Richard Justice

Opening Day brings hope to every fan

Opening Day brings hope to every fan

Welcome to Opening Day -- the best day of the year. We love its symbolism and its vibe. We love the sense of optimism that arrives along with it, and the endless possibilities of another season.

Besides that, life is just better when there's baseball being played, and Opening Day is when it begins again. On this day of celebration, MLB fans -- and that's all of us -- are reunited by our shared love of this game, which will manifest itself with fans all over the country putting their #CapsOn.

Watch every out-of-market game live on MLB.TV

Baseball's landscape is more wide open than it has ever been, and that's a good thing. Commissioner Rob Manfred's favorite statistic is one that every fan in every city can cling to: In the past five seasons, 80 percent of baseball's 30 teams -- 24 of them -- have been to the postseason at least once.

Last season, six of the 10 postseason teams hadn't made the playoffs the previous season. Those numbers speak volumes about the ride we're beginning.

Baseball's elite take the mound

There has never been a better time to be a baseball fan. It's not just the parity and the talent, although that's reason enough. It's the ballparks and the food and the experience of spending three hours watching and analyzing and debating the best game ever played and the greatest athletes on the face of the earth.

It's new technology allowing us to dig deeper into why things happen and to grasp how spectacularly gifted this generation of players is, from Andrew McCutchen's speed and instincts to Clayton Kershaw's artistry to Mike Trout doing things that take your breath away.

We have Bryce Harper, too. Wow. Speaking of him, this Opening Day will mark a return to the dugout for Dusty Baker, this time as Harper's manager in Washington. You can live a long time and not meet someone as decent and as smart and funny as Dusty.

Baker's genius is in taking a group of men from all different backgrounds and somehow getting them to function as a singular cohesive unit. No one, not even his players, fully understands how he does it. But 10 years after they've played their last game for him, they're still remembering things he said and did and believed in.

Ventura, players looking forward

This part of the game -- the dugout, the leadership -- is another reason we love it -- from Bruce Bochy's bullpen chess game to Buck Showalter's genius to Joe Maddon's magic.

This baseball season has the Kansas City Royals saddling up for another ride. Do not bet against them. They are a thing of beauty, these Royals. As one player, Dillon Gee, said this spring, "You watch them on television and just know that they're close and have each other's backs."

This season is about the Cubs and Astros attempting to take the next step. It's about the Giants winning a fourth straight even-year World Series, and the Cardinals and Pirates continuing to be gold standards for excellence.

That's just a slice. There's hope everywhere -- in Arizona and Seattle, in Boston and Toronto, in Washington and Cleveland.

We exaggerate the importance of these early games. We've waited so long for them that we're buoyed by the positive, dismayed by the negative. We eventually settle into the rhythm of a season. As Jackson Browne wrote, "You forget about the losses, you exaggerate the wins." Mike Flanagan, the late, brilliant Orioles pitcher, would quote that line a time or two every season to remind us of the marathon.

Baseball is special because it's daily, because no matter how long the winning streak or how lousy the latest loss, there's always the chance for a new beginning the next day.

Indians on love of Opening Day

 In the end, it's the beauty of the game, the perfection of the diamond that draws us in. It's Adrian Beltre's going behind the third-base bag to make a difficult play look routine. It's Joey Votto sorting through pitches, fouling off this one, laying off that one, to get the one he wants.

It's Josh Donaldson's fire and Chris Davis' power and Zack Greinke's endless quest for perfection. It's the sound of Vin Scully's voice and Marty Brenneman's and Bob Uecker's. They feel like old friends by now, don't they?

Countless Giants fans feel that way about their guys, Duane Kuiper and Mike Krukow, Jon Miller and Dave Flemming. In St. Louis, it's Mike Shannon. In Texas, Eric Nadel.

They're part of the fabric of the sport, part of the experience of a season. On this Opening Day, they're all back where they belong.

And so are we.

Richard Justice is a columnist for Read his blog, Justice4U. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.