"There are 22 million people who have, at some point in time, played hooky from work or school, so it's already an unofficial holiday," Hall of Famer Ozzie Smith told MLB.com during a video chat last week, when discussing his desire to turn Major League Baseball's Opening Day into an official holiday."
To which I say, go for it. Big time. For starters, if I leave any word out to describe what travels through the hearts of those who have experienced Opening Day in person or through radio, television or searching the deepest part of their imagination, feel free to contribute to the following: Optimism, anticipation, hope, energy, joy, belief, dreams.
Wise men have called baseball our national pastime forever, and they've done so for good reason. It is so American, with Opening Day in the forefront. The combination inspired William Howard Taft to trigger a trend among presidents after 1910, when he threw out the ceremonial first pitch on Opening Day for the Senators in Washington. There was Opening Day of 1968, which helped soothe fractured souls that early April after the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. There also was 9-11, when the spirit of a second Opening Day -- with the resumption of play in September -- during that 2001 season contributed to the psychological recovery. That's because, with the world watching, President Bush threw a symbolic perfect strike inside Yankee Stadium.
Then came last April 16, barely two weeks after Opening Day, when the Red Sox spent that day after the Boston Marathon bombing dedicating the rest of the season to the victims with a "Boston Strong" commitment.
The Red Sox eventually won the World Series.
So, with that power of Opening Day in mind, Smith needs 100,000 signatures within the next 30 days through the We the People petitioning program. No problem there, not with the folks at Anheuser-Busch Inbev's Budweiser brand using its considerable mite to spur the process. Then, with signatures in hand, the Obama Administration would have to review the request along the way to getting Congress involved and legislation passed.
Done. Well, um, let's keep our bats crossed.
Smith added during his MLB.com video chat, "We're just trying to make it an official holiday by getting those 100,000 signatures, so I can march them up to the front of the White House."
Imagine such a sight. I'm guessing Smith would arrive at the West Gate in a wagon pulled by Clydesdales. And his attire? Red, of course, including a red cap with that distinctive redbird resting on a yellow bat to commemorate Smith's 15 seasons with the Cardinals through 1996.
After shaking President Obama's hand and hugging Michelle at the front door, Smith would give them a replica of one of his Gold Gloves as a gift. Actually, he would give the Obamas the real thing since he has 13 of them. Then Smith and the president would retreat to the Oval Office, where Smith would explain how the famously spirited time on Opening Day around the Gateway Arch is partly responsible for why St. Louis hugs its baseball team so tightly. Plus, you just know President Obama would share more than a few stories on his love affair with the White Sox.
Maybe this really will happen.
If nothing else, it's splendid that Smith is trying, along with the beer folks who helped make his Cardinals famous.
"The excitement that is created by Opening Day -- not only in St. Louis, but across the country -- is what this [petition] is all about," Smith continued, telling MLB.com that his efforts to legalize Opening Day as a holiday will include online videos featuring highlights from Opening Day games from the past. In addition, Budweiser plans to celebrate Opening Day across the Major Leagues by serving day-fresh draught beer in ballparks selling Anheuser-Busch products.
Smith and the beer folks are trying like crazy, all right. If any of their marketing ploys are successful in getting the government to transform Opening Day into something like the spring version of Christmas or Thanksgiving, it would make a slew of baseball fans gleeful.
I should say more gleeful.
They can't get significantly more gleeful in Cincinnati, where Opening Day has been a local obsession for generations. In fact, all of that part of southwestern Ohio begins each regular season with sort of a baseball Mardi Gras to celebrate the Reds as the first professional baseball team. I experienced all of this while living in the city as a youth. On Opening Day, schools unofficially close, and so do most businesses shy of hospitals and law-enforcement agencies.
The whole process is breathtaking, starting with the days, weeks, months leading to Opening Day.
It's coming. It's COMING.
Around Greater Cincinnati, you hear that from the end of the regular season, through the middle of winter, right up to the announcement in early March of the grand marshal of the Findlay Market Parade. That's right, the baseball-crazed citizens of Cincinnati have a parade every Opening Day, and they've done so since the early 20th century. The past grand marshals have been former Reds greats such as Frank Robinson, Johnny Bench and Joe Morgan. The parade starts at noon, and it winds through downtown.
Then comes the game, and it's always packed. In case you're wondering, the Reds will open this season against ... the Cardinals. So here's a thought: How about anointing President Obama as the grand marshal of the Findlay Market Parade, with Smith steering the Clydesdales?