So much is more enjoyable now, made more enjoyable because the game and all it provides are back. All hail the national pastime, even those who find weekends in the fall and winter somehow savagely satisfying. Neither Milton Bradley (not the outfielder) nor Merv Griffin ever created a game of such remedial value.
Baseball makes us better, happier. It soothes. It entertains. It occupies time that might not be filled otherwise for some folks.
It pacifies as well. Did you know the Maine Insane Asylum introduced baseball to its patients in 1888, as a drug-free tranquilizer? Other institutions in the Northeast followed suit. Organized baseball had reached the Washington State Institution for the Feeble Minded by 1914. Yes, the game has peaceful qualities.
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The spring-loaded Major League Baseball switch was turned on Sunday night, when the Astros made their American League debut handsomely and successfully. And the low-voltage current that runs through the generic game reached Queens and the Bronx within hours. Lights, action.
Enter a ballpark -- any one of 15 -- and, regardless of what a thermometer might claim, a warmth develops and envelopes the day. Television can create a similar sense, though radio often does it better. Rare are the folks who catch 81 games in person or on TV. Radio is the more available and quite suitable alternative. See "I Saw It On The Radio" by Terry Cashman. The radio delivers the crowd murmur that is uniquely baseball and so comforting. It has the effect of white noise. Or red, white and blue noise.
Nothing more than a routine 4-3 is happening on the field, but 40,000 folks shushing as one have no chance of mastering silence. So we have murmur, and it's so relaxing whether it is broadcast, televised of experienced firsthand.
The game allows for conversation. Fathers and sons. Grandfathers and grandsons. Ladies and gentlemen. The baseball Hall of Fame's slogan is "connecting generations." The Hall should have been at Shea Stadium seven years ago on Opening Day, when a grandfather, father and grandson passed through turnstiles wearing, respectively, uniform numbers 41, 16 and 45 -- The Franchise, the Doctor and Pedro. Three generations of Mets starters were connected too.
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The game is therapeutic. Opening Day is the first session. It's group therapy for thousands in the park, and millions who are connected with or without wires. And we don't need to wait till next weekend for a second session. Baseball is as constant as travel and the human body will allow.
A Broadway musical may be more uplifting; it guarantees something no sporting even can, a grand finale -- "76 Trombones." But that's a one-shot deal. Giants-49ers may cause the earth to move on two coasts some Sunday. But only once or, at best, twice a year. But as baseball players often remind us following painful September losses, there's always tomorrow. Not in the other games.
Baseball is here -- thank goodness -- almost every day for sixth months, even for those who follow teams that will disperse well before Columbus Day. It's here again, and with its return comes the return of daily structure for those more involved and those consumed by the daily-ness of it. Boxscores with cereal, kibitzing at coffee break, log-on with lunch, MLB Tonight as a nightcap. And that's the menu for off-days.
But where baseball has its greatest hold in this country is with the folks who don't get out to the park regularly, or at all. It's there for the listening and television monitoring. Grandmothers can tune in for Wrigley Field afternoons or night games in Baltimore. They can knit while they keep track. I knew a grandmother who couldn't distinguish between Joe DeMaestri and Joe DiMaggio as recently as 1980. In her late 60s though, she knew enough to expect Wally Backman to play second when the Mets of the '80s opposed a right-handed starter, and Tim Teufel to start when the opposing starter was left-handed.
She got hooked. She called Teufel "Little Timmy Teufel," though he was half a head taller than Backman. She called Backman "The Little [Four-Letters]." She even consulted box scores the morning after her grandchildren had interrupted her viewing.
One of her car radio presets was the Mets' flagship station. She had few voids in her later life ... partially because of the game.
The game grabbed her like a drug. Opening Day was a long-awaited hit for her. It was as comforting as the old family down quilt had been in January. It still is for most of us.