Opening Day more than just baseball

The game is an essential part of spring, America

Opening Day more than just baseball

Bill Center, longtime sportswriter for U-T San Diego, is an employee of the Padres.

It was a tough Opening Day for the Padres Monday. But Opening Day has always been special for me.

I can't remember exactly when I fell in love with baseball . . . or when I first started looking forward to Opening Day.

But I remember the Opening Day that changed my life and helped bond me forever with what I consider is an essential part of my being -- baseball.

The year was 1957. And it was not a good year. In fact, it was a terrible year. On April 12, I lost my youngest sister Donna to leukemia. That frail, little girl put up such a courageous fight. To this day, that was the worst day of my life.

I won't lie here. Donna's death crushed me. I was 12 and she and I had a bond. Three days later, we buried her at Holy Cross Cemetery. Afterwards, I went to my grandparents' home in Lemon Grove to spend that night.

The next morning, I sat down with my grandpa Harry in the dining room. He was wearing one of those sweater vests that were his trademark. But he had not gone to work at Ryan Aircraft, which was very unusual for him.

"Opening Day," explained the man of few words. "I'm taking today off."

Harry and I already shared a love of baseball. He took me to my first Padres game at Lane Field in 1954. I started deciphering boxscores with Harry when I was about six.

Of course, there was no Major League baseball in San Diego back in 1957. But there was radio. And Harry was a radio fanatic. The Mutual Network carried Major League games at the time and on April 16, 1957, they were broadcasting the traditional Reds opening game from Crosley Field in Cincinnati.

We were from Cincinnati. And the Redlegs -- as they were called then to remove any "connections" to communism -- always opened the season a day before other teams as a tribute to their being the game's very first professional team. Harry was a Reds fan. His vest that day was red.

As he moved from the dining room to the Philco in his living room, he asked me to join him.

Then he shared with me something I needed to hear . . . something that I listen to from my heart every Opening Day.

"The Opening Day of a baseball season is a new beginning," said grandpa. "We used to have long cold winters in Cincinnati. The first game of the baseball season started our year. It's been very dark around here. Now we have baseball."

I never asked Harry what he meant. It didn't make the pain of our family's loss go away. But I started moving forward again, ever so slowly at first.

I've quietly celebrated every Opening Day since. It's more than the start of a baseball season. It's a rekindling of part of what makes me tick. In some way, I'll enjoy every step of the season, win or lose.

And when one season ends, I Iook forward to the next . . . win or lose. Go Padres! Go baseball.

From the scorebook

Jon Jay's two-out single in the third Monday was not only the Padres first hit of the season, it was Jay's first hit at Petco Park since July 29, 2014, when he was here as a member of the St. Louis Cardinals.

• Rule 5 picks Jabari Blash (walk as a pinch-hitter) and Luis Perdomo (six runs allowed in an inning-plus) each made their Major League debuts Monday.

Tyson Ross is 0-6 with a 3.33 ERA in nine career starts against the Dodgers.

• Dating back to their winning debut in 1969, the Padres are 24-24 in home openers. They are 8-5 in home openers at Petco Park.

• The Padres have lost seven straight games to the Dodgers and are 5-15 against the Dodgers since the start of last season.