many discussions among baseball fans.
Opening Days are special. Every little boy who ever dreamed of playing Major League Baseball wants to play on Opening Day. Even the most seasoned veteran has a hard time sleeping the night before since he feels the anticipation. If he doesn't, it's time for him to retire from the sport.
For most teams, Opening Day is the only time when they can celebrate. Even before the season begins, these teams know the likelihood of them going to the postseason is slim. Therefore, they make Opening Day a huge celebration that fans can enjoy immensely. They have spectacles before the game begins that fans can enjoy. The teams often invite their heroes from yesteryear to throw out the ceremonial first pitch.
Many of us remember what happens on Opening Day even though it's one of 162 games. If a fan's favorite team wins its first game, many fans feel optimistic about the upcoming season, but if the team loses on Opening Day, many fans think they will have a long season. In 2002 when the Dodgers lost their first three games, the media were panicked and wrote pessimistic articles. That year the Dodgers won 92 games but didn't advance to the postseason.
The Dodgers have had many exciting Opening Days during my lifetime. In 1981 the Dodgers' projected Opening Day starter Jerry Reuss was injured and Burt Hooton wasn't ready to start. Manager Tom Lasorda turned to an unproven rookie, Fernando Valenzuela, to pitch Opening Day against the division rival Houston Astros. The media questioned Lasorda's judgment since it would be difficult for a 20-year-old rookie from a tiny town in Mexico to handle all of the pressure associated with Opening Day. Valenzuela fooled everyone by pitching a shutout, kicking off Fernandomania that took the United States by storm. He played an integral role in the Dodgers' world championship and became the only player to win both the Rookie of the Year Award and Cy Young Award in the same year.
Although the Dodgers lost on Opening Day in 1988, Steve Sax homered, a rarity. They went on to win five straight. They were underdogs for the entire year, but they defied the odds, endearing themselves to baseball fans in Los Angeles.
In 2009 Orlando Hudson, a big offseason acquisition for the Dodgers, became the eighth Dodger to hit for the cycle and the first since 1970. The Dodgers beat the D-backs and went on to the National League Championship Series where they lost to the Phillies.
This year's Opening Day for the Dodgers should be thrilling. Clayton Kershaw, the best pitcher in baseball, faces the much-improved San Diego Padres with former Dodger Matt Kemp. Both the Dodgers and the Padres need to have excellent starts to the season to have a chance of winning the National League West.
Sarah D. Morris can be reached at email@example.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.